Toddlers playing with toilet paper in living room(Photo: Michal Horevaj)

One evening when my younger daughter, Genie, was 2, I walked into my bedroom to find her frowning at a twenty-dollar bill on my dresser. "He ugly!" she said, holding it up. Yeah, one can kind of see how Andrew Jackson's caterpillar eyebrows might not do it for the preschool crowd. I chuckled and left the room for a minute, but I wasn't laughing when I walked back in to find Genie proudly tearing Andrew into confetti-size pieces. "What are you doing? That's twenty bucks!" I shouted as she burst into tears. I quickly apologized (after all, she didn't know from money, and I'd left her with it) and taped it back up. My husband told me I could probably exchange it at the bank. But six years later, it's still in my dresser drawer -- a reminder that my children will periodically behave in ways that throw me a curveball, and that I've got to take the small stuff in stride.

Actually, it wasn't small stuff at all, says David Hill, M.D., a pediatrician and author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro. "Genie was demonstrating fantastic hand control -- something I look for in small kids during their checkups," he says. "Sometimes a very young child will come into my office and even before I've walked into the room, he's destroyed the tissue paper on the table he's sitting on. His mother will start to apologize, and I'll say, 'Oh no, that's terrific, he's just saved me the developmental part of the exam!'" Which just goes to show you, for every milestone and leap forward we watch for, applaud, and photograph, there are plenty of others that come disguised as less-than-scrapbook-worthy moments. Here, the bright side of some otherwise annoying behaviors.

Imitation Frustration

From the moment you bring your baby home, your house can feel like a zoo. But never more than when your child's first birthday nears and you begin to think you're raising a parrot. Your little one may start imitating your tone of voice as you talk, making low hums when your own voice is low or high-pitched yelps when you're excited. And just wait till she can speak and starts mimicking all your catchphrases. "My three-year-old, Arya, will say, 'That is gorrrrrrrgeous,' drawing it out just like I do," says Rebecca Bernard Aguiar of Inglewood, CA. In St. Louis, Andrea Goodson squirms when strangers approach her 3-year-old twins, Alayna and Josslyn, at the supermarket: "The girls imitate people they don't even know!"

The Upside to the Upset: Your mini-mimic is doing what she needs to in order to learn how to speak, says Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist who maintains a website, peacefulparenting.com, and is the author of Why Do Kids Act That Way? "She's tracking your every word in an effort to acquire language. Naturally, she practices by imitating what you and others do, which can be hideously enlightening." That's how Lisa McNoughton of Las Vegas feels when her 2-year-old, Kaitlyn, talks on her toy phone just like Mommy. "It's totally hysterical...until a curse slips out," she sighs.

How to go with the Flow: Well, first of all, stop cursing around your child if you do! Otherwise, don't try to muffle your little echo at home now that you know how important this behavior is. But it's OK to explain to your 2- or 3-year-old, if he starts imitating friends or strangers, that "people don't like it when you copy them." Hopefully, he'll tone it down (or you'll be stuck haunting the grocery store at midnight so you don't meet strangers. Hey, no checkout lines!).