Toddler vs. Teenager – who is the most exhausting?

After spending an exhausting day with three teenagers and a toddler, I couldn’t decide who was more work? Toddlers are certainly a physical and mental challenge but teenagers are another dimension.

Walking along a busy high street, my niece drops a chocolate bar wrapper on the pavement. I stop and give her a glare, telling her to pick it up but before I finish my sentence she swoops down and grabs it. ‘I was going to do it.’ she remarks. She wasn’t, it was obviously my reaction that prompted her into rectifying something she knows all too well is wrong. She proceeds to tell me that she lost her footing and balance, having to gain it in order to pick up the wrapper she accidentally dropped. There was so much effort and detail in her arguement, it was jaw dropping. I was exhausted just listening to my 14 year old niece desperately trying to prove how she could not be wrong about anything.

Our toddler is 3 years old and going through an extremely challenging patch. I can’t get her to pick up rubbish from the floor but its less exhausting to play the game of consequences, usually withholding something like CBeebies does the trick. The difference between her and a teenager with all the answers, is the toddler is a puzzle waiting to be solved. It could take time to find the answer to what makes her tick and fall in line but you usually get there. Dare I say, toddlers are a little like dogs to train. However, with teenagers it’s not that simplistic. They can be more of a conundrum. A mixture of hormones, growing pains and peer influences means their behaviour can go in a multitude of directions that can change every day. My limited experiences with my family and friends children often leaves me wondering if there is light at the end of the tunnel with a teenager’s challenging behaviour?

I used the power of social media to get some insights from parents with pre-teens, teenagers and toddlers, asking which is the most challenging in their view?

Our mums with teenagers deal with logistic nightmares and diva dramas but overall enjoy watching their little adults-in-training become their own person. At least that’s what Charlotte from Horsham, West Sussex, mum to Hannah, 14 and Tom, 13 , relates to me. “You need to be 110% on top of your game to deal with teenagers. They are becoming intelligent, smart-mouthed human beings.” She feels that if you show understanding but are firm, teenagers become easier to handle although it’s not an easy balance to strike. The most rewarding aspect of parenting teenagers is seeing them become their own person with their own opinions and unique sense of humour.

Life with toddlers is also about ‘understanding’. Lucy lives in Ruby with her two boys, one toddler at 29 months and another approaching this stage at 11 months. “Reasoning with toddlers is very difficult, as they simply don’t have the capacity to understand what you are telling them.” she shares. When her toddler first started having tantrums they got her down but she’s immune to them now. Her 11 month old has also started having bouts of frustration, more associated with two year olds. But the biggest thing she finds challenging is their inability to share, she struggles to find the best way to deal with it. Jenny from Sheffield has two boys, a 6 year old and 14 month old plus she is running her own business, KyNa Boutique. Her and her partner decided to wait to have their second as they had a particularly challenging first year healthwise with her first. Although she is coming out of toddlerdom with her eldest, he is still prone to the frustrations that come with learning about the world. He is dealing with his first years at school and she has to keep up with the homework and supervise his learning. Whereas with her 14 month old, he has just discovered mobility and seeing the world in a new light. She tells me how tiring it is to keep up with him plus deal with teething and sleepless nights.

What if you have both teenagers and infants or toddlers? Its not uncommon to see families with big age gaps for various reasons, with parents bringing up both teenagers and toddlers at the same time. Leah has three daughters, Jen, 12, and Poppy ,9, from a previous relationship and Lila who is 5 months old with her current partner. She makes the point that challenging behaviour can arise when family dynamics change, such as having a new baby in the mix. Mostly the older girls are supportive, in fact there are more arguements about who gets to care for baby Lila. But she has to be mindful of the attention she gives each sibling. She manages this by organising alone time with each child. Emotionally, she’s finding her eldest difficult to keep up, worrying about her increasing independence and what’s she’s up to when she’s out. Karen from Liverpool, also talks about the emotional vs physical challenges of having children of varying age groups. She has 2 girls, Kelsey, 16 and Hannah, 13 plus two boys with her now partner, Charlie, 5, and Harrison, almost 3. “I find the most challenging aspect is just dealing with everyone’s individual needs at the same time. That may be emotional, educational, physical or hormonal.” she tells me. Her eldest is doing her AS levels at college, her second daughter embarking on her GCSE’s soon. The five year old has just started school and is realising he has proper learning to do, it’s not all free play and the youngest is in nursery. Her kids are all in key stages of their education. The logistics are awesome with after-school clubs, parents evenings, nursery reviews and toddler groups. The most challenging aspect she finds is giving each child individual attention, although she makes a conscious effort it is a juggling act. Up until her toddler was recently toilet trained, she could be changing his nappy and having a conversation about University choices with her eldest at the same time. Karen’s older children do try and help resolve disputes with the smaller boys but with their inexperience, tactlessness and hormones it doesn’t always end up being supportive.

For those of us with small children, these experiences may be not what we want to hear. Most of us know that parenthood isn’t a walk in the park but we tend to shut our ears to other parents gripes, as all kids are different, we tell ourselves, “my child may not turn out to be like that”. That’s why I asked our mums for their top tips to give us the benefit of their experience.

It’s not always easy when you’re trying to follow your family routine and the kids don’t play ball. But most of the mums agreed, the more you try and force the issue the more resistance you will get. Patience definitely pays off.

Engage with them but don’t get drawn into challenging behaviour
Most of the mums made a point of having time alone with each sibling. This will take some organising but the bond you are creating will help deal with disagreements at other times.

Be organised enough to handle chaos
Having a routine and being organised definitely helps family life run smoothly but kids don’t fit into boxes. The trick from our mums is to acknowledge that things won’t always go to plan, count to ten and get a plan B and C and so on….

Enjoy the diversity of their personalities
It may be hard to keep up with toddlers and teenagers alike but there is never a dull moment. When you’re having a ‘head in hands’ moment of despair, try and remember there is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s usually found in their cheeky, charming personas.

Toddler vs teenager?
With one being exhausting physically and other challenging mentally, the scores in my mind are equal.

A big thanks for my lovely contributors, who gave up some ‘me-time’ to answer my questions.
Karen @kbmanc
Jenny @kynaboutique of KyNaBoutique
Lucy @ljastars A Mummy’s Life

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About Claire Jones-Hughes

Founder and co-editor of, Claire has been blogging since 2009. She has posted on a variety of sites including The Argus, The Huffington Post and The Guardian's Comment Is Free. Known as The Contented Mummy on social media, she is dedicated to honest, unsponsored blogging so that parents can benefit from shared experience. Can also be found at - sharing her journey to health & wellness.

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