EVEN the most well-behaved children may at some point display mouthy, defiant or bratty behaviour. And this, according to clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell, is quite normal toddler behaviour. However, when behaviours become persistent, explosive and progressively worse, then it may be cause for concern.
“Toddlers are at a developmental stage when they are just learning to navigate the world around them and their feelings. They are acquiring speech and locomotion and language is still evolving. Many times when they are misunderstood, they experience frustration — frustration can lead to aggressive behaviours and temper tantrums,” Dr Bell explained.
However, Dr Bell said that while these behaviours are to be expected, parents should seek professional help if they, as well as others, become concerned about the children's behaviour.
“In addition to the general concern from parents and others closely involved, if parents also notice that their children's behaviour, when compared to that of other kids (their age), is exaggerated, then they should make an appointment with a psychologist, paediatric psychologist, or a paediatrician,” Dr Bell advised.
She underscored that at this point parents may have to come face to face with the reality that they may be dealing with behaviours that require psychological and other forms of professional intervention.
“Children who display disruptive behaviours could be experiencing mental and/or other neurological challenges. For example, if it is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that the child is displaying at that early age, the premise is that the behaviour has a biological basis, so the child's control over his or her behaviour may be limited,” Dr Bell explained.
She further explained that research has shown where in the case of ADHD, for example, the child's frontal lobe may be underdeveloped, and that underdeveloped frontal lobe creates hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity and behaviours that would tend to be irrational.
Other conditions that could explain consistent unexplained disruptive behaviours in toddlers, Dr Bell said, may include autism, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder which occur as a result of an overactive nervous system, as well as learning or intellectual disabilities.
“It is important to note that some children may have one or more of these disorders at the same time. When this occurs, it is referred to as a comorbidity. Fortunately, though, with new therapies coming to the fore every day, while no cure has been identified for any of these conditions, there is a wide range of intervention and therapy options available to assist children with learning skills that encourage positive interactions, as well as help with the management of behaviours,” Dr Bell encouraged.
Until they receive a diagnosis that proves that they are dealing with something outside of toddler behaviour, Dr Bell urged parents to continue working on getting to know their children so that synchrony can be established, thus satisfying the needs of the children so that it reduces frustration and misunderstandings. This way you will be able to better learn situations that trigger poor behaviours, and learn how to help them through their tantrums and aggressive behaviours.
Helping your toddler to unpack his/her emotions may require patience, time, and good reasoning ability. But here are some other tips that may help:
1. Plan ahead to talk to the child. Make sure that you communicate with him/her in the simplest way possible what is going to be happening and where you may be going.
2. Always start the conversation with your child about feelings and teach them how to calm down. Understand that the child's needs are in the moment, and if appropriate, fill the need. Explain to the child what to do and what is inappropriate. This should be done in a calm, authoritative manner with not too much talking.
3. Show the child an alternative behaviour to get his/her needs satisfied. Use distraction, if needs be, to help the child stay calm. So, tell them, for example, “let's go out and play” or show the child something exciting.
4. Give the child a break to self-regulate so he/she learns how to calm down.
5. Parents should be consistent with rules and appropriate behaviour.
6. Parents should teach problem-solving skills from very early so children learn how to solve problems.