Toddler pushing the boundaries? Work out how to handle the situation without having a tantrum of your own
Hitting his cousin. Refusing to share. A temper foul enough to rival Gordon Ramsey. If your little angel has flipped into a little devil, chances are he’s learning a lot from it.
‘From the age of one, children begin to test the boundaries,’ explains child psychotherapist Mark Bradley. ‘Parents worry that challenging behaviour is a bad reflection on them, but actually it’s completely normal.’
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should be too laisse faire about the whole thing. Luckily there are subtle ways to teach your child the error of his ways.
Hitting / biting / shoving
You’re enjoying a coffee with the other mums when you look up to see your ‘little cutie’ belting his friend over the head with a plastic hammer.
‘This is very typical behaviour,’ says Mark. ‘Try not to think of it as your child being violent or malicious. Mostly, it’s just his way of communicating the fact that another child has encroached upon his territory.’
Kneel down to his level and say, ‘Hitting/biting/pushing (delete as appropriate) hurts. Don’t do it.’ He might not understand to begin with, but by explaining every time, he’ll soon get the message.’ And when you do catch your child playing nicely, make sure to praise him.
When you do catch your child playing nicely, make sure to praise him
Refusal to share
Play dates always seem like such a good idea… until little guests set their sights on your child’s favourite toy and all hell breaks loose.
‘It’s natural for children to resist sharing,’ explains parenting expert Dee Booth. ‘After all, what’s in it for him? Help him to understand that sharing is a kind thing to do by saying, “Letting your friend play with the duck will make her very happy”.’
If that fails, try to distract him/his little friend with a new toy so you carry on catching up on the goss.
You’re halfway home from John Lewis when you look down to see your child clutching ill-gotten gains from the toy department. Great.
‘Children don’t understand the concept of paying for things, so technically he hasn’t done anything wrong,’ says Mark. ‘Gently explain, “It doesn’t belong to us, so we need to take it back to the shop.”’
Even if it’s a bit of a mission, do return it and make a point of saying to the shopkeeper, “We’re very sorry but we took this by mistake.” Be sure to praise your child afterwards for taking it back.
Throwing a wobbler
Screaming in the supermarket, flailing about on the floor of the Post Office, having a meltdown in a quiet restaurant… There’s nothing like a tantrum in public to leave you feeling like The. Worst. Parent. Ever.
At this age, children are learning so much, but still have limited language skills, so he can easily become frustrated. Cue a tantrum.
‘Rather than a lecture, he needs touch and reassurance to help him calm down,’ says Mark. Give him a cuddle and talk in soothing tones. If the screaming doesn’t subside, remove your baby from the situation by taking him outside or put him in his buggy and let him scream it out. Yes, people will stare, but keep your calm and no one will think you’re a bad parent.
Obsession with his bits
Pulling his pants down in Tesco, smearing poo up the wall, weeing in the sandpit, asking granny if she has a willy, too – all things nappy confined are a source of fascination from a young age.
‘This is an important phase when toddlers get to know their bodies, so try to avoid negative associations by saying things like, “Yuk, that’s disgusting”,’ says Mark.
It’s better to let him learn about his body. If your son is playing with himself in public, do step in and say something along the lines of, “We don’t pull our pants down in Tesco, silly billy”, and distract him with something else. He’ll soon learn when and where it’s acceptable to be naked or go to the toilet.
Saying inappropriate things in public
Why is that lady so fat, Mummy? Why doesn’t Johnny have a daddy? Why is that man in a wheelchair? The questions are endless. And always loud!
Ok, so you’re embarrassed, but your toddler’s too young to realise just how cringe-worthy his statement is. ‘He’s just being naturally inquisitive, which is a good sign,’ says Mark. Rather than hiss ‘Shhh’ or mutter ‘Because’, it’s best to be honest. Just speak more quietly than his last announcement. Or throw the question back to him by saying “Why do you think?” He’ll come up with something equally innocent or outlandish, and the discussion will soon move on to something else.