Although the toddler years are some of the most exciting for both you and your child, as he continues to learn and develop, those trying behaviors can be tiring for any mom.
It’s not just the terrible two’s that are tough. If you’ve got a threenager on your hands, you know the behaviors can be even worse.
Take heed: This too shall pass. And in the meantime, experts say there are some simple solutions to help you deal with some of the most troubling toddler behaviors.
“Whining is an expression of frustration or anger,” said Dr. Tovah P. Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York City and author of “How Toddlers Thrive.”
Yet if you react with annoyance or tell your child to stop, the negative attention will only perpetuate the behavior. Plus, it can make your child feel ashamed.
“The child is trying to communicate something and the parent is essentially putting them down,” Klein said. Whining can also increase if you’re ignoring your child because your attention is elsewhere.
Instead, label and acknowledge your child’s feelings: “You’re angry because you can’t play with the toy,” and chances are, the whining will stop.
2. Meltdowns and tantrums.
It’s normal for toddlers to cry, kick, hold their breath and throw themselves on the floor—it’s a sign that they’re overwhelmed.
“They’ve been flooded by emotion so you can’t reason with them at all,” Klein said.
One way to avoid tantrums is to reduce the triggers you know will set your toddler off like bringing him to a crowded place when he’s missed a nap. Your toddler already feels out of control so instead of scolding him, label his feelings, bring him to a quiet place to calm down and give him a hug so he feels loved and supported.
3. Saying “no.”
When your toddler tells you “no,” she’s not trying to be mean or rude. It’s really her way of saying “I’m my own person,” Klein said. Toddlers want to feel like they have a say in what happens. So acknowledge that she doesn’t want to get dressed, and then let her choose between her pink or purple shirt, for example.
Sometimes your child may just need space, so leaving the room and telling her you’re ready when she is, can help.
“Walking away says ‘I trust you to do the right thing,’” said Janet Lansbury, author of “No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.”
4. Hitting, pushing, kicking and biting
Whether your child feels overwhelmed or wants a toy, aggressive behaviors happen because of some kind of discomfort, Lansbury said. And because toddlers are impulsive— when they get upset, they react.
If your child is angry, label it for him and then allow him to stomp his feet or hit a teddy bear instead.
Sometimes aggressive behavior may even be your child’s way of saying “Hi” to another child. So you can model how to wave or give a hug.
If the behaviors are persistent, your child might be doing it for attention, especially if he’s being scolded. Try to model the appropriate behavior and if you need to pull him away, use the same gentle hands you want him to use.
5. A lack of patience
Wanting everything now is normal behavior because toddlers’ brains are not yet capable of waiting. Yet learning to do so will help your child handle frustration, cooperate in school and tackle a challenging situation later on in life.
“Learning how to handle emotions and control those impulses come from being able to delay gratification. But it’s a slow process,” Klein said.
So instead of reprimanding your child, if your child demands that you help him with a puzzle now, be empathic and delay even if for just a few seconds. Wait longer and longer each time, and eventually he’ll become more patient.
6. Bad manners
Having a hard time getting your child to use please and thank you? Keep trying.
“These behaviors come much later for children,” Klein said.
The best way to teach your child manners is to model them yourself. So if you’re polite to your child, your spouse and others, eventually he’ll pick it up too. Plus, having dinner together at home as a family will teach your child dinner etiquette when you’re in a restaurant or at someone else’s house.
Your child doesn’t need your attention 24/7 but if she interrupts your conversations, chances are she’s feeling rejected way too often. Experts say one of the most common reasons is technology. So try to put limits on checking email and address what your child needs. Sometimes it may just be eye contact, a hug, or a quick story.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.