Nasty or Unusual Habits and Behaviour
Even the nicest toddlers can develop some nasty habits, so don’t be unduly worried if your little one picks up the odd habit. Most of these should be a transient and temporary state of events, and should cause no lasting harm to your toddler. Once you have an understanding of why your toddler is exhibiting these nasty habits, you will find simple and easy strategies to handle them.
As awful as it may be to you, aggression is a normal part of toddler development. Language skills that are not fully developed yet, coupled with a fierce desire to become independent, as well as difficulties with impulse-control can cause your toddler to become aggressive at times. Hitting, throwing, biting and hair pulling can be classed as aggressive behaviour. Try to show him other ways to express his feelings of anger and frustration (like hitting a punchbag or pillow). Being in tune to your child’s sensory signals, such as over tiredness or over stimulation will help you to preempt aggressive behaviour, giving you time to step in before the behaviour gets out of hand. Children often do nasty things if they are feeling tired, hungry and overloaded.
Biting is a fairly common behaviour in small toddlers . It can be a normal part of development when verbal skills are not fully developed, and should stop at around the age of 3. It is not premeditated or hateful, it is rather an ‘acting out’ of great feelings of frustration and anger. No matter how tempted you are to shout, smack or even bite back, the best way to handle the situation is to ignore the perpetrator (the one that bites) and shower all the attention on the victim. Show your child that you are displeased by the tone of your voice and your body language (turn your back on him), and turn all your attention on the child he has bitten. If your child is old enough, you can use time out. When it is all over, talk the situation through with your child. Even if your child does not have many verbal skills, it is still important to do this because this will show him that talking (not biting) is the way to solve problems.
Some children hit or lash out at others for much the same reasons as biting. Handle hitting episodes the same as you would for biting. Don’t be tempted to encourage him to hit the other child (especially if it is an older child), no matter how unfair you think it is! If the behaviour is happening at school, discuss it with your child’s teacher as there may be something happening at school that you are unaware of.
When your toddler pulls on the hair of his playmate, it is most likely because he is feeling frustrated at his dismal attempts of verbalizing how he is feeling. As with biting or hitting, it is not premeditated or hateful. Handle it in the same way as you would for biting and hitting.
Throwing things is a new and enjoyable skill for many toddlers. He has discovered that whatever he throws will fall down – he’s discovering gravity! Try to ignore aggressive throwing if possible (remember if you respond, he is likely to do it again). However there may come a point when you will have to discourage aggressive throwing by saying to him “we don’t throw sand in our sisters eyes because it can hurt her”. Remember to give extra attention to the ‘victim’. Rather show him what he can throw by saying “balls are for throwing outside, but sand isn’t.”
Written by Sister Ann Richardson, qualified nurse and midwife and co-author of Baby Sense; Sleep Sense and author of the international best seller Toddler Sense