The secret to handling behaviour problems in toddlers is not actually to continually confront bad behaviour. It is more of a Zen-like deflection of the bad energy that gets results! Social Training is the Key.
A toddler’s social training begins at home and parents can help their child by:
- providing a secure and loving background.
- encouraging independence in the child as she becomes ready for it.
- providing a good example for the child to copy – a satisfactory father-figure or mother-figure.
- giving the child opportunities for mixing socially with: her family – at meal-times, family outings, and family activities;
- relations and family friends – allowing her to be present when they visit, and taking her to visit them;
- strangers – letting her get accustomed to talking to the shopkeeper or the postman or postwoman, and having casual contact with people on buses, in the park, etc. but the child must be made aware of the dangers of talking to or going away with people she does not know;
Never force a child to socialise if she is not ready for it. Some children are naturally shy, or may be going through a difficult stage when they do not wish to meet other people. Gentle encouragement can be given, but ridicule or force will only make the child withdrawn.
Environment and Bad Behaviour
One factor that influences social development is the child’s environment – if she lives in a remote country area or a block of high-rise flats it may be difficult for her to find companionship, while living in overcrowded conditions with poor amenities can lead to poor social contacts. Another is the size of the family and the child’s position in it. The children in a large family may not get as much parental time and guidance in social training, but an only child may be overprotected and prevented from associating with other children.
The middle child in a family may be aggressive and engage in antisocial behaviour such as quarrelling with siblings, arguing and answering back, because he or she has to fight for a place in the family. The older and the younger children tend to be better adjusted. A third factor is the financial situation of the family. Children from a very well-off family may be given everything they want and therefore be spoilt, which can result in an inability to share with or care for others. Children of poor families may resent the material possessions of others and become jealous.
A great deal will depend upon the personality of the child herself. Much can be done to guide and help the child (nurture) but this cannot completely change the basic character (nature) which she inherits.
Some children are naturally shy and introverted (inward-looking) whilst others are extroverted (outgoing). Watch the children at a playgroup and you will quickly be able to spot examples of both types. The shy ones can be encouraged to come out of themselves and to make friendly approaches to others, and the extroverts have to learn how to conform and become less boisterous; but children should be allowed to develop their own personalities. emphasising the good characteristics and controlling the bad.
Discipline for Toddlers
Discipline is not just a matter of rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad behaviour. It should be based on loving guidance and it should be consistent and truthful. It is almost useless if the parents punish a child severely on one occasion and not at all another time, just because of their own moods, or threaten a punishment and then fail to carry out the threat because they cannot be bothered or forget.
Parents should never set higher standards for one child than for another – for example, a father feeling that he needs to be stricter with his son than with his daughter.
The parents’ own behaviour is important, as children follow their example, so they should not have one set of rules for the child and follow a different set themselves. For instance, if they find something and do not hand it in to the police, how can they expect their child to be honest? However, parents are not perfect and they sometimes administer punishment unfairly. If they have a good relationship with the child, she is more likely to be able to accept the unfairness and not bear malice.
Rewards and Punishments
Discipline does, nevertheless, involve rewards and punishments. Some parents rely on praise as a reward and withdrawal of affection as a punishment, while others give material rewards (such as presents) and physical punishment. A child must be praised for good behaviour or she will not know what is expected of her, and similarly she must be made aware of being naughty. If she can be reasoned with and shown why she cannot have any sweets, or must not touch that hot teapot, then this is the best course of action. If she is in a tantrum and beyond reasoning with, it may be best to ignore her. Children need to know what to expect – that their parents disapprove of their bad behaviour, but that when it has been dealt with, their parents will still love them.
In these instances a child needs love and understanding, not punishment.
Very often naughty, unacceptable behaviour can be channelled into something good by distracting the child and offering an alternative occupation. For example, a toddler who resents the new baby and tries to destroy the baby’s toys could be encouraged to helpand play with the baby instead.
If punishment is too strict and administered too freely the child will feel unloved and insecure and will eventually lack confidence in herself. She may herself resort to bullying and aggression and in turn become a bullying, repressive parent. If punishment is too lax or inconsistent, however, the child will become spoilt and demanding and will expect to be able to do as she pleases at anyone else’s expense. Correct discipline needs patience, tact and common sense, but it should result in an independent, self-disciplined, well-behaved person.
Toys, games and activities
There are many toys and games that will encourage a child to play and share with others, will help to prepare her for her role in adult life, and will give her experience in social activities. When she is a toddler she should be taken to the park, the paddling pool or the beach and allowed to mix with and observe the other children playing. As she gets older she will join in ball games, go on the climbing frame, play cowboys and indians, and take part in other group activities. At playgroup a child will play in the Wendy house, have a tea-party, play doctors and nurses – all things which will train her for adult life. She will take turns on the slide, help to build a tower of bricks, play a game of picture dominoes, and so on, and these activities will make her realise the value of cooperation, of helping other people and letting them help her. She will also learn that she cannot win every time and some children are better at some things than she is.