Some of it is downright unavoidable. Toddlers are toddlers. But what if some of it is stemming from our actions as parents?
Before I go any further, let me emphasize that this post is not meant to be a guilt trip for moms and dads. Lord knows we have enough of those already.
In fact, reframing the issue as one of parent behavior as much as toddler behavior can actually be really empowering—especially for control freaks like me—because it means we can actually do something about it!
Here are some ways parents can trigger their toddler’s less-than-angelic side, plus tips on how to fix it.
You might be causing your toddler to misbehave if…
You’re too distracted.
“Hey, Mom, watch me!” It’s no secret that children of all ages crave attention from their parents. When your toddler gets the sense that you’re more interested in your smartphone than the picture he just drew, he very well may start throwing his crayons in an attempt to steal the show.
Fix It: Make sure you’re giving your toddler plenty of undivided attention when he’s behaving well.
I’ve found that focusing solely on my almost-two-year-old for just fifteen to twenty minutes makes him more content to play independently when I need to get something done.
You’re modeling bad behavior.
For better or worse, imitation is one of the key ways children learn how to behave. In fact, a 2013 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology found that at only a few days old, newborns will stick out their tongues to mimic someone else.
So if your three-year-old hears you use a swear word or sees you yelling at your spouse, it should come as no surprise when she follows suit.
Fix It: Develop a constant awareness that your kiddo’s eyes are on you, absorbing everything you say and do.
That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect; when you do mess up and model bad behavior, use it as an opportunity to explain to your child what you did wrong and how you’re going to remedy it (instead of just crossing your fingers that your little one didn’t see or hear you!).
You aren’t anticipating your child’s needs.
You know the latest ad campaign for Snickers candy bars? The one with the popular tagline “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry”? Well, sexism aside, the campaign’s logic also holds true for toddlers—they’re grouchy when they’re hungry, grumpy when they’re tired, and antsy when they have lots of energy to burn.
If those needs aren’t met soon, it’s only a matter of time before your toddler goes into full-on meltdown mode.
Fix It: Since your one-year-old probably struggles to articulate his needs—heck, sometimes he can’t even identify them—it’s up to you to be prepared.
That means always keeping a snack on-hand, maintaining a regular sleep schedule for him, and making sure he has plenty of opportunities to run around and play.
Your expectations are too high.
If your toddler is constantly breaking a particular rule, consider the possibility that there’s a problem with the rule itself. For example, expecting your two-year-old to remain perfectly tidy at dinnertime is setting her up for failure—toddlers are, by nature, messy eaters because their fine motor skills are still developing.
And let’s not forget that children actually learn faster when they’re getting messy!
Fix It: Make sure your expectations for your child are fair and developmentally-appropriate.
For me, this means not expecting my son to sit still throughout the entire church service or remain quiet during dinner with friends. (That’s not to say I don’t hold him to a certain standard, it’s just a standard that fits his age and abilities.) It’s kept both of us from getting frustrated over and over again!