Toddler whining, tantrums, hitting, biting, not listening, not complying, bossiness, demanding, and even sleep difficulties…
I’ll discuss here how to handle toddler behaviors in general; but it’s also essential that you understand the why. It’s the key that may unlock some mysteries for you. So be sure to also read Why Teaching Your Toddler to Behave Isn’t Working.
Traditional approaches to dealing with toddler behaviors
Think about how you were raised. How did your parents handle ‘misbehavior’? How did they respond when you didn’t want to comply or when you had your own desires and opinions? How do they respond to your children?
Approaches to discipline tend to try to teach consequences and often assume that the child did something wrong and the grown-up is right.
So it’s understandable that you may find yourself or your partner taking an authoritative stance. Or you may swing the other direction—permissive. Or stuck in the middle, wanting to shift toward an approach that’s respectful to everyone, but not knowing how.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- Time out
- Take away a favorite toy or dessert
- Send to another room
- “We don’t hit…” (less authoritative, but keep reading)
The problem with these approaches
When you’re caught in the moment with a toddler who’s acting out, I know it’s tempting to want a solution for ending the behavior then and there.
But here’s the key to remember: all behavior is communication. How does this change the equation?
The problem is that these approaches bypass children’s underlying needs and punish, or don’t acknowledge, them for trying to communicate. Nothing truly gets resolved, and resentment can build.
This means the initial stimulus tends to remain held inside and may come back to haunt you, causing your relationship with your child to become more and more stressed as this continues over time.
When we take the perspective of the child being wrong and the grown-up right, a power dynamic ensues. Power dynamics can get sticky, and these old approaches will keep you running in circles since the original problem hasn’t been addressed.
Also, some of these approaches separate the child when what he really needs is connection. Think of it adult-sized: How would you feel if you were trying to tell a friend about something significant or upsetting that happened to you, and your friend told you to take a time out or to go to another room and come back when you feel better? Granted, your toddler is likely displaying more “behaviors” than you in this scenario, but the concept is the same.
So if not teach these behaviors or punish, then what?
Click here for How to Handle Toddler Behaviors: The Basics