Watching babies grow into energetic, inquisitive, and rambunctious — if not totally impossible, at times — toddlers is an experience every parent goes through. Children’s social, emotional, and cognitive skills start to bloom in toddlerhood. And while these stages can be fun and exciting, they also bring behaviors that many parents find challenging. But many of these behaviors are normal.
Throwing toys or having tantrums isn’t always a sign that your child is being “bad.” What’s important is that parents understand the social-emotional behaviors behind the actions.
Understanding Toddler Behavior: How Parents Can Get On Their Child’s Level
As children turn two, they begin to realize they’re their own people—complete with their own thoughts and emotions. But they don’t quite yet have the logical reasoning skills to rationalize their feelings and they can often struggle with self-control. In turn, they get frustrated, and their behavior follows suit.
Toddlers are a bit like teenagers: lots of mood swings. One moment they’re ecstatic about a lollipop; the next, they’re distraught because it isn’t the right color. It’s parents’ jobs to support and guide them as they navigate these tides.
Normal Toddler Behavior: What Can Parents Expect?
Parents should educate themselves about which behaviors are normal and which aren’t so normal. Even as a baseline, that understanding makes it much easier to handle the ups and downs of toddler-hood.
Strange as it may sound, hitting, biting, and hair-pulling are all normal. Because their impulse controls are undeveloped, toddlers struggle to deal constructively with their strong emotions. So they lash out.
Normal, yes; ignorable: no. Children must learn that aggressive behavior is unacceptable. So when you see this type of behavior, respond calmly and clearly. Remove your child from the situation for a brief time-out; he or she will soon learn that behaviors like these mean consequences.
These explosive displays of despair — the emotional equivalent of an avalanche — are as embarrassing for parents as they are gut-wrenching.
Yet tantrums are completely normal, and they’re often a result of developing language skills. Toddlers understand a lot more than they can verbalize, and when they aren’t able to say what they want or express how they feel in words, they tend to get frustrated.
Here are some tips for handling the dreaded (yet wholly unavoidable) tantrums:
- Stay calm: If you get frustrated, your toddler’s tantrum may get worse. By staying calm, you can help your child to feel calm.
- Don’t ignore the behavior: While you may feel that turning a blind eye will teach children that tantrums are a type of bad behavior, ignoring the issue can actually make things worse by making children feel abandoned. Instead, get down on their level and sit with them — it’s one small way to help them feel comforted and cared for.
- Use time-outs: This technique won’t suit every child, but when deployed effectively, time-outs can offer a safe space and a moment to calm down.
When your child throws a fit, it’s because they’re dealing with a storm of emotions. Remember: That’s a terrifying experience for them, too. For more tantrum-squashing techniques, read on..
When toddlers realize a situation isn’t going in their favor, they often tell white lies.
We’ve all been there: You lay out fresh brownies and make it clear that nobody should touch them. Then you turn your back for two minutes — and voila! — one has mysteriously disappeared. The chief suspect has a stained T-shirt, yet remains adamant that it was the cat’s fault.
Toddlers that lie — either by claiming an event didn’t happen or by blaming someone or something else — are not, in fact, being rebellious. Nor is their moral compass broken. Instead, they’re exercising a coping mechanism to get through what they perceive as a stressful situation.
When faced with an obvious white lie, parents should state the obvious and suggest a way to fix it. For instance: “It looks like you got crumbs all over your T-shirt after eating a brownie. Let’s clean up and wash our face.” Instead of lecturing or punishing, show your child that lying isn’t the answer — and that there are always better alternatives.
Throwing is a sign that fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are developing, sure. But for parents, it can also mean the difference between spaghetti Bolognese on the plate ad spaghetti Bolognese on the furniture.
Throwing toys or objects is normal toddler behavior that’s often encouraged during playtime. It’s a fun and exciting skill to learn. However, if it becomes disruptive — or if it’s done out of anger — it must be addressed.
Toddlers love to hear what they’re allowed to do. Rather than telling your child that throwing isn’t allowed, try offering “freedom with limits.” For example: Throwing blocks is dangerous inside, but throwing their stuffed teddy at the wall is O.K.
What to Do If It’s Not Normal Behavior
In some instances, toddlers display behavior that just isn’t normal. And parents are the best people to judge whether there’s an issue. If you have a gut feeling that something’s not right, be sure to act on it. Visit the doctor and ask for help — that’s the best way to nip the problem in the bud.
Helpful Ways to Teach Your Child to Express Themselves Calmly
There are plenty of parenting techniques that give children the tools they need to express themselves calmly during toddler-hood; among them, offer empathy, talk with them about what they’re feeling, and help them practice self-control.
Below are some of Vivvi’s favorite tips and tricks:
- Talk about emotions openly: Whether you’re reading a book or practicing self-talk, talk openly about what you’re feeling. This helps kids learn how to label — and gain control over— their emotions.
- Teach them to manage strong emotions: Anger and sadness are big emotions for anyone, let alone young children. Validate these feelings and suggest activities that allow them to express themselves in healthy ways. For example, if they’re mad because they can’t play outside, tell them to rip up a piece of paper or shake their arms and legs to release the anger.
- Make waiting easier with a visual aid: Many children devolve into tantrums when they don’t get what they want the instant they want it. Visual aids are great for teaching patience and self-control. The next time your toddler gets impatient, set a five-minute timer and encourage her to watch it. She’ll be preoccupied and she’ll feel she’s doing an important task — win, win.
At Vivvi, we understand that toddler-hood comes with some magical moments and some not-so-magical moments. Our inquiry-based learning model gives children the language and social-emotional skills they need to navigate their big, new, scary emotions.
For more information about our programs or to book a tour of our New York City campuses, get in touch with our team today.