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Toddler (Mis)Behavior

Is your toddler not behaving the way you think she should? Do YOU want to throw a tantrum when she starts acting out? You’re not alone!

Does this scenario sound familiar:

Lucy asks if Emma can come over for a playdate after preschool. You’re thrilled that she is making friends and wants to socialize. You, too, are looking forward to making some mom friends, so this is a win-win all around!

Not too long into the playdate, Lucy grabs her toys away from Emma and starts to cry. Then, it escalates, and she hits Emma. You are mortified, and quickly remove Lucy from the playroom, while apologizing profusely to Emma and her mom.

What is the best way to handle this situation? First, let’s try to understand what’s happening with your child. In that way, we can help her learn to manage her emotions and actions.

We know that we should teach our children that grabbing toys and hitting are not appropriate behaviors. Even though we tell our children not to do something (like hitting), our children continue to repeat the behavior. How do we end this cycle?

The key is to help our children find NEW and BETTER ways to express their emotions and what they are feeling at that moment. While this sounds great, it’s very hard to do, and takes a lot of patience from us, the parents and caregivers.

If we calmly help our children understand their anger, frustration, or whatever feelings they are having at that moment, we will be actively helping our children develop the skills needed to manage their big emotions. The key here is for us to remain calm, and when the outburst is over, to talk about our feelings and find the triggers. That way, our children will start to learn how to identify when an overwhelming feeling is coming, and then how to respond to that feeling. We can help them find a quiet space to calm down, find a grownup to help them through their big feelings, or find another way to handle their feelings.

Be mindful that having an aggressive child doesn’t mean that you have a bad child OR that you are a bad parent. It’s very important to remember that children act aggressively as a result of feeling overwhelmed. Before she lashes out, she will be feeling a mix of big emotions, and will be having a very hard time managing them in a rational (mature) way. It’s important to remember that our children’s brains are still developing, and that part of the brain is still growing. Therefore, it’s natural that they will react impulsively, especially when they are emotionally overwhelmed. That is when and why the aggressive behavior occurs.


We all hear the term “self-regulation” but what does it mean for a toddler?

The definition of self-regulation is “having the ability to monitor and control our own thoughts, behaviors and respond appropriately to each situation.”

What does this mean for toddlers who naturally have trouble handling their emotions and responses? As parents and caregivers, it is our responsibility to help them learn how to control emotions and respond appropriately to different situations.

So, when our toddler “mis”behaves by grabbing a toy, we need to understand that she is frustrated over the situation. She isn’t trying to be mean, she’s saying that she wants that toy NOW. In that situation, it’s our job to teach her patience (waiting) and how to take turns.

We can use a variety of methods to help our children understand how to share, take turns, and wait patiently. We can teach our child to say, “Can I have a turn when you’re done?” which gives her the vocabulary to ask a question, how to share, and the ability to learn patience. These are important skills to master, and the more practice our toddlers have, the less “mis”behaving we will see.

How do we handle different types of tantrums?

There are moments when your child might be out of control and possibly a danger to herself (or someone else). If she is hitting or kicking, you want to stop the behavior so no one gets hurt, AND you want to help her gain control of her emotions so she can calm down. Rather than say, STOP HITTING, you can hold her tight, and say, “I’m holding you so that you don’t hurt me or yourself.” Then, when the tantrum is over, you can talk about her feelings, and discuss other ways for her to respond to her emotions.

By holding her close, you are giving her a sense of security which is what she is lacking at that moment. That will help her calm down. You are not telling her NOT to feel her feelings, you are just helping her stay safe.

If she’s having a tantrum where she’s just crying on the floor, you can leave her to work through her frustration on her own. When she’s done, and ready to listen, you can talk about her feelings and find ways to work through them.

Here are some ways to help toddlers calm down when they start to feel their emotions getting out of control:

1. Create a “Calm Down Plan”: Make a plan together about where they should go or what they should do when they start to feel overwhelmed.

2. Have a “Time In”: Sit with your child and help them calm down. Then, talk about ways they can make different choices to get to their goal.

3. Meditation and Breathing: You can download a meditation app and help your child with some breathing exercises when they start to feel overwhelmed.

We all have trouble managing big emotions, and we all need to practice how to respond to our feelings. If we remember that it is a learning process, and it’s our job to help our children through this process, we will all be successful. Learning how to overcome aggressive/impulsive responses takes time, practice, and most of all, love from you.

Let me know your thoughts and/or reply with questions you have on this topic. I’d love to connect!

Sweet Dreams! 😴👶


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