Is your toddler's tantrum misbehaviour? Your toddler doesn't see it that way! Get tips on how to deal with power struggles with your willful child
It’s a good thing that toddler behaviour is only for toddlers. It wouldn’t get you far in the corporate world or win you any friends in the Tim Hortons lineup. Toddlers can be stubborn, impulsive and grumpy. To adult eyes, they’re sometimes impossible.
But from the toddler’s point of view, he’s just learning to make his way in a complicated world. He has lots of ideas (not all good ones) and often no way of carrying them out. He sees big people doing all sorts of interesting things that he can’t manage (or they won’t let him enjoy). What’s a little guy to do but colour on the sofa with a Sharpie — and fall into a heap of outrage when you express your displeasure?
Toddlers love a good mess. Tanya Barkhouse was moving laundry from the washer to the dryer. Her daughter Breagh, aged 22 months, and niece Cadence, two years, sat nearby playing with the diaper bag. “In two minutes, the cornstarch, Vaseline and Peneten cream were all over both girls, the carpet and everything in the diaper bag. For the first few seconds, I was frozen in shock.” Luckily, Barkhouse recovered fast enough to grab her camera and record the moment.
What’s the upside of a big oily stain on the carpet? It’s a clear reminder of how intensely your child needs to experience and explore everything she can — and how interesting Vaseline is. Kim Pawluck, manager at Mothercraft Eaton Centre for Early Development in Toronto, says, “Toddlers need to try it all out. But their attention span is limited and there are so many interesting things. They think, ‘Look at that! I can get it!’” They don’t — and can’t — anticipate the difficulties of stain removal to follow.
What can you do? Try to maintain your good humour. “If it’s a safety issue or someone’s going to get hurt, it can’t be allowed. But if she’s exploring and she’s dumped water on the floor, you might just say, ‘Why don’t you help me clean it up?’ Don’t make a big deal about it. That way, when something is a big deal, she will respond,” urges Pawluck.
The rag doll rag
When things don’t go well, Aliena, 27 months, lets the whole world know. Her mom, Julie McFadden, says, “She cries and screams. She flops on the floor and becomes a rag doll — or goes stiff as a board if I try to move her. At the grocery store, she had a tantrum because I wouldn’t let her open a box of pasta. Yesterday it happened because I wouldn’t let her put diaper cream on her stuffed elephant.”
Toddlers feel their emotions intensely. They don’t have the inner resources to handle disappointments — even small ones — gracefully. “Toddlers are one-note thinkers, so as soon as they think, ‘I want this’ or ‘I have to do this,’ it becomes almost a passionate need,” explains Cawley.
Cawley reassures us that “tantrums are a toddler’s very age-appropriate way of expressing frustration.” While you can gradually show your child more suitable ways to deal with his feelings, he won’t get there in toddlerhood: The process is complex and he’s operating with toddler-level thinking and verbal skills.