My almost-3-year-old daughter was being extremely whiny, moody, hitting me, and fighting me over basic requests. Typical toddler behaviour to most but out of character for her. Had it not been for a week home sick I wouldn’t have noticed that her behaviour was associated with going to daycare.

The week home sick was a long one but there were little fights. Aside from being sick, it was mostly pleasant. We got along well. We had fun while recovering.

The following Monday came and with that the return to her preschool class. After picking her up at lunch I noticed a change. The moodiness returned. She started hitting me again. The complaints and whining followed almost everything I asked her to do.

A long weekend followed shortly thereafter and her mood improved. Then back to daycare.

Rinse, repeat.

She was clearly telling me something. Not with her words, her actions were speaking volumes. Something wasn’t quite right.

When I first brought it up to my husband, he assured me she was just being two.

I wondered whether I should talk to her teachers but would they think I was crazy? She’s a pretty good kid, maybe I just over-reacting because everything wasn’t perfect. She still loved going to preschool so I knew there wasn’t anything major going on there.

I debated letting it go. I felt stupid for being concerned about what was considered very normal behaviour for a toddler.

However, the outbursts were affecting our stress levels at home and my sanity. I didn’t want my day to be a constant battle. I wasn’t sure I could get to the exact cause or solve the issue but I had to do something. Anything.

So I tried everything I could think of.

I talked to my daughter directly. I told her I was noticing that she was frustrated after going to preschool, I could see that she was struggling and I wanted to help. She assured me that she enjoyed preschool and that the kids in her class were nice to her.

I had a lengthy conversation with her teachers to get a better understanding of what she was dealing with during her day. We talked about her acting out and that we were struggling. I waited for them to dismiss me but they didn’t. They took me seriously and tried to help.

I was told she is an angel every day. They’d never seen her act out, she never cries, and she gets along with everyone. Absolutely no issues. I asked about behaviour issues with other children. Maybe she was seeing how others acted and testing it out at home. No major behaviour issues they said.

They’d seen this type of behaviour in other children before. Angel by day, devil by night.

It’s hard being good all day. Home provides a safe space for a child to let everything out – all of their struggles, frustrations, and emotions. They know they will be loved regardless of what they do.

So they act out. Not because they are determined to ruin your life, but because they feel safe and loved.

They suggested that she could be struggling knowing that I’m home with her baby brother all day. Jealousy.

So I talked to her about that. She said it made her sad and she wished she could stay home. We discussed all of the fun and exciting activities she could do at daycare that she couldn’t do at home. I told her I looked forward to her coming home and telling me all about her day. When she comes home each day and enthusiastically recounts the story of her day, I listen and ask questions.

At the suggestion of her teachers, I changed how I offer her choices to reduce her resistance and give her some control over her day. I had been asking her questions like “Do you want to go potty first or brush your teeth first?”. I now have the added tool of offering her two different ways to do the same task. “Do you want to go potty by yourself or do you want mommy to help you?” Either way she’s going potty. But this allows her a level of control and power over the situation.

What I’ve learned from all of this

Even though I felt stupid talking to her childcare teachers it was extremely helpful. It gave me a solid ground to stand on. They gave me suggestions as to what could be going on and how to handle it. They also gave me insight into her day so I wasn’t left wondering if she was struggling with another child, the schedule, being there, etc.

I have begun to understand how my daughter is expressing her emotions through actions and am getting used to recognizing the early warning signs that there’s a storm a brewin’.

When I hear whining, I ask her to use her words, getting down to her level and maybe even offering a hug or a snuggle. Whining turns into her telling me that she “just need mommy”, “just need some attention”, “want a hug for a minute”.

Are things perfect? No. Do I still get whining and complaining and met with a brick wall? Yes.

But it’s no where near as bad as it was.

Sometimes toddlers are just being toddlers. Sometimes they are simply pushing boundaries to see what they’re capable of. Other times they are acting out, screaming that something is wrong and we need to pay attention. They are asking for help.

It’s ok if you can’t figure out what’s wrong. I’m still not sure what caused the outbursts. However, as soon as I started talking to my daughter about it, telling her I was noticing that she was struggling and that I wanted to help, the behaviour changed.

It was like she shifted from being defensive and feeling on her own to relaxing a bit, willing to attempt to get to the bottom of it, and also realizing that I was there to help.

Sometimes all it takes to feel better is simply knowing that you are not alone, that you are well supported, and that you are loved. And that makes everything better.