Whilst trying to leave the house this morning I had a 10 minutes battle with my almost 3 year old who must have thought of 15 different reasons why she was unable to put her shoes on. During this time I fetched my 1 year old 4 times from on top of the kitchen table, the couch, halfway up the stairs and I forget where else. Two very different behaviours from two very different girls. I never understood about climbers, my eldest daughter would never have dreamed of climbing onto a table, she still hasn’t. My youngest seemed to think that turning 1 was the signal to climb, run and generally get herself into as much danger as possible. The differences in nature of my two daughters just serves to highlight how different children can be. There is a wide range of “normal” and as such many ways to react to these behaviours.
Almost all children will go through periods where they have challenging behaviours. They can vary in nature, severity and can occur at many ages. In this blog we will look at some common strategies and ideas to help minimise these behaviours.
- Routines, many toddlers become anxious when they can’t predict what’s coming next, some need this more than others and some may need detail and reminders that you would not expect. Try not to get impatient when your toddler asks the same questions over and over and try to be especially understanding when there is a change in routine, prepare your toddler as much as possible and you will hopefully avert some of the problems.
- Words aren’t always enough. Sometimes visual cues can help. If you have people coming to visit or are going to visit new people or people you see infrequently show your child photos ahead of time. You can’t cut all the surprises out of your toddler’s life of course, but you can minimize the stress by giving them advance warning or changes when you can.
- Make the environment child-proof, but interesting: Toddlers need space to explore and play. Try to avoid having to say no, make one kitchen cupboard accessible to the child (I find the tupperware cupboard good for this) Similarly use baby gates to corner off areas that are dangerous or precious so you can allow your toddler some freedom to play.. Provide toys and other items that promote solo play such as blocks, boxes, musical instruments and push/pull along toys. In the case of my little climber I have removed all unnecessary chairs and made sure the bottom of the stairs is a soft landing!
- Clear and consistent rules, most toddlers need the security and consistency of clear rules, so it’s important to set limits. Also be aware that making an exception “just this once” will most likely backfire, expect your toddler to demand this over and over again. I once made a critical error in giving my daughter a milo after bathtime instead her usual milk thinking it was a nice treat. Sure enough she asked for milo each night for about 10 days and was none too pleased with the response.
- Develop the helping habit. Toddlers love to help and feel useful so let them join you in some of your household tasks. Their early attempts to assist are usually more of a hindrance than a help but it’s the helping habit that’s being developed that’s important. Next time you open a dishwasher only to find a curious toddler standing alongside you, hand them a plate and point them in the direction of the cupboard where it belongs. My two assistants now empty the whole bottom rack.
- Physical contact, as toddlers become more independent and “busy” they naturally spend more time away from you. Taking time to sit with them, play with them, read to them or even just giving an extra cuddle can be immensely reassuring to them and help them feel more secure.
- For older toddlers, talk to them, acknowledge their feelings, let them know that you get upset when they are upset and that these feelings are ok. If your toddler has communicated to you that they are upset/frightened by the loud dogs, explain that you understand that they are upset/frightened and explain what you will do to try and stop the dogs being so loud (e.g. calling the neighbour, leaving the park etc). Toddlers can regulate their feelings better if they can trust their caregivers to respond quickly to their needs.
- Reward good behaviour, try to acknowledge and reward good behaviour and ignore negative behaviour (unless dangerous). This can be hard but for many children any kind of attention, even negative is enough so by ignoring it they will start to crave the attention and acknowledgement they get from good behaviour.
There are many more strategies that can be used to help manage your toddlers behaviours, here are a few links to more information.
In summary, the chances are whatever behaviour your child is doing it is probably normal, undesirable? Yes, but most likely normal and most importantly they will grow out of it. In the meantime I hope these tips help.