I don’t believe my son is perfect, but I also don’t believe in this idea that toddlers are terrible or deliberately naughty and disobedient. I’m not just talking about my son either, I’m talking about toddlers in general! I don’t like this idea that on the morning of their 2nd birthday all children instantly become ‘bad’!
My little boy is lovely, his laughter lights me up from the inside out, he gives the BEST kisses and cuddles, his curiosity and sense of adventure make me smile everyday and I really enjoy spending time with him. He has had and continues to have tantrums, episodes of biting and other undesirable behaviour but I really don’t see him as terrible and here are some reasons why.
Age Appropriate Behaviour
A lot of the behaviour that we see as unacceptable in toddlers is purely down to their age and stage of development, now, I am not saying that we should accept all aspects of their behaviour but maybe we should think about how we label it. Every day toddlers brains are working hard at forming new connections between the cells they are made up of and in order to do this they are experimenting with their world.
Not only are they testing what happens when they hold a pen in their hand and use it to make marks on a piece of paper but they are also testing what happens when they dump the contents of their cereal bowl on the floor, pull the cat’s tail and draw on the walls with mummy’s lipstick (but surely, that’s the same as using a pen on paper?). They aren’t being deliberately naughty and disobedient, they are testing what happens and also testing to see if we react the same way each time they do it.
Toddlers are like little scientists, they are carrying out experiments from dawn to dusk every day. They are making sure that their world is constant as well as learning about relationships with other people and where they fit into it all. They also have a newfound freedom (how would you feel if you had been unable to walk for a year?) and independence that they want to explore and see how fast they can go before they fall over, or how high they can jump or how many times they can spin before getting so dizzy they bump into everything (and look like very cute mini drunk people!).
Combine this testing of boundaries with the fact that toddlers experience all emotions, good and bad, in their rawest, purest form and at a heightened level due to not having the higher ‘filters’ that older children and adults have and that is where those wonderful tantrums come from……
Toddlers simply do not have the level of brain development that is required to control their emotions. During a tantrum their brain has literally ‘flipped out’ and they are beyond any sort of reasoning. It is quite simply a case of letting our son know that we are there for him and waiting it out, offering a cuddle when he has calmed down.
Self Fulfilling Prophecy
We have stopped using the word ‘naughty’ in our house. This decision was made on the basis that we don’t want our son to grow up believing that he is naughty, or terrible, or bad or not good enough as a result of a self-fulfilling prophecy developing.
A self fulfilling Prophecy occurs when someone unknowingly causes a label or assumption about them to become true as a result of positive feedback between behaviour and belief.
In other words, what we believe about someone becomes true as our beliefs affect our behaviour and if children believe themselves to be ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ then it will affect their future behaviour and what they think about themselves which leads to the development of a vicious cycle.
In our house we talk about ‘good choices’ and ‘bad choices’ as well as ‘good and bad behaviour’. Choices and behaviour are transient whereas labelling someone’s character can be permanent. We don’t tell him he is ‘being silly’ when he cries or throws a tantrum but acknowledge his feelings and let him express himself until he feels more in control.
Maybe next time we are faced with challenging, inappropriate or undesirable behaviour it might be helpful to take a deep breath (or 3…or even 10) and try to see what it was that the little person was experimenting with before we decide how to deal with it.
And maybe instead of calling our toddlers terrible maybe we can rename this stage of development the ‘testing twos’ and stop with all this negativity about what is actually a really lovely age!