Why do Toddlers Misbehave?
When my children were toddlers, people were usually pleasantly surprised by their behavior, willingness to try new foods, vast knowledge of music, and more. I strived to do it without rewards & punishments, time-outs, and other mainstream child-rearing methods, and it worked out great for us.
When I did use these methods, usually because I was running on empty and my patience was low, I always regretted it and noticed that it generally backfired on me later on.
Raising children this way is challenging, but is bringing up a toddler ever easy? Children, by default, will try to test limits and assert their place in the world, but there is a way to keep the bliss in your relationship with your child. Despite everything, toddlers represent, it is possible to spend the best part of your day with them and experience the profound joy that is difficult to find anywhere else. The rewards are endless.
One surefire way to suck all the joy out of parenting is by butting heads with your toddler in dead-end situations. Avoid being in a place where your toddler is acting out because of something you can easily do something about. Don’t go there. The solution? Keep the following points in mind, and tantrums will diminish drastically.
Your toddler is tired
Your neighbors partied all night, and you couldn’t sleep. You banged on their door, asking them to stop, and they ignored you. You finally fall asleep at 3 AM, sleep about 4 hours, and then need to start your day. Are you a happy camper? Of course not.
For some people, even a whole night of sleep isn’t enough; they’ll warn you that they will “bite your head off if you show up before their first cup of coffee,” or they’ll claim they’re not “a morning person.” If adults can’t behave when tired, how can we expect a child to do any better when their nervous system is less mature than ours? Let’s be realistic here.
What to do? I’m a big proponent of letting a child sleep through the night on his own time. I didn’t do any sleep training with my firstborn except for no nursing until 5 AM. Still, we were rested, even though he needed a nap at around 1 PM.
Every child is different, and yours will likely need something different. My two children definitely had different needs! Please keep in mind that the following is based on my experience.
What did we do? First, I kept his brain from getting frazzled by electronics and similar stimulating activities. If I let him watch a show on TV, it was either in the morning or in the evening with something calm like Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Artificial lights disrupt hormones and mess with our sleep patterns. We never exceeded half an hour per day. Coloring is one activity that can keep them busy for quite a while. The Spider Who Spit Fire coloring book will keep them entertained and get the ball rolling on allowing critical thinking skills to come into play.
Later, he switched to sleeping in his own bed when having someone near him would wake him up more often than he needed to, but if he needed me near him, I’d sleep in his bed. I always had him nap midday (otherwise, he’d be a screaming banshee by 3 PM), and I always nursed him in the morning to see if he’ll fall asleep again. What works for your child may be different, but if it works for you and your child is rested, go for it!
Disciplining will be ineffective if your child is tired and throwing tantrums because of it. They cannot control themselves when they’re exhausted.
Your toddler is hungry
Watch out for The Hungry Toddler. They can be pretty terrifying little monsters. Adults are no different. Children need to eat more often than adults, and if you’re hungry, your child probably feels worse. If I’m hungry, my blood sugar drops, and I become cranky.
I nursed my son in the morning, then gave him finger food while I prepared breakfast. He liked a lot of different foods, so he’d eat apples and cucumbers while I made green juice, blueberries while I made Paleo pancakes, or ate part of the thawed fruits I used in green smoothies.
Make sure that your child doesn’t have food allergies. One of the teachers at his preschool mentioned that once her daughter went gluten-free, she went from being a crabby, rebellious child to a pleasant, happy one. My children thrive on a high protein, moderate-fat diet and do poorly on a high sugar, high-carb diet. Experiment and see what works for you, but I’ve noticed that their preferred diet was best for most children I know.
If your child acts out because they’re hungry, disciplining won’t help. It won’t help with your child, and it won’t help with your partner. It won’t work for you. It won’t work with your co-workers.
Your child is in pain
Pain can be pretty scary for a child. They may not realize it will go away, and often they don’t associate their behavior with their pain. One day, my son was difficult, and I was very close to losing my patience. Then his dad asked him if something was hurting, and he said yes, and pointed to his lower jaw. He was teething a molar!
If your child is in pain, try to distract them or make them feel better. Disciplining will be ineffective and will make you feel quite guilty once you realize your child was suffering, not purposely annoying you.
Your child needs time outdoors
Children, especially toddlers, are little bundles of energy. They need to release it, and one of the best environments for that is the great outdoors. I made it a point to take my toddlers to the park every day unless it was particularly miserable outside.
Make sure your child has fun outside every day. If you’re not keen on being outdoors and need help to bring yourself to do it anyway, consider enrolling your child in a Forest School, a Farm School, or a school that lets them spend a lot of time outside, rain or shine. If your child is full of pent-up energy, disciplining will not help and will only make the situation unpleasant for you.
Also, TV, video games, etc., are very tiring to a little one’s brain; they can make it more difficult to fall asleep, and the artificial light messes with hormones. I mentioned this in the first part of this article. Try to limit them as much as you can. If you can avoid them altogether, more power to you, but if you find it quite difficult, then at least reserve them for the morning hours, and don’t watch anything violent.
Your child needs to reconnect
Children cannot stand being disconnected from you. This is why they will not let you get away so quickly when you lock horns with your child and need some time alone. They’re not trying to bug you and make you mad. They’re trying to restore broken bonds. Reconnecting when you’re at the end of your rope isn’t easy, so try to avoid being in this situation in the first place.
Spend a lot of quality time with your child. My toddler and I borrowed 15+ books from the library every week and read them together every day. He liked to nurse for quite a while when he woke up, and I saw it as an easy way to reconnect with him while also lying down and getting a break. When he was tiny and cranky, I would put on upbeat music, pick him up, and dance with him while doing all kinds of things to make him laugh, like bouncing him to the beat. I gave him my full attention, without the phone, Internet, etc., for several hours daily.
If your child feels disconnected from you, he will act up. Disciplining will only break the bonds further and will not work. Reconnect with your child, then explain calmly that his behavior was unacceptable and that he should use his words to ask for your attention.
Preventing tantrums will not work every time because toddlers can easily get frustrated by their inability to express themselves. But you can avoid them quite often by ensuring that your toddler is rested, well-fed, gets adequate exercise, and feels loved. You will then be this much closer to parenting blissfully!