Children begin to test boundaries from age 1, says child psychotherapist Mark Bradley. “Many parents worry that challenging behaviour is a bad reflection of their parenting skills, but actually it’s completely normal.”
Not only is it just a phase, it’s a healthy sign that your tyke is exploring the world around him and learning the difference between right and wrong. What you can do is keep calm and gently steer him in the right direction. Here’s how.
You're enjoying a cuppa with other mums when you look up to see your tiny Terminator thumping his friend on the head with a plastic toy hammer. Bradley says that this is very typical toddler behaviour. “Try not to think of it as your child being violent or malicious. It’s just his way of communicating the fact that another kid has encroached on his territory.
“He might not understand, but he’ll soon get the message if you keep explaining it to him clearly every time he hits. And when you catch your offspring playing nicely, praise him. He'll be more inclined to do so if you reinforce the idea positively that it's good to behave well.
Refusing to share
Play dates always seem like such a good idea, until your munchkin's guests set their sights on his favourite Thomas the Tank train and all hell breaks lose.
“It’s natural for children to resist sharing,” notes parenting expert Dee Booth. “After all, what’s in it for him?” Help him to understand that sharing is a kind thing to do by saying, “Letting your friend play with the train will make her very happy.”
You’re halfway back home when you look into the pram to see your cutie clutching his ill-gotten gains from the last shop you visited. Yikes!
“Children don’t understand the concept of paying for things, so, technically, he hasn't done anything wrong," Bradley points out. Gently explain to your tyke that the item doesn't belong to him, so he needs to take it back to the shop. When returning it to the shopkeeper, remember to say, “We’re very sorry but we took this by mistake.” Be sure to praise your child afterwards for taking it back.
Throwing a fit
Screaming in the supermarket, thrashing about on the floor of the post office, having a meltdown in a quiet restaurant... There's nothing like your tyke throwing a tantrum in public to leave you feeling like the Worst. Parent. Ever.
“At this age, kids are learning so much, but have limited language skills, so it’s understandable that he’s frustrated,” Bradley explains. During a tantrum, the first thing you need to do is make sure your mini-grump is safe. Move him away from traffic or surfaces where he could bang his head.
Bradley suggests, “Rather than a lecture, he needs touch and reassurance to help him calm down. So, give him a cuddle and talk in soothing tones.”
Obsessing with his bits
Your small fry thinks it's a good idea to pull his pants down in NTUC, smear poop on the wall, or pee in the sandpit.
“This is an important phase when toddlers get to know their bodies, so private parts, poop and snot couldn't be more exciting,” Bradley notes. Avoid negative associations by saying things like, “Yuck, that’s disgusting”. It's better to let him learn about his body. But if your son is playing with himself in public, say “We don’t pull our pants down in NUTC, silly billy...” and distract him with something else. He’ll soon learn when and where it’s acceptable to be naked or go to the toilet.
Saying inappropriate things in public
“Why is that lady so fat, mummy?”, “Why doesn’t Johnny have a daddy?”, “Why is that man in a wheelchair?”. The questions are endless. And always loud!
While questions like these are embarrassing, you child doesn’t know that. “He’s just being naturally inquisitive, which is a good sign,” Bradley points out. Lower your voice slightly and say “Because everybody is different”. Or throw the question back to him by asking, “Why do you think so?” He’ll come up with something equally innocent or spin a bizarre tale — in which case, the discussion will soon move on to something else.
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