What you can do about your toddler’s unwanted behaviours, from tantrums to biting, hitting and fiddling in public.
Your toddler flinging himself to the floor and screaming inconsolably is a number-one troublesome toddler behaviour.
Susan Brooks, an educational psychologist specialising in early years development. Says “Tantrums will peter out, often by the time your child joins pre-school. The majority of tantrums are down to a child’s lack of control over his surroundings, coinciding with a greater sense of his own assertiveness."
Susan suggests ignoring the tantrum where you can, or distracting your child.
Try to prevent a tantrum from occurring in the first place by avoiding trigger situations where your child may feel bored or frustrated. “Pick your battles carefully. If putting your child’s socks on before you go out is always a sticking point, then decide whether you really need socks that day. Gradually, you’ll get them on.”
When and why does my toddler do it?
“Hitting and biting usually occurs between 1 and 2 years old, particularly in nurseries where children are close to one another,” says Susan Brooks. “Because your child’s language is still developing, an inability to communicate leads to frustration, which makes him lash out.”
What can I do about it?
Giving children ‘time out’ (in a quiet place where they can safely be left alone, briefly), or carrying younger ones away from the situation, can be effective. Susan Brooks also suggests that prevention is a simple cure. “If you’ve got a biter, it’s best to keep a close eye on him and try to intervene before a situation escalates. If he does bite or hit, give attention to the ‘victim’.”
“At 3, your toddler is acting on impulse when situations overwhelm him. He needs to develop the skills that will allow him to talk his way out of any tricky situation,” says health visitor, Annette Maloney.
Avoid labelling him as a biter, never bite back and this phase will soon pass.
Annette Maloney, health visitor
“It will take time, but you can be a great role model. If a biting incident occurs, quickly remove him and say firmly, “No biting.” Then divert your attention to dealing with the victim. When everything has calmed down, tell him biting is unacceptable.
“Eva has tantrums and bites when she’s frustrated. She’s also begun hitting me when I strap her into her car seat.” Holly has tried the ‘naughty step’, but with mixed results. “I used it with biting to great success – now, I just need to threaten it and she has a rethink. I wish the same could be said of hitting! I think it’ll be an ongoing process.”
Veronica, 30, mum to Eva, 3
“Of my four children, Gethin’s tempers have been the worst,” she says. “One Christmas he had a 45-minute tantrum in a shop and pulled everything off the shelves. The shop looked like a jumble sale!” After tests at pre-school it was discovered that Gethin was allergic to 70 chemical flavourings and preservatives. “Once we figured that out, Gethin was a changed child.”
Serena, 40, mum to Morgan, 7, Gethin, 6, Delyth, 4, and Meredith, 2
“We had to wait ages for the bus and Summer wanted the loo. Just as we got up the steps onto the very full bus, she announced, ‘I need a wee, NOW!’ She whipped down her trousers, there and then, and peed on the steps. I was mortified!”
Fay, 34, mum to Summer, 2
“One morning when my son was 18 months old, I invited my NCT group over with their toddlers. Suddenly we heard a big chorus of cries. There was Sam standing proudly, while behind him were five crying toddlers whom he’d knocked to the floor one by one!”
Cathy, 35, mum to Sam, 3
“One day in the school playground, my son Laurie announced, very loudly, ‘There are two nice dinner ladies – and the ugly one that helps me.’ There were loads of other people within earshot and I just didn’t know where to look.”
Jenny, 40, mum to Laurie, 4
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