It is hard when you have a toddler who is a little challenging! But it is important to understand where a toddler is developmentally which will help you work out why they might be acting out. Not only are they still little, they are trying to learn all our rules and expectations around appropriate behaviour. We know toddlers have a developmental needs to express their will and they have very little (if any) impulse control. With these complicated, powerful dynamics in play, why do we sometimes take our toddler’s behaviour so personally?
If we happen to take on this behaviour and get angry, or frustrated or even lash out, while this might seem effective in that moment, it really only ends up making matters worse. Children sense it when we have lost control and that only makes them feel less safe. Punishments can also create fear, resentment and distrust. Alternatively, if we can’t or won’t to set clear boundaries with our children this can also cause insecurities and more testing from our children.
Ultimately, these responses don’t work because they aren’t really addressing what your child is expressing through their misbehaviour: HELP. When young children act out they need our help. It’s as simple as that. So how do we help them?
It’s all about perspective
If we can keep clear in our minds that we are the grown up and they are the child needing some help — our role and our response become much clearer. As experienced, mature adults, this means rising above the noise and bad behaviour (rather than getting caught in it) and providing assistance. If we can remind ourselves that the challenging behaviour is our child’s call for help, then we begin to see the ridiculousness of taking this behaviour personally. A little perspective can give you the patience, confidence and the calm demeanour we need to be able to help.
Be the anchor
We also need to allow our child to be upset if they need to be and be there for them. Expressing emotions is healthy and necessary but toddlers are a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of emotions and they are not sure what to do with them. So we need to be there to help them through that. We are their calm and present anchor while they go through all that high emotion. And when the wave of emotion passes, we are there to acknowledge their feelings, forgive them, and understand them so they can understand too. After all, how can we hold a grudge against a person whose impulses are bigger than they are?
Try to remain unruffled. So, when your child is hitting you, or screaming at you, it is important to let them know that you don’t like that, or it is hurting you, but while you are saying this, try and remain calm. But you can’t fake it! Your child will totally see through it and find it amusing, which can lead to them wanting to do it over and over again. You need to believe that is not serious behaviour, that they are not doing it to hurt you or because they don’t like you. You need to find the behaviour a bit boring even and rise above it. If there is no genuine reaction, and you are clear with your boundaries then your toddler will get it.
Once they are sure that their parents will always help them handle the behaviours and feelings they find overwhelming, children feel safe to struggle, make mistakes, grow and learn with confidence.
Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.