We all know toddlers are prone to misbehave. Screaming, whining, and throwing fits in the grocery store are all par for the course when you’re dealing with a tot. But what if a big part of the problem isn’t so much the kids, but their parents? Here are four ways you could actually be causing your child’s bad behavior, plus tips on how to fix it. Your toddler will be acting like an angel in no time.
1. You’re too distracted.
“Hey, Mom, watch me!” It’s no secret that children of all ages crave attention from their parents. If your toddler gets the sense that you’re more interested in your smart phone 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 properly – doing so will make him less likely to act out during times when your focus needs to be elsewhere.
2. 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 two-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: Be on your best behavior at all times, remembering that your actions are setting the example for your toddler to follow.
3. 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”? The same logic 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 doesn’t have the ability to tell you his needs – much less predict 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.
4. 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.
Fix It: Make sure your expectations for your child are fair and developmentally-appropriate – otherwise you’ll both end up frustrated again and again.
Hutton, Kimberly. “When Children Misbehave” (Fall 2010). West Virginia State University Extension Service.
Steffens, Pat and Bosch, Kathy. “Why Children Misbehave” (2003). Historical Materials from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. Paper 22.