Do Toddlers Misbehave?

A parent asked if toddlers are capable of misbehaving. Here’s my answer:

As an early childhood professional, I believe everything toddlers do is explorational, and due to a complete lack of impulse control. They are also testing limits to make sure we will hold firm.

They may understand a limit and still go against it to test not only if we’ll remain firm, but also to exercise their newfound autonomy. Sure, they get into mischief and I suppose you can call it “misbehaving,” but toddlers do not do anything out of malice. They don’t plan stuff out even if sometimes it may feel like they do.

Toddlers lack vocabulary so they act out to express their needs. I wouldn’t call this misbehaving. Either way though, this is developmentally appropriate for toddlers. They need to be taught and guided through this developmental stage rather than punished.

Some ways of disciplining toddlers would be to validate their feelings and provide appropriate ways of expressing their feelings through punching a pillow, biting a teething ring, or doing an angry dance.  Anything to redirect aggression to appropriate outlets while giving them the language to express their anger.

It’s also important to model appropriate behavior to children.  They are constantly watching and imitating us.

We also need to provide realistic limits.  When it comes to setting limits and boundaries for young children, there are three basic rules on which all boundaries and limits should be based. The first rule is respect for others. The second rule is respect for ourselves. The third rule is respect for property. And if we think about it, these three rules encompass much of what Christ said in His Sermon on the Mount. If you wish to add a fourth basic rule, we could say reverence of God. The reason why we should only have three or four basic rules on which to base limits and boundaries is that giving children too many rules to follow, especially at a young age, will only frustrate and overwhelm them.

And always use natural and logical consequences with them. Even time-out is a punishment and should not be used.  I will write a post about time-in in the future.

Toddlers need plenty of room to play and explore. By respecting them, “misbehavior” can be kept to a minimum because we are meeting their needs, and are recognizing that there is usually an unmet need behind most unwanted behaviors.

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