As your toddler becomes more independent, you may find you need to put clear boundaries in place to help them learn and manage their behaviour.
Here’s some advice to help you be consistent in supporting your child’s social and emotional development, and to respond effectively to the different types of behaviour they may show.
Confident children are the ones who are the first to try something new and tend to take the lead when playing with others. Sometimes this confidence can be a ‘mask’ to hide behind when actually a child is feeling anxious or under pressure to be good at everything.
Help them to see it’s ok to have a go, make a mistake and try again – let them see you fail at things. Be specific in the praise you give, so they know exactly what they’ve done well. For example: ‘Well done, even though it was tricky spreading that glue evenly, you were really concentrating and took your time.’
Worried or anxious behaviour
Worried and anxious children often enjoy playing by themselves and enjoy their own company. When it comes to playing or interacting with others, they may ‘hide’ behind adults and are reluctant to talk or get involved. As result, they may feel a bit left out. Talk to them in advance of going somewhere new or taking part in an activity about what it will be like and what they can expect to happen. Help them to see and recognise different emotions in others.
Encourage them to take small steps towards participating in situations they find challenging, allowing their confidence to build over time.
Watch your child’s expressions and body language, or notice when their behaviour becomes more challenging. What kind of situations make them upset? Also think about what helps them feel calm and relaxed. When you see them starting to become upset, see if you can divert them to doing one of these calming things instead. Give plenty of reassurance and stay positive.
Very active behaviour
Some children are little dynamos and seem to find it difficult to be still, especially when others are physically close. Try to give them lots of opportunities to burn off some energy outside, for example in the park or garden. Make sure you give them plenty of warning when it’s going to be time to move to a different activity, such as finishing play time ready for bath time.
Some children like everything to be done their way, and have a tendency to take control of games or activities, often leaving others out. Try to notice which situations particularly bring out this sort of behaviour, and before they go into these situations, talk about how they should interact with others – letting everyone have a turn etc.
If things don’t go their way, your child may get frustrated and lash out physically at others or try to hurt themselves. See if you can spot the trigger situations that make them act this way – are they simply trying to get your attention?
It may be that they’re trying to communicate but haven’t yet got the words to say what they’re feeling. They may feel overwhelmed and unsure how to handle a situation, or they may feel threatened by another child.
Remember, how you handle these situations is really important, because you’re modelling for them how to treat other people. If you shout at them, you’re effectively saying that it’s ok to behave like that.
Instead, stay calm but use a firm voice to explain why hurting others is not ok. For example, you could say ‘You just hit Josh. It hurt him and made him upset.’
Use simple language they can understand. You may want to remove them from the situation to give them a chance to calm down.
Depending on their age, you may be able to suggest some other strategies for coping with difficult feelings, that don’t involve hurting others.
For example, taking deep breaths or clenching and unclenching their fists.
Talk to them afterwards about what made them upset. If they don’t know what made them behave like that, make suggestions ‘Maybe it’s because you were angry that she took the toy you were playing with.’ You’re trying to help them make the connection between behaviour and consequences.
Read this article about managing difficult behaviour for more advice.
If you’ve adopted a particular approach to managing your child’s behaviour, make sure you’ve informed childminders or nursery staff so that everyone who looks after them can be consistent in their responses. Children are masters at playing adults off against each other!
No-one is the perfect parent 100 per cent of the time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your child’s behaviour and feeling increasingly stressed, ask for help.
Your health visiting team can talk to you about strategies to support your child’s behaviour and your own wellbeing, and your local Children’s Centre will also be able to offer support.
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