Dealing with toddler behaviors is downright frustrating. Do you find yourself racking your brain daily trying to figure out why your toddler won’t listen to you? There are so many factors that go into how our children behave that often times it can be difficult to determine the culprit. Are they overtired? Overwhelmed? Feeling shame or embarrassment?
When we have a better idea of how toddler’s brains work, we can gain insights into their behavior and take steps to help them improve over time. Here are 5 secret truths behind your toddler’s behavior and the positive parenting strategies you can use to help them:
1. Just because they know the rules, doesn’t mean they can follow them
Two and three year olds have acquired so much language in their short lives that it can be easy to overestimate their capabilities in terms of their behavior. For example, they may know (and be able to articulate) that it’s not okay to shout in the library, and yet they do it anyways. They may know it’s not right to grab things from their friends, but it happens regardless. There are times when they literally can’t stop themselves.
Toddlers are easily distracted and they lack impulse control. It’s extremely difficult for toddlers to stay within an optimal “zone of regulation” – meaning that it’s hard for them to stay calm when faced with big feelings like over excitement or disappointment.
So even though your child may appear fine on the outside, they could be completely overstimulated on the inside. And if this happens, behaviors can explode out of nowhere, leaving you confused and wondering what happened.
Since we know that toddlers have a hard time regulating their emotions and impulses, we need to be prepared to give lots of reminders. Remember that behavior changes happen slowly, over time, with lots of encouragement and opportunities to practice.
2. They don’t understand time
They just don’t. When you say to your toddler “In five minutes,” or “later” they have absolutely no concept of what that means. Tons of toddler behaviors can occur simply because the child has no idea when and where they are going next.
Help your child create a predictable sequence to their day. Try as much as possible to keep their schedule consistent so that you can remind them what comes next. For example, if your child is hungry you can remind them that lunch time comes after nap time.
3. They need help identifying the reason or the feeling behind their behavior
Toddlers can’t usually articulate the “why” behind their actions. It’s our job to point out to them what we perceive is going on, so that we can empower them to change their behavior. For example:
Toddler whining loudly – “I see that you are looking for some attention, try saying ‘Excuse me’ and I’ll be happy to pay attention to you.”
Toddler pulling on the dog’s tail – “It looks like you are interested in playing with doggy, is that what you’re trying to do? Let’s play a different way so we don’t hurt doggy.”
Toddler crying about not getting the snack they wanted – “I see that you are upset about not getting the right snack. Did that make you feel sad?”
Toddler grabbing another child’s toy away – “You wanted to play with that toy, but it’s busy. Let’s ask your friend if you can play with it when they are finished.”
4. They need validation
Young children need to know that it’s okay to feel sad, hurt, disappointed, and grumpy. After all, adults feel these emotions all the time!
Acknowledge your child’s feelings by saying “that was upsetting,” “that made you sad,” or “I feel like that too sometimes.” This helps your child to know that there is a difference between their feelings and their actions. It’s perfectly okay to feel disappointed, but it’s not okay to throw toys, for example.
Giving your child the words to describe their feelings is often all they need in order to resolve the situation and move on with their day.
5. Remember: The worse they feel, the worse they behave
This is absolutely key. As best as we can, we need to maintain a positive outlook on our toddler’s behavior. If we act negatively and assume they are going to misbehave in any given situation, chances are they will. The words we use towards our children becomes their inner voice. We want our children to believe in their ability to do the right thing. We want to empower them to behave in positive ways, and to feel positively about themselves.
Say to your child, “I believe you can do it.” “I know you’ll remember to use your walking feet.” And if your child doesn’t remember the rules, say “I know next time you’ll remember.”
Interested in positive parenting? Here are some great books to get you started!
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