Dealing with the difficult toddler stage

Q: As soon as our daughter hit the “terrible twos,” she became difficult to deal with. I’ve heard this is fairly common. We know it’s “just a stage” and we’ll get through it. But for now, it’s exhausting and discouraging. What advice would you give for keeping the right perspective?

Jim: I’ll share an example that’s in my book “The Best Advice I Ever Got on Parenting.” I heard it from singer Phil Joel and his wife, Heather. When the Joels’ first son arrived, he slept through the night, loved to be held and routinely wore a big smile. Then he became a toddler, and his pleasant disposition vanished.

That’s when the Joels realized parenting is a lot like gardening. The analogy illustrates that we plant seeds of love in our children, so their lives will grow and flourish. But as anyone who tends the soil can tell you, positive results don’t happen overnight. Success requires consistent attention and labor, rain or shine. And it’s not just the seeds you plant that sprout — there are weeds to be dealt with as well.

As the Joels discovered, weeds can take many forms in our children’s lives, from negative cultural influences to selfishness that screams, “It’s all about me!” These things often choke out the positive seeds of love and encouragement we’re trying to spur on toward growth. That’s why we need to dig beneath the surface of an issue to see lasting change. If we ignore the weeds, they’ll only grow deeper and become harder to uproot.

Raising children isn’t always easy. But with your loving care — and your willingness to confront the negative influences that threaten their well-being — your kids can develop into adults of maturity and character.

For more tips to help your children thrive, visit

Q: My wife and I have enjoyed being part of a close-knit circle of friends for a number of years. But we feel like something’s missing — almost as if life has gotten somewhat stagnant. We’d like to branch out somehow and build new friendships, but we’re not sure what to look for. What would you suggest?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I’ve heard that if couples are married long enough, they start to look like one another. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I think couples do often look like the other couples they hang out with.

It may feel more comfortable to be friends with someone who’s just like you, but you’re depriving your marriage of a great chance to grow. Relating to someone in the same place in life as you, or who has common interests, is easy. You can empathize with each other about career challenges, share the highs and lows of parenting, or compare favorite music, movies, and hobbies.

But I’d humbly suggest another perspective. There’s tremendous value in spending time with one or more couples who are different from you. An older couple can share their years of wisdom with a younger couple and help them develop some long-term stability in their marriage. And younger couples have a lot to offer, too. They can bring a sense of energy to the friendship, or help an older couple feel younger and more revived in their own relationship.

To add a deeper layer of richness to your marriage, try to build a friendship with another couple who doesn’t see life the same way as you. Their different perspective can challenge you to grow. It just might create the spark you need to strengthen your marriage for years to come. And hopefully, you’ll do the same for them.


Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at