Born to challenge
Avoid throwing labels at your child when his true temperament emerges.
At conception, the genetic raw material is encoded in strands of DNA, which determines so much of each individual person.

There is definitely a core, pre-ordained, genetic link to temperament. Some children are amenable and reasonable from a very young age. Others are stubborn and challenging. The key to whether the negative behaviour will become reinforced and escalate, or be effectively channelled so that the positive side of the behaviour is encouraged, depends almost entirely on the way in which the parents manage the behaviour via their parenting skills.

That’s why it’s vital to learn how to be the best possible manager of your unique child’s temperament.

The double whammy

If you have been blessed with a determined, strong-willed and stubborn toddler – all traits that are linked to the core temperament – and he is well and truly in the developmental stage of the ‘terrible twos’, you could have a real ‘double whammy’ on your hands.

Toddlers are meant to be negative, egocentric, irrational and stubborn. If you have one who also possesses a challenging temperament, all the above traits will probably be magnified a hundredfold.

Avoid negative labelling

From birth, parents and caregivers fall into the trap of labelling. The good, easy baby earns praise and approval that, in turn, leads to co-operative, rewarding behaviour, and the positive labels are more likely to continue into toddlerhood. On the other hand, the high-need baby is more likely to be negatively labelled and to become a more difficult and challenging toddler, with the resultant escalating negative labels. The trouble with self-fulfilling prophecies is that children learn to live up to their labels.

It seems to work like this: If a toddler is told often enough that he is bad, naughty, a bully, driving his parents crazy and causing them to have a nervous breakdown, he will internalise these negative messages and behave accordingly. He begins to tell himself, “Well, if I am so bad, then I may as well be really good at it!” And he proves that this is very possible, although of course this is mostly at a subconscious level.

Turn negatives positive

Some children are just born difficult, which makes positive labelling very challenging but, in order to manage the behaviour as effectively as possible, it is crucial to look for the positives in the child’s temperament. Just as in science you won’t find a negative without a positive, an action without a reaction, so it is with temperament qualities.

Difficult can be seen as challenging

can be seen as determined

can be seen as assertive

can be seen as strong-willed

can be seen as emotional

By working hard to see the positive qualities on the other side of the negatives, it becomes easier to retain an open mind. A well-managed, aggressively inclined toddler will almost certainly develop into an assertive older child.

This does not in any way mean that the unacceptable behaviour is condoned, with the parent blandly turning a blind eye to the aggressive, anti-social toddler behaviour and adopting the attitude that he is just being a toddler and he is just like me, stubborn and strong-willed. Not at all!

Capable, informed parents will take appropriate action via the necessary boundaries they will put in place. The effective discipline of their very determined toddler will be made easier if they have internalised a more positive attitude towards the underlying determinants of the behaviour. As a prerequisite for coping effectively with the challenges of toddlerhood, this cannot be stressed enough.

Can you put a positive spin on your toddler’s behaviour? Or is it hard to do?

Find Toddlers need boundaries at


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