Should we shrug off toddler behavior by saying “kids will be kids”?
Toddlerhood is a precious time. To “Toddle” or to walk unsteady is symbolic of this period of development. It is a period of tremendous growth physically, socially and psychologically. With mobility, the toddler explores the increasingly larger and interesting world. She is exploring her own sense of self, separating from her parents, yet looking back to make sure they are there for safety. Language is developing through gaze, gestures, sounds and then words. The toddler has increasing ideas and her language is developing for her to express all that she’d like share it with you. She has a wide range of feelings that can sometimes be overwhelming. Symbolic capacities begin to emerge through imaginative play. She becomes increasingly interested in peers, looking, sharing space and playing beside others. The toddler begins to explore her newfound sense of independence with frequent “no’s”. The toddler primarily sees the world as an extension of herself and sees herself as making things come about.
Safety– One of the primary roles of a parent is to create a sense of safety for your toddler so he can separate from you to explore the world. This comes from a solid attachment to you through shared daily emotional experiences. This allows your toddler to walk away from you and explore his own independence, and feel safe to do so. Separation anxiety is a normal part of development and may emerge at different times in toddlerhood as your child grapples how to be away from you.
Toddler ‘Behavior’– The toddler has a rich emotional landscape that parents need to be aware of and contend with. All of the toddler’s behaviors are in relation to underlying feelings, either physical feelings coming from their body, or from their emotions. It is important in this stage to join your toddler as a partner in their daily discoveries and to notice the range of emotions they experience. As a parent, you can provide support for your child in experiencing a wide range of emotions, coping with them, problem solving small obstacles together and recovering.
When your toddler says “NO”- Remember that to a toddler, the world is their oyster and we adults are often getting in the way of their explorations! The toddler delights in the newfound “NO” to exert their independence. Tactfully set boundaries while also understanding that developmentally, this is an exciting development for your toddler.
Tantrums– Tantrums are an outward expression of a BIG emotion. It may be that your youngster can’t verbalize his needs. It may be that your youngster has a new anxiety he is grappling with. It may be that your youngster has a physiologic discomfort; he’s tired, hungry or sick. It is important to respond to what you think is your child’s underlying feelings, rather than just the outward behaviors. This helps your toddler to self-regulate.
Learn as much as you can about your child’s development, physically, emotionally and psychologically. Becoming The Parent You Want To Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First 5 Years by Laura Davis & Janis Keyser is an informative practical guide for parents. The Magic Years by Selma Fraiberg (2008) is an excellent resource for learning about the emotional and psychological development in early childhood.
Kiegan Blake is an Occupational Therapist, Behavioral Specialist and Director of Maui Center For Child Development. For more information, please call (808) 873-7700 or MauiChildDevelopment.com