9 Quirky Toddler Behaviors That Are Actually Quite Normal

From head banging and nudity to rocking back and forth, we asked the experts to weigh in on some of the most common toddler behaviors.

boy in silly costume hat and shoes with open refridgerator door
Photo: Stephanie Rausser

Let's face it: Toddlers do some odd things—and many of these things stump even experienced parents. Is playing with poop "normal?" Should head banging be a reason to rush your child to the pediatrician—and be concerned? Maybe, but maybe not. We checked in with Candace Jones, an Orlando-based pediatrician, host of the podcast "KIDing Around with Dr. Candice," and author of High Five Discipline: Positive Parenting for Happy, Healthy, Well-behaved Kids. She's also a mom of two children, a thirteen-year-old and a five-year-old.

Here, Dr. Jones lets us know which of our toddler's odd behaviors are normal, as well as when we should seek professional help.

Picky Eating

One minute, your baby is gobbling up a myriad of fruits, veggies, and protein, and the next, they are tossing their faves off the highchair—turning their heads at applesauce and chicken bites. It's incredibly frustrating, as well as concerning. So what really gives?

Dr. Jones says that toddlers who become picky eaters are normal toddlers. She suggests that refusing food may be as simple as the child not being hungry at that time. It also may be the result of their "developing taste and even sensitivity to textures." But don't give up, she advises. As parents, we have to "wait it out," and we shouldn't "fuel" the drama. Keep offering healthy foods and don't hyperfocus on the toddler's (normal) picky eating.


Your toddler was getting close to being potty-trained and now they're having multiple pee accidents a day. Likewise, they used to (literally) sleep like a baby and now they're refusing their afternoon nap. Bedtime can take hours. You're exhausted and frustrated. Now what?

Changes in your toddler's life can cause potty-training regression, such as adding a new baby to the family. Dr. Jones wants parents to know, "Don't panic or punish your child." She shares that you can simply work on retraining your child. As far as sleep regression, remember that "toddlers' bodies and brains are rapidly developing" which can impact the child's sleep. So can illness, routine changes, and teething. Though it's hard to be patient, "once the trigger ends, your child will get back to sleeping well" if you have a solid bedtime routine.

Sticking Their Hand In Their Pants

Parents often freak out when their little one cannot keep their hands out of their diaper area, and while this can be alarming—particularly if your toddler is your first or only child—don't hit the panic button. At least not yet.

Dr. Jones says, to put it simply, your toddler is exploring. She adds, "It's their body! Ignore, redirect or distract the child away from the behavior." But what we shouldn't do is "make a big fuss about it." Remember when your infant discovered their hands? A toddler discovering their own body parts is no different. As they get older, you can let them know the time and place in which self-touch is appropriate—and avoid shaming your child.

Head Banging

The first time your toddler bangs their head, you will naturally freak out. Doesn't that hurt? Why are they acting like their at a heavy metal concert? Is this normal behavior? But Dr. Jones assures us all is well.

"Head banging can be rhythmic and provide soothing stimuli to children who are in pain or sleepy," says Dr. Jones. "Most often, it is a result of a tantrum when toddler are upset," she adds. As with self-touch, parents of toddlers who head bang can "ignore, redirect, or distract" their child. An alternative is to offer soothing, which will help the child regulate their emotions.

Poop Play

There's almost nothing more disgusting than walking into your child's room only to find their hands full of poop and their diaper on the floor. Why, oh why, do toddlers scoop up, smoosh, or even eat (yes, eat) their own poop?

Just like with self-touch, poop play is all about exploring. Toddlers are "curious about what comes out of their body and what it feels like," says Dr. Jones. She offers parents some hope. If you bust your toddler having a Play-Doh session with their own poop, it may be a sign that your child is ready to start potty training. She adds, "Teach them where poop goes."

Nose Picking

Nose picking is a close second to poop play in the nasty contest. Your child may not only go digging for gold, but they might lick dripping mucus or sniff non-stop. What is it about snot that is so appealing to toddlers?

Again, Dr. Jones reminds us that toddlers love to explore—especially their own bodies. As normal as nose-picking can be, there may be an underlying cause. Your child may have an itchy nose (seasonal allergies are a beast), a clogged nose ("dried secretions"), or nose pain. If you sense there's a medical issue behind your child's nose exploration, see their pediatrician.

Imaginary Play

If you notice your toddler playing and talking to themselves, don't be alarmed. Additionally, if your child is playing imaginatively and solo, even if there's other kids present, there's no reason to panic. Both are totally normal toddler behaviors.

Even if there's another peer nearby, your toddler will likely play side-by-side with their peer, but not actively engage with that other child. This is called parallel play. Here's some relief. A toddler who is having a solo, aloud conversation—with noises and words—is experiencing something that is both "developmental and beneficial." Dr. Jones shares that "this type of play helps hone social, emotional, cognitive, and motor skills."


Your mother-in-law is showing up at any minute, and you cannot get your toddler to put on a stitch of clothing. Or perhaps you need to run an errands with your toddler in tow, but they are refusing to put on their shirt or socks. What's the deal?

Sometimes toddlers don't like certain clothing items due to sensory issues. Dr. Jones says that "ill-fitting, scratchy, or overly warm clothes" can show up as toddler clothing refusal. Your toddler may be running around in their birthday suit "for attention." There's also toddler-parent power struggles at play. With toddlers, so much of parenting is waiting for phases to pass.

Rocking Back and Forth

While many parents worry when they see their child rocking back and forth—the behavior, after all, can be a sign of autism—it's actually quite common. Many toddlers sway to soothe themselves to sleep. It also a way to unwind. Repetitive movements like these usually cease by age three. However, when in doubt, consult your child's pediatrician. They can give your child a thorough workup and rule out (or diagnose) any ailments or conditions.

The Bottom Line

These are hardly all of the quirky-but-normal toddler behaviors parents witness. Our toddlers can throw us for a loop, often multiple times a day. Dr. Jones says that parents need to have "credible sources to learn about common toddler behaviors which can ease most worries." However, we shouldn't be afraid to have honest conversations with our child's pediatrician. When in doubt, ask. If there is a particular behavior that is concerning, the pediatrician can initiate necessary evaluations and interventions.

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