MONTH 19 - MONTH 21
keep in mind that all children are unique. Whether your child
reaches milestones early or late, she has her own developmental
path to follow. The dividing lines between these months are
very fuzzy. If you have any concerns or questions about your
child’s development, please check with her health care provider.
For this trimester in your child's
development, we have decided to tackle three challenging topics
that most parents of toddlers face sooner or later: coping
with temper tantrums, what to do when a child hits or bites
and disciplining your toddler. These are three of the most
nerve-racking and emotional topics in parenting and certainly
ones with no easy answers. We hope that this month's guide
offers support to parents of toddlers who may be just encountering
these issues for the first time but unfortunately probably
not the last...
To help you understand why your
precious buttercup turns into a writhing, screaming monster
before your eyes, it is important to understand what is happening
developmentally. Again, issues of control and independence
are paramount at this age. Whether or not a toddler can put
on her shoes by herself or get a desired object out of a tight
spot are important problems for young toddlers to solve. These
issues can lead to frustration and culminate in an explosion
of behaviors, from the typical falling to the ground and kicking
feet -- to holding breath until passing out.
Another reason that may set the
stage for a tantrum is language development. Around this age,
a toddler is just developing the skills to express to you
her needs. Unfortunately, you may not be able to understand
all of her blossoming, toddler-like language. Her frustration
explodes into a tantrum.
One way to prevent tantrums is
to try your best to maintain the daily routine, even if away
from home. Routines help children feel safe and in control
because they know what to expect next in their day. The smallest
change in a child's routine can produce large changes in behavior.
Also, anticipate frustration. Try to avoid saying "No!" to
a child's request and offer alternatives. Giving your toddler
choices that are okay with you, will help her feel more in
control and may ward off that impending tantrum.
Try not to give your toddler attention
during the tantrum so that the behavior is not being reinforced.
Instead, calmly wait until the tantrum behavior(s) has subsided
and then attend to your child. Your response depends on your
child and the situation. For some, just let it pass and move
Perhaps few topics in parenting
and child development raise more emotions than when one child
is aggressive toward another child. It is difficult for parents
not to project thoughts of whether the "aggressor" has a tendency
toward violence or if the "victim" has a tendency toward being
targeted. Both biting and hitting are not uncommon responses
in the toddler world and should not be reflected as part of
the personalities of children who display these behaviors.
But that is not to say that these behaviors are to be ignored;
both biting and hitting need to be addressed by parents and
There are many factors that can
contribute to a biting or hitting incident, with some being
quite benign. For one, when children are teething, biting
can be satisfying for sore gums. Another is curiosity. "What
sort of reaction will happen if I take a chunk from that kid's
hand?" Or, if children are bored or tired, these sorts of
behaviors may appear.
Often biting and hitting result
from a child's own frustration. If a child is playing with
a toy and another toddler tries to take it, the first child
may not be able to express in words her feelings about having
her toy taken. Her response is a quick nip on the hand or
a shove aside.
What Can Parents and Caregivers
Do When a Child Bites or Hits?
Two responses are very important
initially. First, go to the "victim" to comfort and then remove
the "aggressor" from the space where the altercation occurred.
Again, try not to reinforce the behavior. Do not give the
"aggressor" any positive reinforcement (no smiles, warm eye
contact, soothing voice). With whatever language you are comfortable
using and in a calm but firm voice convey that biting or hitting
is not okay. Talk to both children briefly about what happened
and remind them of words that could have been used to prevent
It is very important for toddlers
to learn words, such as 'Stop!' or 'No!' to use in this context
- both for the child who is about to have her toy taken from
her and for the child who is about to be hit. And remember
that the child who is biting or hitting needs your guidance
and support just as much as her victim. Ostracizing or labeling
her will not help her learn to stop the behavior and may add
further stress to her in this setting and continue the problem.
Now that we have touched upon tantrums,
biting and hitting, it seems appropriate to tackle the next
important topic - discipline. In the toddler years, most parents
not only have to ponder their feelings on discipline, usually
based on their own experiences in childhood, but also actually
put their philosophies into play with their young children.
A toddler's developmental "job" is to explore the limits -
to test her environment (meaning YOU) as far as it will go.
This can really push our buttons.
Setting limits is critical for
your toddler's understanding of working with others in the
world. Though you may be tempted to give in to the wail or
face-full of alligator-sized tears, be strong and pick your
battles. Ultimately, setting limits that are consistent and
predictable makes children feel safe and helps them progress
in developing skills in self-control. Remember to give praise
when your child follows the house rules accordingly.
Hand in hand with discipline is
acknowledging the challenges and frustrations with parenting.
It is very important for parents to find a means to express
this frustration in a safe way for themselves and their children.
We emphasize this need because for some parents spanking is
a response to this sort of frustration under the guise of
disciplining a child. We understand that there are many reasons
why parents spank. It may be a behavior that is ingrained
in one's culture or be passed down through generations.
What Does Spanking Teach?
Disrespect, pain and violence will
get what you want. An alternative? Good 'ole communication.
Explain in a way that is appropriate for her age what is it
that she is doing that is not okay and why she must stop.
"When you pull the cat's tail it hurts her. You must be gentle.
If you cannot stop yourself, I will stop you." If communication
is impossible, try a diversion - "Look at the big blue bird
out the window." When all else fails or your child is seemingly
out-of-control, then try a time-out. Remove your child from
the situation. The rule of thumb is one minute for each year
of age. But try to avoid abusing the time-out; it is not meant
as a punishment or to cause shame.
If you feel like your blood is
boiling and you need a break from your child - place your
child somewhere safe (a crib) and give yourself five minutes
alone to calm down. This is a normal response in parenting
- one that we certainly acknowledge and can appreciate. Most
of us have been there ourselves.