As a parent, you cherish your child more than anything in the world, but let’s face it – even the most well-behaved children can have their challenging moments. Parenthood is a 24/7 job, and if your toddler is constantly testing your patience, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
I think it is important to first understand the goals any child might have when acting out in a given situation. Like adults, children want to feel like they belong and if their perception is they don’t belong they can act out. The first step in managing your toddler’s behavior is to determine how they are trying to belong. Which of these fit your situation? Sometimes you can identify their needs by how it is making you feel.
When a child seeks attention excessively, it may stem from the belief that they only belong when noticed or acknowledged. Parents often feel annoyed by this behavior.
Some children act out because they believe they only belong when they are in control or bossy, challenging parental authority. This behavior can provoke parents, leading them to either engage in conflicts with the child or give in to their demands.
Children driven by a goal of revenge believe they can only belong when they hurt others as they feel hurt, doubting their own capacity for love. Parents are deeply hurt by this behavior and may react by seeking retaliation or trying to get even.
4. Display of Inadequacy
When a child believes they only belong by convincing others not to expect anything from them and portraying themselves as unable and helpless, it may result in parents feeling despair and hopelessness. Parents might even feel tempted to give up in response.
Understanding the underlying needs that are not being met for a child when they act out is essential in effective parenting. Recognizing the impact of these behaviors on parental emotions and reactions enables parents to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting impulsively.
Keeping these goals in mind, here are some practical tips, accompanied by real-life examples, to help you deal with toddler behavior and create a more peaceful environment for both you and your little one.
1. Understand the Root of Behavior:
Children often misbehave due to hunger, tiredness, frustration, or the inability to express their emotions effectively. For instance, if your toddler acts out when feeling hungry or tired, ensure they have regular meals and naps to reduce tantrums. Also, when they hear the word “no” and are denied what they want, they may react with a tantrum. Instead of giving in to every demand, help them understand that they can’t always have everything they want instantly. A simple explanation can go a long way.
Example: Imagine your toddler throwing a tantrum in the supermarket because they want candy. Instead of giving in to their demands, calmly explain that candy is a treat for special occasions and offer them a healthier snack option instead.
2. Shower Them with Positive Attention:
Children crave attention, and sometimes they might resort to negative behaviors to get noticed. By giving your child positive attention, you reduce the likelihood of them acting out to seek your focus. Spending quality time with your little one, engaging in activities they enjoy, and acknowledging their virtues and the positive behaviors that show those virtues, can work wonders. Balance this attention with allowing them to learn independence and creative self-play will bring out the best in them.
Example: When your toddler plays nicely with their toys or shares with a sibling, make sure to praise them and offer a few words of encouragement. “Wow, I see your kindness when you are sharing your toy so nicely with your sister!
3. Embrace a Consistent Daily Routine:
A stable routine provides a sense of security and predictability for toddlers, making them less likely to act out due to disruptions. Stick to regular mealtimes, nap schedules, and bedtime routines to minimize tantrums caused by unexpected changes.
Example: If your toddler’s bedtime is at 8 PM, ensure that it remains consistent each night. Even if you have guests over or are on vacation, try to maintain the usual bedtime routine as closely as possible.
4. Set Clear Boundaries and Rules:
Establishing clear boundaries and rules at home helps your child understand what is expected of them. When they know the limits, they are more likely to behave appropriately, both at home and outside. Setting clear boundaries requires that we decide ahead of time the virtues and how they apply in your home. This is part of Clarity in the Four C’s of Successful Families.
Example: Let your toddler know what the rules and consequences are for using crayons (ahead of time)—only drawing on paper, not on walls or furniture. If they draw on the wall, calmly remind them of the rule and guide them to draw on paper instead.
5. Suggest Alternate Activities:
Redirecting your toddler’s attention to more appropriate activities can be highly effective. Instead of scolding them for undesirable behavior, offer an alternative that is engaging and acceptable.
Example: If your toddler is being rowdy indoors and you don’t want them to break something, redirect their energy by suggesting they play with building blocks or engage in a fun puzzle game or go outside to play.
6. Offer Them Choices:
Giving your toddler a sense of autonomy can foster cooperation. Offer them choices within reasonable limits and according to their age and developmental stage to make them feel empowered and more willing to cooperate.
Example: If it’s bath time, ask your toddler if they want to play with their rubber duckies or their foam letters during the bath. This way, they feel involved in the decision-making process.
7. Be Mindful of Consequences and Timing:
When you need to discipline your toddler, ensure that the consequences are immediate, age-appropriate, and consistent. Empty threats can lead to a loss of authority, while timely consequences reinforce the connection between actions and results.
Example: If your toddler throws a toy, let them know that the toy will be put away for a short time if they continue throwing it. If they persist, follow through with the consequence and explain why it happened.
Don’t worry so much about whether you think the virtue word is too big for them. They can begin to put the virtue of ‘orderliness’ together with putting their toys where they are stored. You can say to them that orderliness is “having a place for things you use and keeping them there so you can use them whenever you need to.”
Use virtue words often and tie them to the behavior you are hoping to see.
8. Acknowledge Positive Behaviors:
While it’s essential to address misbehavior, don’t forget to celebrate and reinforce positive behaviors. Encourage your child’s good deeds by tying them to the virtue your family values, will boost their confidence and encourage them to continue making better choices.
Example: When your toddler shares their toys with a friend during a playdate, commend and acknowledge their orderliness. “Thank you for your orderliness when you put your toys back where you keep them.”
(Don’t worry so much about whether you think the virtue word is too big for them. They can begin to put the virtue of ‘orderliness’ together with putting their toys where they are stored. You can say to them that orderliness is “having a place for things you use and keeping them there so you can use them whenever you need to.”)
Parenting a toddler can be challenging, but with patience, understanding, and consistent positive reinforcement, you can effectively tame their unruliness and bring out the best in them. By addressing their needs, setting clear boundaries, and offering choices, you’ll foster a loving and harmonious relationship, paving the way for a happy and well-behaved child. Their virtues will shine. Remember, stay calm, and approach each situation with love and empathy—this journey is as much about their growth as it is about yours.
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