Updated: Aug 13, 2019
Most importantly, for a child of any age shouting, smacking, punishments and blame have been proven to not teach children how to behave (Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin & Roslyn Ann Duffy). More effective is a calm low voice, kind and firm boundaries and a consistent strategy agreed by both parents.
0-1 Year Behaviour
Babies of this age are too young for intentional misbehaviour they are just exploring the world with their bodies.
As adults it is our responsibility to provide them with a safe environment to move around in and supervise them to keep them safe.
They are too young to understand no. It is more effective to explain what we can do instead, then remove the baby or the dangerous object if they don't respond.
E.g. "Plugs are not for playing, instead we can play with this ball"
..."I'm going to move you away from the plug to keep you safe, here look at this book"
Distraction is the best tool here, depending on the baby's temperament this will be easy or tricky to accomplish, spend time with your baby to get to know what works to keep them happy and safe.
Understanding what is normal for this age is essential, screaming (for pleasure - trying out their voices), chewing, kicking legs and waving arms are all active ways of exploring their world and bodies and shouldn’t be restricted.
1 Year+ Behaviour
Often people talk of the 'terrible twos' but they don't realise that this tricky behaviour can start from 1 day after a child's first birthday, or even before. Children start to push boundaries, try out naughtiness and develop their own will. They realise that parents have a separate life and jobs to do and they want to have more power and control.
Toddlers can learn to manipulate but they are still too young to really understand no. They start to want things they don’t need. As adults we need to decide what they eat, when they eat and sleep and ensure they are safe. Apart from that toddlers should be given opportunity to make their own decisions, such as which outfit to wear, how much food to eat and so on (see below).
From the age of 1 to 2 they explore different ways of getting what they want. How you respond each time will guide their future behaviour. Crying/whining/screaming/hitting/running away/throwing – should all be responded to with a calm low voice. If it is low level behaviour you can simply turn away and ignore – they soon learn that positive energy gets your attention.
If they continue to misbehave, say what we do instead in a calm way e.g. “arms need to be gentle” or “This isn’t for playing with, you can play with…” If they still continue a calm removal of the object/child is needed. Explain “I am worried someone/thing will get hurt/broken, we need to leave now/put this away” this is best said, down at their level using eye contact. Try to avoid as much as possible: If you run away again then we will never come to the park again (bribery), time out, hitting, shouting, too many restrictions.
Power In Play
• Give toddlers some power in play, spend time with them each day playing - this is best if you choose the time early on so they don't learn that pestering you gets your full attention.
• When playing together let them be the boss, so they can get the power and control they so desperately need.
Then, when you need to take control and give them lunch or put them down for a nap they are more likely to comply as they feel loved and valued and listened to.
• Give toddlers small choices throughout the day so they feel like they have some control.
• Appropriate choices would be "breadstick or rice cake for your snack" not "chocolate bar or apple for your snack"
• Regular practice of key life skills such as dressing, tidying, eating, teeth brushing, walking, hopping, sleeping independently etc. are useful.
• Each skill takes a while to learn so should be broken down into small manageable chunks.
• This will make children feel independent, accomplished and connected to the family.
•They can also help to cook and clean. These are both effective ways to help them release their frustrations and energy - pounding dough, or splashing some water around.
Share the House
• Choose cupboards and drawers that are child friendly in each room, make these available to your growing child so they feel like they belong and that they can play with adult things.
• The best options are Tupperware cupboards, saucepans, sock drawers etc.
• Most of the frustration, whining and crying of toddlers arises from a lack of communication.
• They can often understand most of what you say and want to talk back, but they can't.
• Teaching babies signing from as early as you like, but most effective around 9-12 months, can provide them with effective tools for communication.
• Focus on one sign at a time, food themed ones are best to begin with as they quickly see a real gain from signing. For example, 'more' and 'enough' signs can prevent many food issues escalating.
Dealing With Tantrums
Toddlers have to learn to eat, talk, run, get dressed, brush their teeth, sleep when they want to play, follow your routines and much more in their first few years. This can be VERY frustrating especially when they are tired or hungry. Tantrums often occur when they are overwhelmed by everything. Try to avoid hunger, tiredness and situations which cause them.
Steps for success with tantrums
• Distraction early is best – “Ooh look…!" or "Would you like to help me..."
• If they still tantrum – leave them to it, be calm, count to 10 and ignore, move them to a soft space if need be.
• Afterwards don’t give in to their demands otherwise they will repeat this behaviour more if they know it gets what they want.
• Always say that you understand their feelings so that they can learn to explain their feelings instead of crying/having tantrums: "I understand you feel…or want… the problem is …"
• All feelings should be accepted but some actions should be limited “Oh how annoying! You wanted to keep playing.”
• If you need to limit actions say "I don't like it when children hit others, it hurts" (always avoid saying 'you' to calm a child down)
Top Tips from 'How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen' by Joanna Faber & Julie King
Wish list - Lets write that on your wish list for your birthday (when shopping)
Fantasy - if only we could play on that all day (when leaving a toy/park)
Silliness – your socks are going to eat your toes! (when trying to get them to do something)
Problem solving – what can we do to fix this? (when behaviour goes wrong)
Give information – we must brush our teeth to fight off little germs (with daily chores)
Choice – how shall we get in the car, jumping like a rabbit or sliding like a slug?
Writing – chart to do list, reminder note etc.(when words just won't do)
To find out more about eating and behaviour look out for my upcoming blog "Food Behaviour" full of top tips and useful advice for tired and hungry parents.
Swaddling To Toddling Antenatal Course
To find out more about guiding your child's behaviour from a young age join a Swaddling To Toddling antenatal class in Bristol. Discover how to start subtle routines which follow baby's cues and how to prepare your house for baby. Book online now to secure your place.