What are typical behavioral characteristics and challenges?
Children are in the Toddler Years from 1 ½ years old until their 3rd birthday. During this time, they go through many new physical, emotional and intellectual experiences, such as:
What are some solutions to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)?
- High energy levels. Toddlers have lots of energy! This is a period of rapid motor growth. Your child is learning to walk, run, climb, throw and feed himself.
- Curiosity. Toddlers are very interested in how the world works. Your child will want to explore everything in her environment and test how people respond to her behavior.
- Impulsivity. Toddlers begin experiencing impulses and do not have control over them! Remember your child will need your guidance in areas such as safety, manners and empathy.
- Frustration. Toddlers only know how to use a limited number of words and may get frustrated because they cannot express themselves.
- Tantrums. You may see anger in the form of outbursts, typically called "tantrums," during this age. Outbursts peak from 16-24 months and then decline. Your toddler may need your extra help in calming down.
- Independence. Toddlers want to do things by themselves. It's important to be patient and allow enough time for your child to practice everyday tasks such as getting dressed or feeding herself.
- "Mine." Children can become extremely possessive at this age and "mine" is a word you will hear often!
The new experiences that toddlers face can be overwhelming for them and for
their parents. Many parents have questions about their child's behavior during
this time. Check out some solutions for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
you may be asking yourself:
I have tried talking to my toddler about his behavior and he doesn't seem to understand. What can I do to better communicate with him? How can I influence his behavior? Is he too young to try?
Remember that your child has a limited vocabulary and doesn't understand everything you say. It's important not to use too many words. Don't expect your child to understand another person's viewpoint because children this age are very egocentric. Also, your child does not yet understand logical relationships such as cause and effect - you may already realize it is impossible to logically reason with a toddler. Practice these ways to communicate with your toddler:
My 2-year-old seems so fearless! She runs so fast - I'm worried she'll hurt herself. I love her free spirit and don't want to cramp her style, but I want to teach her to be more careful. How can I do that with a 2-year-old?
- Learn and model ways to use nonverbal communication in actions that are appropriate for your child.
- "Nonverbal communication" involves the feelings expressed through facial expressions, voices, and the way you move or stand.
- Children are very sensitive to nonverbal communication. For example, Johnny comes running inside to show Dad the picture he drew. Dad barely takes his eyes away from his work. Johnny learns Dad is not interested in Johnny's achievement.
- Make sure to maintain eye contact when you express your feelings to your child.
- Eye contact tells your child she is important and that you are focusing on her. It also encourages her to make eye contact with you.
- Making eye contact increases the effectiveness of your message.
- Be aware of your posture and position when talking with your child.
- Get down to your child's eye level. Kneel next to him or sit beside him to take away the intimidating difference in size and height.
- Watch out for negative body language. For example, crossed arms or legs can indicate that you are "closed off," resistant, or hostile.
- Monitor your tone of voice.
- Your tone of voice may be the most powerful nonverbal tool of all!
- A simple phrase can be interpreted differently depending upon the tone of voice.
- Keeping the voice calm, soothing, and soft helps children feel safe and able to express themselves in return.
- Remember the importance of facial expressions and touch.
- Simply rubbing a child's back, smiling and winking, or tucking a child into bed communicates, "I care about you."
- Children are very aware of our faces and the way we express affection through the touch of our hand or a hug.
Between 2 to 6 years of age, children will experience life with excitement and courage. Here are some strategies to balance curiosity with safety and appropriate boundaries:
My toddler will not respond to the word "No." As soon as I say "no" to something, he whines, protests or cries - nonstop. He will not do what we tell him to do. Please help!
- Foster your child's growth with both opportunities for creative exploration (such as a nature walk) and opportunities for rules and structure (such as holding your hand in crowded areas). Different situations will provide the chance for your child to become a curious yet responsible person.
- Encourage your child as she faces challenges. Protect your child if she or someone else is in danger, but don't shelter her from harmless exploration - even if it is time-consuming or messy. It's important to teach your child to believe in herself and try new things.
