Many children fondle their genitals and some even fondle those of their peers. This is quite normal and nothing overtly sexual is going on. It’s part of their ongoing exploration of the human body. But if it does ever become inappropriate, the best thing to do is distract the child. Telling him to stop isn’t usually helpful as this makes the behaviour more powerful than it originally was. But if one child isn’t enjoying the attention of another, it must be stopped.
Toddlers can do aggressive things to themselves. Breath holding, practised by a fifth of children, is the most recognized. Others include hair pulling and biting. You can check with your GP if you’re really worried, but generally it’s all a part of the power struggle.
These behaviours are best ignored. If ignoring them doesn’t work, parents should try distraction. If that doesn’t work and your child’s repeatedly self-harming in certain situations, when they’re alone or when there’s actual pain inflicted, seek advice from your health visitor or GP.
Violence for fun
Head banging is common in toddlers as well as babies.
Toddlers don’t do it in a masochistic way – it’s probably done for the enjoyment of stimulation and noise, and the reaction it gets. While it’s nothing problematic, if you see it coming, divert his attention.
Sudden changes in behaviour
Some contrary habits are symptomatic of development, so should actually be reassuring. Strange forms of language practice are one example, and includes:
• Babbling by a child who’s able to talk intelligibly. This shows he’s experimenting with phonetics.
• Talking in funny voices. This shows a grasp of social dialogue.
• Suddenly addressing members of the family in different ways. This is experimentation with expected social norms.
Routine or obsession?
Children need and like routine. It gives children a necessary sense of control over their lives, especially at unsettling times, such as starting school. So if your toddler always wants to wear the same T-shirt on a Saturday or insists on counting out raisins before he eats them, let him.
But don’t indulge this for too long hoping it’ll pass. It could develop into an obsession. Every child has to grow up in a world where things are changing, so they need to be adaptable.
If you’re concerned about obsessive routines, problems with communication or intense attachment to possessions, go to The National Autistic Society website.
Most toddlers are shy to some degree. It’s especially prevalent at the age of 3 to 4 years. They may be reserved even with other children or refuse to make eye contact with adults.
You only need to be concerned if there’s a sudden change in their behaviour. For example, if they suddenly throw tantrums at nursery or hurt family members or friends. Then you need to be on the alert for a contributing factor such as bullying or loneliness.
If you notice any changes in your child’s social behaviour, speak to his carer.
Does your toddler have a learning difficulty?
You may want to get a professional opinion if your toddler suffers more than one of the following:
• Difficulty with rhymes and odd-one-out games.
• Difficulty playing Simon Says. This may show sequencing or auditory processing problems.
• Doesn’t favour a hand for writing or a foot for kicking. Uncertain handedness is often a symptom of learning difficulties.
For more info:
• The Secure Child: Helping Children Feel Safe and Confident in an Insecure World, by Stanley I Greenspan (Da Capo Press)
• Springboard for Children, the charity for learning difficulties, 020 7701 7581