As your child enters the toddler years, their biggest teacher becomes the world around them. During this stage, you’ll witness your toddler embracing new challenges, being open to fresh experiences, expanding their vocabulary, pushing boundaries, grappling with intense emotions, discovering their independence, and impressing us with their understanding of the world in various ways.
While you observe your toddler reaching significant developmental milestones, you’ll also notice shifts in their behaviour. Their knowledge, understanding, and dispositions grow rapidly, and they attain new levels of capability, often accompanied by fleeting moments of “I can do this on my own.”
Toddlers can be exhausting as they learn to regulate their emotions and make sense of the world. You may even hear about the infamous “terrible twos.” However, it’s important to know that you’re not alone in navigating this stage, and their behaviour is actually beneficial for their development and learning.
As their safe space, let’s explore some of the most common traits you may observe in your toddler and how you can further support and understand their ever-changing behaviour.
Creating a Mess
Toddlers turn almost every opportunity into a mess-making endeavour. They will pull tissues out of the box, fling laundry from the basket, pour water on the floor, smear food and throw dirt into the air with glee. It seems like toddlers leave a trail of destruction behind wherever they go. And it’s YOU left cleaning it all up!
Toddlers need opportunities for messy play – it’s how they learn about the world around them. You can describe a red apple to a child, but they need to feel its leathery red skin, hear its crunch, watch the juice drip down and seemingly ‘play’ with it to learn all about it through experience. Being given the freedom to explore fuels a child’s natural curiosity and inspires a love for learning. Through their messy play, toddlers engage their senses, develop fine motor skills, use their imagination and finally, with your patience and guidance, learn to clean up after themselves.
Request the same book, song or show on repeat
Toddler hears a song.
You play the song a second time.
You hit play for the third time.
Aaargh! It can make us want to scream when we’re asked to repeat that nursery rhyme, read that book or play that TV show one more time. It often leaves you thinking, “How on earth can this be entertaining after the 11th time?”.
As it turns out, repetition helps a toddler’s speech and language development. By hearing the same words and phrases over and over, it cements their vocabulary and gives them a stronger foundation for further learning. Repetitive content – and behaviour – also support a child’s memory development. Think about a time you tried to learn a new skill, such as playing the piano or cooking a complicated dish. Repetition helps you, and as the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.
More so, this repetition is highly comforting to a toddler. They feel empowered by knowing what will happen next. This is why the predictable pattern of many children’s songs is designed to allow them to anticipate what’s to come. So, try not to let those annoying things get to you and keep hitting the play button!
Show their defiant side
Toddlers are of an age where they begin to understand they are an individual separate from a parent or caregiver, and with this recognition comes defiance. Testing behaviours and resistance are healthy signs toddlers are developing a sense of identity and independence.
It can be easy to wish your child would simply listen to your instruction, but is that what you really want? Instead of raising robots, we all want thinkers and doers. So, when a toddler becomes super defiant, they are actually taking control of their life.
Through their seemingly constant defiance, toddlers are also asking us to clarify our expectations, rules and boundaries. They want to know what decisions are theirs (for example, which socks to wear), and what decisions are yours (like holding hands when crossing a road). Toddlers need freedom within limits to help keep themselves and others safe. Enforcing age-appropriate boundaries during testing moments will make toddlers feel more secure, even though they can be frustrated at facing limitations.
You might wonder, “How can an emotional outburst be a positive thing?” And that’s a valid question!
Firstly, if your child experiences emotional outbursts in your presence, it indicates that they feel safe and secure with you. As the primary caregiver, it’s common to bear the brunt of these outbursts, especially when your toddler appears well-behaved around others. However, it’s actually the ultimate compliment they can give you!
Frequently, when toddlers have emotional outbursts, it’s their way of releasing pent-up emotions. Sometimes, this occurs when they’re tired, hungry, or overwhelmed and don’t have the skills to express themselves without resorting to anger. Toddlers are still developing their language abilities and often struggle to articulate their thoughts, desires, and needs. They haven’t yet acquired the capacity to self-regulate and require our guidance. While managing these emotional episodes can be incredibly frustrating, it also presents an opportunity to teach our children how to handle their emotions in a constructive manner.
Refuse to sit still
Children are driven by a need to develop their bodies and brain – and much of their learning comes from movement. A toddler’s hands, mouths and bodies are all tools for exploring and help them use their senses to gather information from the world around them.
This constant need to move is part of a toddler’s development of physical literacy – the ability to move competently and confidently in various ways. During infancy, toddlers learn fundamental movement and gross motor skills that support their entire life. In some ways, they are doing what we should all continue to do as we grow older: stay fit by being active!
Insist you repeat words and phrases after they say them
Toddler: “Look, red truck!”
Toddler: “Red truck!”
Parent: “Yes, I can see.”
Toddler: “Red truck! Red truck!”
Parent: “Yes, I can see, sweetie.”
Toddler: “RED TRUUUUUCK!!!”
Parent: “Ah, yes – that’s a red truck!”
Toddler: *silence and satisfaction*
This repetitive conversation won’t come as a surprise to any parent or carer of a toddler. And it can often drive anyone crazy! The truth is, all your toddler needs is for you to respond with their exact wording, repeating the same phrase after them.
This tool is so helpful for your toddler, who wants to ensure you understand them. It also helps their language development by hearing the word or phrase pronounced correctly by their caregiver. While it takes a slight re-think on our behalf, a simple acknowledgement using the child’s own words helps them feel listened to and understood.
Annoying things can be useful things when done by a toddler!
So, there we have it. All six annoying things toddlers do can hugely benefit their development – and as parents or carers, we need to allow them this freedom, however frustrating it feels.
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