- Remember limits and firmness have a place in disciplining young children. Avoid these problematic parenting styles:
- "Permissive" parents allow their children to do whatever they like. This style of parenting gives silent approval to both your child's good and bad behavior. Giving young children too much power is very scary and makes the world seem unsafe to them.
- "Autocratic" parents have overly strict rules and give their children little power in decision-making. This can result in negative consequences such as low self-esteem and fear of failure.
- "Limitless parents" are parents who become too busy, distracted, or tired to set limits and want their children to enjoy the little time they spend together. This causes problems with power struggles and rule-setting in the future.
Getting our toddler to go to bed has been dreadful. He cries and cries. My husband thinks that just putting him in his room with the lights off will solve the problem. Now he's wetting his bed almost every night and refuses to stay in his bed all night.
- Distract. Distraction can be a great tool with toddlers. For example, you can lift your child up, make a "whizzing" airplane noise, and set him down in another location with other activities.
- Say "yes." Change from using "no" comments to using "yes" comments as much as possible. For example, you can change "No food throwing!" to "Food stays on our highchair tray." This helps to identify the rules without starting an emotional battle.
- Say "no" less. Childproof your home so that there are fewer "no's" around. Remove objects that your toddler isn't allowed to play with to prevent situations where you have to say "no."
- Praise and encourage. Remember to praise and encourage your child for appropriate behavior. One rule of thumb is to give 4 positive comments for every 1 reprimand.
- Routines. Set up routines that make daily life more predictable.
- Remember that toddlers can become very interested in what they are doing and need help transitioning.
- Come up with routine transition rituals such as a countdown or ringing a bell.
- Rules. Set consistent, easy to understand rules.
- Talk with your child's other caretakers about the most important behaviors you want to encourage, ignore, and discourage.
- Remember your child has a limited amount of verbal skills. Rules should be stated clearly and simply without a lot of explanation or logical reasoning (children don't think logically until 4-5 years of age).
- Use a calm, even tone without using words that cause blame, shame or pain.
- Clear instructions. Children respond better to simple, consistent directions versus lots of words.
- No matter what, be consistent! Kindly and firmly repeat the instructions for as long as it takes.
- Remember that his behavior will become worse before it gets better. Never give in at a heightened level of behavior (such as kicking and screaming) because it sends the message to repeat that poor behavior (or worse!) the next time he wants his way.
Sleep is a very complicated issue in many homes. If your child is wetting his bed or sleep has become this much of a struggle, talk with your child's doctor about strategies you can use. These books may also be helpful:
When my child is really acting up, I give her a quick spanking and her behavior stops immediately. Spanking seems to work better than any of the other disciplinary methods I've tried, so why is it bad?
- Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
- Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber
- Helping Your Child Sleep Through the Night by Joanne Cuthbertson, Susie Schevill
- Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep by Jodi Mindell
- Sleep: The Brazelton Way by T. Berry Brazelton, Joshua D. Sparrow
My toddler doesn't always listen to me. It's a struggle to get her to do what I say. There's no reasoning with her, especially once she's throwing a tantrum. How can I effectively discipline her?
- Spanking is a form of punishment that leads to negative feelings. Discipline is different from punishment. Discipline leads to a learning experience for your child.
- Even though physical punishment may stop the behavior immediately, "hitting begets hitting" and children who have been physically punished often hit others because they have been taught to be aggressive.
- Spanking can have long-term negative effects on the child such as:
- low self-esteem,
- future abusive relationships, and
- the belief that hitting is okay
- Spanking children teaches the wrong lessons:
- Big people get to hurt little people.
- "I can hit others when I grow up."
- Hitting is an acceptable way to deal with anger.
- Hide the behavior instead of change the behavior.
- Focus on the "mean mommy" instead of the inappropriate behavior.
- "I am a terrible, worthless person who deserves to be hit." This may set children up for future failure, ill-treatment, abusive mates.
- It's not safe to make a mistake or take a risk.
- Do what you want but don't think about the consequences (rebelliousness).
- Don't misinterpret fear as respect. Some parents think that their children respect them more because of their physical discipline. This is not true!
- Remember that you are always modeling behavior. If you don't want your child to hit others, don't hit your child either.
