Behavioral Problems in Toddlers

Handling Behavioral Problems in Toddlers

By Chris Thompson

It’s not easy having a toddler in the house. These cute creatures are a pleasure to have when they’re in a good mood, but their emotional state and behavior can turn on a dime. If you aren’t equipped to steer them in the right direction it will cause you a lot of unnecessary stress.

The toddler stage is difficult because this is when children start to realize how many choices are available in the world around them. There are so many toys, lots of space and plenty of activities. There are lots of things to play with and touch. Combine that with an increased awareness of those choices and a low attention span and you can see why it often seems to parents that toddlers are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They don’t have a singular focus. As you’ll learn, this same “problem” is also your solution to overcoming behavior issues.

Defiance is likely the most common behavioral problem you’ll find in a toddler. They will refuse to listen to you and won’t do what you ask them to do. They don’t want to follow the rules. They want to be their own master. Sound familiar?

Some people think that defiance is a sign of a strong personality, so they let their kids do what they want to “encourage” this. This is a mistake. You don’t want to raise your child like he’s in the military, but if you train your child to defy you and constantly “get away with it”, you’re harming your ability to encourage proper behavior later.

Studies show that kids who are raised up with no or irregular discipline are likely to make bigger adult mistakes. They won’t know how to handle their career path or they will be unsure of how to deal with their own family situations. This makes sense when you think about it, right? The training you receive early in life is largely responsible for how you tackle issues later in life.

The key to handling behavior problems in toddlers is to stop it before it starts. Establish rules even before they understand what the rules mean. Get compliance with the rules and let them eventually learn why the rule exists after they are already well trained.

Some parents are afraid that they are being too strict with their kids, but establishing rules is the first step in disciplining your child. Think about it this way – we all have rules to deal with in life and if you shelter your child from this you’re not doing him any favors. Call it “tough love” if you must, but I believe you can balance tough love with gentle care. As long as you’re still giving the child enough freedom to do things that would not hurt himself or others, then you are doing the right thing.

Once you have established and introduced the child to the rules, it’s really important to be consistent. People learn through experimentation and prediction. If a child can’t learn to predict (with accuracy) that a rule will be enforced, then he’ll assume the rule is not a real rule. He’ll behave as if the rule doesn’t exist. He’ll test you because you haven’t done your job in establishing a predictable pattern of rule enforcement. When you say there’s no candy before bedtime, or no throwing balls in the kitchen, you need to be totally predictable in how you respond to your child breaking these rules. Otherwise who’s really to blame?

When you first implement a new rule, explain to your child why such rule needs to be followed (assuming he’s old enough to have this conversation). When you say she shouldn’t touch your phone, explain what you’re trying to protect or prevent. Avoid explanations such as, “Because it’s not a toy”. Be specific and helpful. Ask yourself if you’d be satisfied with a similar explanation from a friend, a boss, or a family member?

Finally, for those times when bad behavior just seems to rear its ugly head without notice, realize that behavior is driven by emotion. You should always look for a way to establish rapport with your child and then gently guide his or her poor emotional state to a more resourceful state. Better behavior will follow almost instantly. A great way to achieve this is to interrupt the child’s pattern by asking an oddball question, and then during that period of confusion (when your child is interpreting the weird question), ask about something else that will cause your child to remember a positive experience. When we think back to positive memories we can’t help but relive those good feelings. If you find your child is acting out because of a poor state of mind, use this technique to change his state quickly, and then focus on re-establishing a pattern of good behavior.

Chris Thompson headshotAbout The Author:
Chris Thompson is the creator of “Talking to Toddlers”, an audio course for parents. He teaches parents how to overcome the normal problems that every Mom and Dad faces with kids by learning better communication skills.

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