My friend and I sat watching our toddlers play at our weekly Montessori parent-child class. I breathed a sigh of relief that my two-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.”

angry toddler

Disequilibrium can be a real b*tch.

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- 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 rollercoaster. 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.

My friend replied, “That’s funny- mine has been like that too recently. All of a sudden he became really clingy and whiney.”

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 all 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, 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 shit 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.

Toddler Red Tent


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.

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