As our toddlers are currently full swing into the “terrible twos” (we prefer to see it as "terrific twos"), there are occasions when we’ve been left feeling drained, frustrated and helpless on how to manage their behaviours. In this post, we discuss 7 challenging toddler behaviours which all parents of 2-3 year olds can probably relate to, why they happen and some suggested strategies we use to manage them!
It reminded us that we must use love and compassion to help our vulnerable children instead of blaming them for challenging behaviours.
1. THE TORNADO
You’ve set up your beautiful playroom and your 2-year old enters and starts dumping every toy out on the floor within minutes, creating a huge mess. Now you’ve got to start tidying up right away! Toddlers are passionate about exploring, discovering, and learning. To manage mess, we rotate toys in our playroom so even if everything is dumped on the floor, it’s manageable. We also only have materials out that we are comfortable with e.g. no glitters or small loose parts in our art trolley and no messy sensory bases unless supervised. At the same time, we set clear boundaries during our play to correct their behavior over time (and it does take repeated exposure and reminders). For example, when we first introduced messy sensory play like rainbow rice, our girls had the tendency to dump them out of the bin. With repeated exposure and reminders to “please keep the play inside the bin” and “please help me pick up the rice and put back into the bin”, they have learned to play neatly over time (true story!)
2. NO NO NO!
“No, I don’t want to eat breakfast.” “No, I don’t want to get in the car.” “No, I don’t want to bathe.” “No! No! No!“ Sound familiar?
Toddlers are learning to become their own individuals and exerting their opinion is part of that process. Acknowledge that their opinions matter but give toddlers simple reasons and limited options. Celyn recently went through a period where she did not want to sit in her car seat. Instead of flaring up at her, I tried this one day, “I know you don’t want to sit in your car seat, but look at Mummy and Daddy! We also wear seat belts in the car! Can I buckle you in so you are just like us?” Surprisingly, she complied, and no issue with car seats anymore! Turned out, she just needed a simple reason why she should be in the car seat and it’s exactly what mum and dad do.
3. I'LL DO IT MYSELF!
Both Cs are going through a phase of “I'll do that myself!” as the response to every single thing that needs to get done. It gets frustrating sometimes especially when you are just in a hurry to get things done. Toddlers are curious about how the world works and how they can control and manoeuvre in that world. It’s important to let them try things on their own no matter how frustratingly long it can take. We sometimes speed this process up with a reminder boost, such as “Are you going to wear your pyjamas or do you want mommy to do it?” This usually gets them moving faster, because they don’t want us to do it!
4. I WILL HIT / BEAT YOU!
Hitting, pushing, and biting others. Claire’s going through exactly this phase with her sister (not the biting yet, thank goodness) and I’m still learning how to manage it as best I can. Constantly reminding myself that toddlers get frustrated easily because they are learning to communicate and also learning to control their emotions. They often express themselves through physical means. Set up clear and specific rules about acceptable toddler behavior with logical consequences for misbehaviour. Whenever I observe Claire being physical with her sister, I will tell her very firmly, “It’s not right to push your sister because she might fall down and get hurt,” and make sure she apologises for her behavior. At the same time, I’m careful to acknowledge her feelings and explain that it’s frustrating that her toys get snatched by her sister, but we should not push and hit others. I’m still getting there to correct her behavior but toddlers will repeatedly try to push the boundaries so consistency and follow through is really key to curbing the inappropriate physical behaviour.
5. MINE, MINE MINE!
“It’s mine! Mine! Mine!” Sound familiar too? Toddlers are learning social skills and do not yet know how to share. In fact, most toddlers and early preschoolers will not play together but side by side because they just don’t have the developmental capability yet. We model sharing with our kids and encourage them to do so though we keep my expectations low on this one until they are a bit older.
6. THE TANTRUMS
Toddler tantrums happen. It’s part of them learning to control their emotions. Take a deep breath, stay calm, speak evenly, acknowledge the cause of the tantrum (when appropriate), and just wait it out. We find this gets easier over time as we learn to recognize common causes of our girl’s tantrums and can ward them off. We also have creative tricks up our sleeves that we know can get them to follow instructions. It works differently for each child, but it’s all about understanding what gets your child ticking. For example, Claire hates the thought of ants crawling on her bodies and just a simple, “Oh, I think I see the ants lining up to crawl onto your dirty body already! Do you want to quickly have your bath so they’ll go home?” For Celyn, the strategy will be to invite her to take her toy animals or bowls & scoops for "waterplay" in the bathing tub. Explore and try different techniques to see what works for your child.
7. THE VORTEX - RUN, SPIN, JUMP!
Your toddlers are in constant motion, running and spinning. Toddlers have lots of energy. It can be frustrating and even embarrassing (in a public place) when the Vortex hits. We’ve learned to take this in stride and find that most people are fairly tolerant of exuberant toddler behavior! We do also bring them outdoors whenever we can to burn off some of those excess toddler energy!
Every child is different and techniques that work for us may or may not work for your child. Try and experiment with different techniques and you will gradually discover a few that resonate well with your child! We hope that this post has been helpful to help you understand and embrace your toddler’s behaviours! Remember, your child is not being “naughty” or “terrible”, they are just being a child!
These tips are not meant to help your children become “good kids” but rather help you understand the developmental reasons behind their behaviours so you can exercise more patience and love when dealing with them!
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