Written by Doctor G

Fearlessness: Toddlers Games

My 2.5-year-old son does something I can’t quite figure out. When I explain that he should not do something because he will get hurt or sick, he responds with: “Get hurt now!” or “Get sick now”! I have replied in countless different ways trying to help him understand that getting hurt or getting sick or doing something not safe, is not OK. I have used a very stern voice and given a time out for the behavior (throwing, for example). In one scenario we were at a swingset, and he was pushing an empty swing. I told him he needed to move out of the way if he wanted to push it so it wouldn’t come back to hit him in the face. He said, “Hit in the face now!” So I tried something different and said, “OK, get hit in the face.” He did, and came to me crying. I told him that’s why he needed to move away from the swing after pushing it. He said “Get hurt again now!” And he went back and did it AGAIN (and then again came to me crying). I am not sure what to do with this. I wonder if it is him trying to assert his independence and will — though he does that in other, less self-injurious ways too. And I really am conscious of giving him lots of choices daily so that he feels some measure of control. Thoughts?


A mom, on a playground

I have to wonder if your son has read the developmental textbooks about 30 month old kids!

This doesn’t sound like defiance, or an attempt to assert his independence – even though he is doing something you just told him was a bad idea. In fact, he is actually saying two things:

  1. Mommy is teaching me something, and I’m learning it.
  2. I want to see it in action!

People (some would argue male people even more than female people) learn by doing. Your son absolutely believes you when you tell him something will hurt or make him sick. He wants to understand it, and for that he wants to experience it!

Your boy’s subtext is not, “Oh yeah? Fine! Bring it!”

His subtext is: “I can make that happen.  And I can make it happen again!”

When he went back to the swing and it hit him again, he was reassured. The world DOES work like his mommy says it will and he can effect the same response with the same action. Granted, he did not set out to cry – he just didn’t think that far ahead.

In the same way that your new baby will throw the bottle on the floor a dozen times if you pick it up each time, your toddler is pushing at his whole world to see what he can make it do, and how reliable it is to do what you say it will.

You may have a scientist on your hands here, Mama, but I don’t think you have a kid who is fighting you.


Parents, have you had a child who seemed determined to experience Every. Single. Thing. No matter the danger?

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2 thoughts on “Fearlessness: Toddlers Games”

  1. This is a great perspective! It makes so much sense, but it’s not the first thing I would have thought about with this behavior.

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