Disequilibrium: The Toddler Red Tent

If you notice an abrupt change in your formerly peaceful child, they could be taking a turn into disequilibrium.
03/06/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My friend and I sat watching our toddlers play at our weekly Montessori parent-child class. I breathed a sigh of relief that my 2-year-old was being cooperative, patient and independent.

"She's been having a rough week," I confessed. "So many power struggles -- she's been so stubborn about having things a certain way, and she's also being super clingy. I can tell we've entered "disequilibrium."

I first read about disequilibrium in one of my favorite books, When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson. Disequilibrium is a concept that has been researched by the Gesell Institute of Child Development; in a nutshell, the development of young children is not always linear. There is often a pattern that occurs every six months or so -- children may be calm while integrating skills that are being mastered, and then their behavior becomes unsettled as they begin to tackle new developmental milestones. It's a bit like a riding a roller coaster. If you notice an abrupt change in your formerly peaceful child, they could be taking a turn into disequilibrium.

I often have moments when it is clear to me that my toddler is in equilibrium -- our interactions are mainly harmonious, she seems delighted to have mastered some new skills, she is both affectionate and independent. It's lovely. It's easy. And I know things will change soon enough.

Nodding sympathetically, my friend replied, "That's funny -- mine has been like that too recently. All of a sudden he became really clingy and whiny."

I laughed. "Disequilibrium must be contagious, they've cycled up, like women getting their periods at the same time! Maybe they need to go to the Toddler Red Tent!"


The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is one of my favorite books ever. When I first heard that women in "Biblical Times" (more specifically, the era of Jacob and his 12 sons) used to be sent to the Red Tent during their periods (they were all on the same cycle, living together so closely), I was shocked -- how awful to banish women for bleeding! When I read the book, however, I realized the women enjoyed their monthly Red Tent days. They were grateful for the female camaraderie and a break from the men and the regular rhythms of the village. They appreciated the sacred Red Tent.

So maybe children who are experiencing disequilibrium need to go to the Red Tent until they get their collective sh*t together. They can appreciate one another's willfulness, pickiness, emotionality, and mood swings. Together, they can rage, whine, cry and pout about how there were four strawberries on their plate and five raspberries, instead of the other way around. They can appreciate one another's erratic and perplexing trains of thought.

Not sure if your child should be spending some time in the Toddler Red Tent? Here are some guidelines.

Signs of Disequilibrium in Your Toddler:

1. Slams the door in your face while yelling, "I no take nap!"

2. Cries because you put on his socks before his pants.

3. Is attempting to simultaneously crawl up your spine and reenter your uterus.

4. Employs the whiny "Pat" from "Saturday Night Live" voice when making any and all unreasonable requests.

5. Screams as though being tortured when the "wrong" parent lifts her out of the bathtub.

6. Insists on eating only beige food, never wearing pants and abstaining from all outerwear.

7. Sobs uncontrollably when you mistakenly put on the wrong episode of "Yo Gabba Gabba."

The most important thing to remember when it's time for your child to visit the Toddler Red Tent is don't panic. She'll come back to you eventually, and once again transform into the sweet, content, cooperative child you remember. In the meantime, she'll have a blast raising hell with her fellow disequilibrium-suffering cohorts. Maybe they'll even eat chocolate together and cry during commercials.

Have an irritable preschooler or volatile kindergartener? Don't worry, the Disequilibrium Red Tent is an equal opportunity offender. No matter what your child's age or which vexing symptoms they may be displaying, we'll find them their very own Red Tent.

This post originally appeared on Mommy, for Real. Connect with Stephanie on Facebook!