Are toddlers supposed to "behave?" lol A few things that seem to work with my 3yo son (in the midst of single parenthood, speech/developmental delays for my son,
- I know my son. My son is highly social. He craves attention, specifically mine. He doesn't really care what kind of attention he gets so long as he gets it. So, I do whatever I can to give him appropriate attention. What I mean by that is, I recognize and praise him for the things that deserve positive attention. As much as is safe, I ignore or disregard negative behaviors to a point. (If the negative behavior is something that is putting him in danger or is getting out of hand, I will address it.) For me, the things I ignore are things like saying "mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy" over and over again, throwing things on the floor for the purpose of getting my attention, etc. (When he stops, I praise him.)
- Have a routine. My toddler begs for routine. When he misses a nap, he gets cranky. When he stays up too late at night, the next day he’s a bear. It’s my job as a parent to make sure that his needs are met and one of those needs (at least for my child) is proper rest and routine. If he knows what to expect on a normal day, he begins to look forward to it. On the same side of the coin, if he’s eating well, drinking fluids and getting plenty of fresh air throughout the day, he’s usually much better behaved. (Note: this isn’t to say that breaks from routine shouldn’t happen. Special outings, fieldtrips or lake picnics are great! But that regular schedule is really important to maintaining a happy, well-behaved toddler. Boredom can be a fierce enemy!
- Spend quality time. Because my son craves my attention, I want to be sure to give it to him. I am intentional about those times that we spend together. They don't have to be "teaching" moments like making him answer a ton of questions: "what color is that?" "how many do you see?" "what are they doing in the picture?" " what letter is that?" Rather, we take time to just enjoy each other's company: coloring, putting together a puzzle, playing with his trains, digging in the dirt, playing with playdough - all the while praising his good behavior with lots of "YAY!" and hand-clapping. :O)
(I have noticed a drastic difference in the number of tantrums during the day if I will just spend 5-10 minutes a day with him in this way!)
- My son responds well to rewards: if he wants dessert, he has to eat some meat; if he wants to go outside and play, he has to pick up his toys; etc. Again, this is where knowing what makes your child tick and what motivates them is very helpful. Meeting them where they’re at is key (in other words, if they are social then, more than likely, a solitary time out would work better than a swat on the butt or taking away a privilege). Life does have consequences and I am a firm believer that kids should learn this while they are young.
- Respond to bad behavior without emotion. This is probably the hardest part for me. When my toddler pushes my buttons, he knows what he's doing. That kid is like a trained professional! When my response is one of heated frustration, my toddler responds in kind. But when I respond with a firm but calm answer, he usually remains calm. Many, many times, his behavior reflects my own. Therefore...
- Behave by example. By far, the very best thing that I can do is be an example to my son in all things, even when I think he isn't looking. He's watching me, copying me (especially as a toddler), learning from my and modeling my reactions and behaviors. I can teach him more by showing him than by trying to "reason" with him.
Toddler-hood is really a remarkable stage, if we can get beyond the temper tantrums, fits, disobedience and boundary-pushing. They are learning new things every single day! They are developing their little personalities (or, as with my son, giant personalities), gaining independence, growing up. All of these things above translate to a toddler as love…and that’s really all they want!