Some days being a parent is the most rewarding and joyful experience we could ever imagine. Other days, not so much. Behaviours that test our patience and push boundaries are a normal, healthy part of a baby or toddler’s development. Nipping undesirable behaviours in the bud can restore peace and tranquility to our home, as well as our sanity.
1) Understand where the behaviour is coming from
Babies and toddlers are profound scientists. They are hard-wired to seek, explore, and test in their effort to discover their boundaries and how the world works. Screaming, biting, or hitting, like any other new behavior, is simply a form of exploration: “When I do this, what happens?” Be proactive and make a mental note of when the behavior happens. Has your child just discovered their voice? Has their routine changed? Are they teething? Is your child feeling frustrated, hungry, tired, over-excited or scared, but doesn’t know how to express it?
2) Be a calm, cool, collected mama
Don’t ignore the behavior, but don’t make a big deal out of it either. (Pretending the behavior never happened or ignoring your child completely is actually an unusual and uncomfortable reaction. This will only encourage your baby or toddler to repeat the behavior in an effort to figure out why you reacted so strangely.) Rather, a natural and simple, “No, thank you,” is a respectful way to acknowledge your child and simultaneously discharge the behavior. Help them lower their hands gently and provide an alternative but acceptable outlet for their feelings. A toddler may continue to test the behavior, but when they see that there is minimal reaction or attention to be gained, they’ll move on.
3) Help your child feel safe with you
Screaming, biting, and hitting are some of the most challenging and drive-us-crazy toddler behaviors on this planet. However, responses like yelling, screaming-hitting-biting back, ignoring, leaving the child, punishing the child, showing excessive displeasure or making a child feel like they’ve hurt or upset you will only reinforce the behavior. Why? Because these reactions are frightening when they come from an adult, especially a parent, and they cause a child to feel both insecure and way too powerful. “When I do this, it makes Mommy lose control? That makes me feel uncomfortable. I really want to feel safe and secure again. Maybe she’ll react differently if I do it again.” You can see how the situation escalates. Instead, provide calm and consistent boundaries, and the unwanted behavior will disappear.
Jeanine is a teacher, writer, and mom to two active and curious toddler boys. She has a passion for education and outdoor adventures. She loves to discover and share the best hidden parks, playgrounds, and beaches in Greater Vancouver. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her and her boys playing in the dirt or peeking under logs in the forest.