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Managing Common Behavioural Issues in Toddlers: Part 1

Managing Common Behavioural Issues in Toddlers: Part 1

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You’ve most likely heard all about the ‘terrible twos’ from friends and family, and now that your little one has finally hit that stage, you understand exactly why it’s called that! So, why has your previously calm & mild child started acting up all of a sudden, and how can you deal with it?

First, it’s really important to understand WHY toddlers often throw tantrums, display disruptive behaviour or aggression. At around two years of age, your little one is going through an interesting stage of development. He is slowly understanding more about his own feelings, wants, likes, dislikes and needs, and yet due to his limited language skills, is often unable to express these feelings and needs appropriately. This, coupled with a strong desire to gain more independence and control, can cause your toddler to act out in an inappropriate manner. For example, your child might throw a tantrum because the specific t-shirt that he wants to wear that day is in the washing machine. Or he might be excited about going to the park one moment, and once you’re there, will insist that he wants to go home, and throw a fit if his request is not complied with. Sometimes, lack of impulse control in toddlers can also manifest in aggressive toddler behaviour issues like hitting or biting. These are common behaviour problems in children around the age of two.

While your toddler’s difficult behaviour might seem challenging and confusing to you, your own behaviour plays a crucial role in guiding your him through this period. Here are some helpful toddler behaviour management strategies to help you tackle this challenging stage -

  • Help your child to understand and articulate his feelings
    As your child enters this stage, he is experiencing all kinds of new emotions and feelings, ranging from anger to excitement to nervousness or frustration. This onslaught of different emotions can be very overwhelming for your little one. You can make this easier for your child by helping him to identify and understand these feelings. Discuss your own feelings with them in a manner which they can understand. When reading a book to your child, discuss the character’s feelings to help them put names to different emotions. Similarly, encourage your child to talk about how he feels in different situations and show him that you understand. Example – if you and your child are out grocery shopping and he becomes cranky and insists on going home immediately, you can say something on the lines of – “I understand that you’re tired and upset and you want to go home. But Mummy has to finish shopping. Once we are done, we can go home and you can take a nice long nap. Does that sound nice?” First acknowledge his feelings and then show him a way to manage that feeling.

  • Show them how to express their feelings in an acceptable manner
    Although it is important to talk things out with your child, trying to use logic and reason while your child is having a full-blown tantrum can be pretty challenging. When your child is in a calm state, talking to them about ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ ways of expressing their feelings. Lay down examples of both acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Explain how ‘hitting’, ‘biting’ and ‘screaming’ is unacceptable behaviour and describe how this behaviour can be hurtful to others. Encourage them to let out their anger/frustration through exercise or activity. If they are frustrated by an inability to do something, show them how to ask for help. When you lay down appropriate expectations for your toddler’s behaviour and spell them out clearly, it becomes easier for everyone.

  • Make time every day to have a one-on-one talk with them and simply LISTEN
    Give your child time and space to talk about their feelings and simply listen. A great time to do this is when you are putting them to bed at night. Ask them about their day and let them talk. If your child doesn’t open up easily, try and lead with simple questions such as ‘Did you have fun today?’, ‘Tell me something that made you happy today’, or ‘Tell me something that you didn’t like’. This will give you a chance to really understand what’s going on in their minds.

  • Establish structure, rules & consequences and be CONSISTENT in following them
    Your toddler looks to you for guidance and you need to lead the way by establishing certain rules. This includes showing your child what kind of behaviours are acceptable and which ones aren’t. Your toddler also needs to understand that there are consequences for bad behaviour. Whether it is a time-out or taking away a certain privilege, you need to decide what these consequences will be. Once you do that, it’s important to follow them consistently. For example: You’re tired after a long day at work and you ignore your toddler’s bad behaviour instead of correcting it and enforcing the consequences. This will reinforce the negative behaviour. Remember – consistency is key! And so is following through on what you’ve said.

  • Don’t forget to praise good toddler behaviour
    Instead of simply correcting your child when he does something wrong, remember to praise your child when they behave in a desirable manner. This can really help in reinforcing your child’s good behaviour.

  • Manage the situation before it escalates by identifying your child’s triggers
    If you watch carefully, you’ll often see a pattern in your toddler’s behaviour. Try to identify some of the things that can trigger a tantrum or an outburst, and take control of the situation before it gets out of hand. The best way of doing this is by creating a distraction before your child goes into tantrum mode. It could be something as simple as distracting them with a toy or funny situation or even cracking a joke.

  • Give them a certain amount of freedom by allowing them to make choices that are appropriate for their age
    A lot of the time, your toddler’s frustration comes from a greater need for control and independence. So, let him have that by offering age-appropriate choices when possible. For example: when you’re dressing your little girl, you can ask her to select between 2 dresses you’ve picked out for the day. Don’t offer too many choices as this may also get confusing.

  • Limit screen time
    Television shows and video games can sometimes contain content that has a negative effect on your child’s behaviour. Be watchful of the kind of content your child is consuming, and limit screen time as far as possible. Explain this to your toddler and set a timer to help them understand the concept.

  • Make enough time for outdoor play
    Your toddler needs an outlet for her abundant energy. Give her enough time for play daily.

  • Look for signs of stress
    Changes in your child’s routine can cause emotional distress for some. Look out for signs of stress during if you and your family are undergoing a big change such as moving house or something else which can cause a change in routine.

  • Stay calm while handling toddler aggression
    It’s not always easy to remain calm when you have a screaming, kicking toddler to handle. But it’s important for you to be a role model for your child at this time. Take a deep breath and stay calm. Speak to your child in a firm and steady voice. If your toddler isn’t responding to calm tone of voice, wait it out or move your toddler out of the situation.

  • Make sure you and your partner/other caregivers are all on the same page
    When setting rules and consequences for your toddler’s behaviour, make sure that you and any other caregivers are all aware of them. It can get confusing for your toddler if one adult reacts in a certain way, and the other in a completely opposite manner.

  • Get expert advice when needed
    If you feel your toddler’s behaviour problems are getting out of control and that you are unable to manage it, speak to a behavioral expert or your doctor for guidance.

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