Understanding 7 Challenging Toddler Behaviors
Editor’s Note: This post was first published in 2014 but has since been updated.
At two years old, my son is hitting his stride with the terrible twos and there are a few toddler behaviors that are driving me crazy. So when I recently came across a Facebook meme about toddler behaviors, I was reminded that, in fact, my son was not actually out to get me. It read:
We must remind ourselves that the toddler is asking, “How does this work? What does this do? Why is this so?” and not, “How do I annoy my parent?”
I admit, though, it’s not always easy to remember this lesson, especially when you’re a busy parent and your toddler is not cooperating. So I’m writing reminders to myself about how to enjoy and embrace toddlerhood.
7 Toddler Behaviors and Why They Happen
1. The Tornado
- Dumping every toy out on the floor within minutes of entering the playroom.
- Reminder: Toddlers are passionate about exploring, discovering, and learning. Let them explore and make a mess but also make clean-up time fun with a song or silly game.
2. The No’s
- “No, I don’t want to eat breakfast.” “No, I don’t want to get in the car.” “No, I don’t want to wear those shoes.” “No! No! No!“
- Reminder: Toddlers are learning to become their own individuals and exerting their opinion is part of that process. Acknowledge that their opinions matter but give toddlers simple reasons and limited options. For example, this is a conversation we had today, “I hear that you don’t want to put on your shoes. It’s cold out so your feet need shoes to stay warm outside. Would you like to wear your sneakers or boots?” I had to repeat this about 5-10 times in different ways before it actually worked but we got there.
3. The Mule
- When “I do that myself” is the response to every single, little itty bitty thing that needs to get done.
- Reminder: Toddlers are curious about how the world works and how they can control and maneuver in that world. It’s important to let them try things on their own no matter how frustratingly long it can take. I can sometimes speed this process up with a reminder boost, such as “Are you going to put on your jacket or do you want mommy to do it?” This usually gets Owen moving quickly because he definitely doesn’t want me to do it.
4. The Mike Tyson
- Hitting, pushing, and biting (oh my!).
- Reminder: Toddlers get frustrated easily because they are learning to communicate and also learning to control their emotions. They often express themselves through physical means. Set up clear and specific rules about acceptable toddler behavior with logical consequences for misbehavior. Toddlers will repeatedly try to push the boundaries so consistency and follow through is really key to curbing the inappropriate physical behavior. It also helps if toddlers are well rested and have a safe place to release their energy. The minute Owen starts getting physical I know it’s either time for a nap or time to head outside for a new activity.
5. The Scrooge
- “It’s mine! Mine! Mine!”
- Reminder: Toddlers are learning social skills and do not yet know how to share. In fact, most toddlers and early preschoolers will not play together but side by side because they just don’t have the developmental capability yet. There are ways I model sharing with Owen but I keep my expectations low on this one until he is a bit older.
6. The Tantrum
- Is there really need for a toddler tantrum explanation?!?
- Reminder: Toddler tantrums happen. It’s part of them learning to control their emotions. Take a deep breath, stay calm, speak evenly, acknowledge the cause of the tantrum (when appropriate), and just wait it out. Sometimes it’s the last part that’s hard especially for my 7-year-old daughter who tries to be “helpful” during the tantrum. I find this gets easier over time as I’m learning to recognize some of the frequent causes of Owen’s tantrums and can ward them off.
7. The Vortex (or Sharknado)
- Constant motion, running and spinning.
- Reminder: Toddlers have lots of energy. It can be frustrating and even embarrassing (say when you’re at a restaurant or doctor’s office) when the sharknado hits. For me, this toddler behavior is one that I’ve learned to simply enjoy and take in stride. I find most people are fairly tolerant of exuberant toddler behavior – it must be that charming, impish smile that toddlers perfect.
These are the 7 toddler behaviors that are currently driving me crazy. Are there any that are pressing your buttons? If so, how are you dealing with them?
Editor’s Note: Toddlers are a challenge, but we love them all the same! Amy has written a follow up to this post where she discusses the toddler behaviors that she adores.
We’ve all been there…the get-out-the-door chaos, the after-work frenzy, those toddler-parent moments when things just seem to go, “kaboom.” Is there a better way? Parenting expert and psychologist Jennifer Gillette says unequivocally…yes. She’s got the tips, tricks, and strategies to tame the tantrums and put what she calls Peaceful Parenting back into your day.