Toddler behaviour and development


For those of us who fondly imagine we'll be parent to a cheery Milly-Molly-Mandy sort of child who takes delight in performing chores for elderly relatives, toddler behaviour, with its full complement of tantrums and mischief, may come as a rude shock

Your toddler's behaviour

“Pick your battles” is an oft-repeated mantra on the Mumsnet Talk forums. There's no point getting mad over every minor indiscretion because if you're constantly reprimanding your children, punishments will swiftly lose their impact. Accept that some things you just have to ignore – you're managing a two year old, not a 20 year old, and shoving satsuma skin up their nose instead of finding a bin is part of their learning process.

Concentrate on the big misdemeanours, the non-negotiable rights and wrongs, and don't sweat the small stuff. As this mum puts it: “It's annoying as hell when they pull the cushions off the couch and climb all over the pile, but is it really unbearable? They do have a lot of energy to expel so they have to get it out somehow.”

Of course, what constitutes 'non-negotiable' behaviour varies from parent to parent, and depends on what's important to you. For most parents, certain behaviour, such as hitting, is always wrong. Likewise, pouring Ribena into sockets, charging into the road and similar life-threatening actions require strict non-negotiable boundaries.

Other more minor discrepancies, such as depositing milk over the cat, may or may not need the same level of chastisement, depending on your disposition (and your cat's).

As your toddler develops, you'll probably employ a variety of the following methods. And, of course, the method that works for one child might not work for another. Whichever method of discipline you choose, the key is consistency: you can't allow certain behaviour on one day and forbid it the next. “Be really, absolutely consistent and you will see results,” promises one old hand. “If all else fails, you can always call Supernanny. Or send them to Grandma's.”


How diet and exercise affect toddler behaviour

A toddler whose primary needs are not met will be crabby. And a crabby toddler is not an enjoyable little being.

Regular, nutritious snacks are an essential part of toddler maintenance. Making sure your child is eating a balanced diet, and getting lots of fresh air and exercise is a crucial part of avoiding tantrums and other terrible toddler behaviour. Many Mumsnetters are of the opinion that toddlers are like family dogs – ie they both need daily walks.

Why tantrums happen

Toddler tantrums are largely about frustration. Your little person is developing a sense of self, but is only just starting to get a grip on the fact that his emotions and experiences are not shared by everybody. He lives very much in the present moment (which is all nice and Buddhist) and is completely at the sway of whichever emotion he is feeling right now (which is not).

Such enthusiasm is part of the charm of little children. But also the reason that when they are bad, they are horrid.

“Children tend to have tantrums for the same reason grown-ups do,” writes one Mumsnetter. “They feel they are not being heard.” It can be pretty boring rabbiting on all day to your toddler about the inanities of your life together, but it's essential if you want to make them feel included and cherished – both essential parts of feeling secure and avoiding those last-minute toddler tantrums.

Surprises are not fun for a toddler, because it makes them feel out of control, and new things take time to process and understand. A rough idea of the day's events helps.
Some toddlers benefit from having a 'visual timetable': you can use photographs or simple drawings to put together a poster of his day, such as waking up, having breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth and hair, and going to nursery. As the day unfolds, talk about what you're doing so they can mentally prepare themselves.

Another way of giving some control to your child is to present them with choices, so that they feel they have some say over things, and are making this happen rather than having things happen to them. You don't really care if she wears the Iggle Piggle socks or the Peppa Pig socks, so let her choose and she will feel grown-up and in control.

Mumsnetters' examples of toddler 'mischief'

''He stuck the end of the Dyson down the toilet and vacuumed up all the water. I think that it broke the Dyson to be honest.''

''My daughter silently and unobtrusively brought several buckets of water in from the garden (having first worked out how to turn on the external tap) and helpfully washed the kitchen floor for me. ''

''My nephew decided to dig a hole in the garden and bury his dad's mobile phone. It was only discovered after the hundredth look around the house and phoning it to try and find it. One of them noticed the ground outside was ringing.''

''My son has helpfully posted all my credit cards through our floor boards.''