It’s natural for those little toddler quirks to (sometimes) make you crazy. “It’s your toddler’s job to test your limits,” says Laura Jana, MD, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and author of Food Fights. Plus, they just don’t know better yet.
“Nose-picking is normal and natural, but it’s also socially unacceptable and a great way to spread germs,” says Jana. Expect it to take some time for that “not okay” message to sink in; meanwhile, try not to dwell on it, redirect with lots of tissue offers and wash hands regularly to reduce the spread of germs.
2. Scribbling on everything
If your toddler ruins something by coloring on it, your instinct may be to get irate. “We say ‘She should know better,’” says Jana. “She may have been scolded just yesterday for scribbling, but that was a blue marker on the wall. In her mind, it’s a totally different story.” If you have a budding Picasso on your hands, you may have to go over the rules 11 jillion times before she truly grasps the parameters. Until then, your choices are closer supervision and keeping any tempting tools out of her reach.
“Reading the same book or singing the same song over and over is a critical part of early learning,” Jana explains. “This is how children pick up subtleties of language and learn to notice details, like rhythm or that the pictures go with the story.” We may get bored paging through The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the umpteenth time, but the point of reading or singing together is the shared experience, not the riveting plot or the catchy refrain. When he gets older, it’s okay to suggest a different book. But for now, try to suck it up and read it again.
“Attention span builds gradually,” Jana says. “A three-year-old can wait until you finish a sentence to speak, but asking her to hold a thought for 30 minutes is unrealistic.” The next time she interrupts, try saying this: “I can see that you have something important to say, and I can’t wait to hear what it is, just as soon as I finish this conversation.” If you stop or drop what you’re doing every time your child demands your immediate attention, she’ll continue to believe everything revolves around her (and that won’t be fun when she’s a teenager).
5. Full-body tantrums
“To refrain from having a tantrum takes impulse control, which is a learned skill and something that’s difficult for even four- and five-year-olds,” Jana explains. Just as you wouldn’t get mad if your child didn’t master his ABCs overnight, you’ll need to cultivate patience with this skill too. Instead of having a tantrum of your own (tempting as it may be), try the sympathetic route: “You really wanted that, huh? You must be pretty disappointed that you can’t have it, and I understand that, but it’s not going to happen. Here’s something you can have....” It won’t be easy, but if you give in to a hissy fit to avoid a scene, you’ve just taught your child that this is an effective way to get what he wants. Not a good thing.
Nearly all kids go through a whiny phase. If your tendency is to say something along the lines of, “Okay, fine. You can [fill in the blank],” you’re teaching her that whining is a great way to manipulate you. The response to master: “I’m sorry. I can’t understand you when you talk like that.”
7. Finicky eating
After 18 months, it can take 10 to 15 exposures to a new food before a child green-lights it, Jana explains. And don’t overlook the fact that no matter how many times she tries a certain food, she may never learn to love it. “Parents often forget to acknowledge likes and dislikes,” Jana says. “Some things may grow on her, but a handful never will.” Bottom line: Try a different veggie if she’s refusing broccoli.
If your toddler’s truck is missing, his sister took Cheerios off his plate or he dropped his sippy cup, to him it’s an urgent, critical concern. So try not to let his flipping out get to you. “You can watch a screaming child and feel bad and not irritated,” Jana says. “It’s easier said than done, but it helps if you remember that he’s not being melodramatic to annoy you.” Lead by example and stay calm.
Between 9 and 18 months, the act of biting is generally experimental. (“What happens when I do this?”) Biting that continues beyond that point, says Jana, needs to be addressed. With older toddlers, look for triggers — hunger, fatigue, teething — and do your best to deal with those before he sinks his teeth into the nearest limb. If your child bites another child, Jana suggests handling it immediately, apologizing and assuring the other parent that you’re working to curb the behavior. “If you don’t, the other parent will assume that you don’t care or aren’t trying to teach proper behavior,” says Jana, who adds that you probably won’t get the response you want (“Oh, no problem!”), but at least you’re showing concern.
10. Baring it all
“It’s normal and tempting for a child to explore her body, and there’s no deeper, hidden meaning” behind taking her clothes off, says Jana. To get her to stop stripping in public, Jana recommends gently reminding her that “private parts are for private places” (and don’t be surprised if she trots off to her room for some self-exploration).
The Bump expert: Laura Jana, MD, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and author of Food Fights
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