More general parenting tips
- Have both respect for your child and positive discipline in your disciplinary routines.
- Communicate with your child after she's had a moment to calm down. Calmly review the behavior with your child and explain why it was wrong using age-appropriate words.
- Be consistent and firm, yet kind.
- Try these strategies to deal with problematic behavior:
- Ignore mild behavior. If a child does not get attention for a behavior, he will often stop doing it.
- Use distraction. Try redirecting your child to another behavior, toy, or activity. You can also use humor as a distraction tool.
- Give warnings then follow through. For example, "Food stays on our plate. If it goes on the floor, I will take it away" (the warning). If the warning needs to be repeated more than twice, take the plate away and end the meal (the consequence).
- Time-out. Some parents feel that brief 10-second time-outs can be effective for toddlers. Lift the child out of the situation, face the child away from the parent, and count aloud to 10. This removes your child from an activity, distracts them with counting, and introduces them to the concept of time-out.
- "Calming time." Giving your child a quiet activity (drawing, coloring, puzzle pieces, etc) can calm her better than simply sitting (a time-out)
- Stay in control. Be emotionally neutral and matter-of-fact. Avoid spanking, shouting, or pleading for cooperation. If you start using these techniques, it's okay to say that you made a mistake and to start over using a different technique. Remember to take a "calming time" to cool off when YOU need it too!
- Trial and error. Remember that each child is different and your strategies may need to change for each child or as your child grows through different phases. Find what works specifically for you and your child.
- The best strategies for toddlers are ones that prevent problem behavior from occurring:
- Be playful. If you want your toddler to clean up her toys, get down and do it with her in a fun way. For example, have a "10-second tidy" where you see how much you can clean up in 10 seconds or sing a silly song like "Clean up clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up clean up, everybody do your share." Feel free to make up your games and lyrics!
- Say "no" less. Prevent battles by childproofing your home and removing objects your toddler isn't allowed to play with.
- Problem-solve difficult situations. For example, if grocery shopping always leads to a major battle between you and your toddler, try to figure out what's going wrong. Are you going at the end of the day when your toddler is tired? Would some snacks or small toys in your bag help keep him well behaved?
- "Time in." Make sure your child has at least 15 minutes a day of your complete attention. This reduces "attention-getting" behaviors and shows your child love and support.
- Take care of yourself. As a parent, you need to find time for yourself so you have the energy to give the proper attention and discipline. Paying attention to your needs, feeling rested and being calm improves your relationships with others.
- Take parenting classes, read books, ask lots of questions, visit www.howkidsdevelop.com!
- Try to "walk a mile" in your child's shoes. The key to understanding children's behavior often comes with understanding what/how they are feeling and the events that lead up to their negative actions.
- Actively listen to your children to find out what's causing their behavior and help them through difficult moments.
- For example, you find your child throwing toys at the dog. Ask questions, listen and reflect. You might discover that your child wanted to play for the past hour but everyone was too busy and her feelings of rejection caused her to throw the toys out of frustration.
- Sometimes, even just the simple act of a reassuring hug can say "I love you" and help stop negative behavior.
- Praise and encouragement is extremely important. It's not just the act of praise or encouragement, but HOW you praise or encourage that's truly important in what's effective, positive and reinforcing for your child.
- Keep your praise and encouragement specific. When your child draws a picture, instead of saying, "This is great," talk to your child about it. You might say, "Tell me about these stripes here - are blue and pink your favorite colors? What kind of shape did you use here?" This way you can talk and learn together, while sending the message that the picture is important to you too.
- Watch the content of your praise and encouragement. Saying, "Wow, that is the most beautiful artwork I've ever seen!" can make your child focus on always trying to please people. Instead you could say, "I like all the colors you used in this picture."
- "Catch your child being good." Instead of always pointing out everything your child does wrong, give them attention for the things that they do right. Celebrate the positive things they do and reward their good behavior!
- Instead of focusing on the two Lego pieces your child forgot to put away, praise him for cleaning up all the other pieces.
- After you praise him, you can ask if he notices anything he missed and then praise him again when he figures it out. This creates two situations for praise and helps your child feel confident twice!
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