Dear David Coleman: I need techniques to deal with my toddler's challenging behaviour?

Dear David Coleman: I need techniques to deal with my toddler's challenging behaviour?

Q Can you please give me advice about our two and a half-year-old son? He has always been a challenging boy and never sat still even as a baby. Generally he has been running the house. A new baby arrived in June last year and our older boy’s behaviour is getting worse. He is constantly demanding, oppositional, grabbing things, climbing on the table, running away when we are out; the list is endless. I don’t like spending time with him because it ends in a bad fight where I’ll shout at him. I need techniques to deal with his behaviour. Please help.

David replies: There is a real shift required, in our parenting, when our children reach toddlerhood. Once they become independently mobile, we realise that they take a lot more work. If I understand the dates right, you were probably pregnant in or around the time he started walking, which means that you were probably exhausted just at the point that you needed more energy to keep pace with your older boy.

So much of our time, with toddlers, is spent guiding and directing them. They need high levels of input from us, to keep them busy, but safe, as they explore their world. Reaching for things, wanting to grab, climbing on tables, running off to explore something new are all part of toddler life. Our job is to stick with them, stopping them if they are likely to get hurt or lost, or hurt someone else. As you, no doubt, find, spreading your limited time and availability between the two boys is wearing and tiring.

There are a number of positive approaches to parenting toddlers and preschoolers that you might like to try. The first is to manage the environment as much as possible. If, for example, you don’t want him to take out markers, which he might use to draw on the wall, then make sure they are not just out of reach, but also put them out of sight. Toddlers live in the moment, and so they will often gravitate to the things they can see, touch or hear in their immediate vicinity.

The other thing that we have to keep an eye out for, with young children, is that their frustration can build quickly if they are unable to do something. So when they can’t reach something, or aren’t able to manipulate some toy in the way they want, they can get cross. Rather than reacting to the crossness, see if you can offer him some help to get past the hurdle in his way, enough help to just get him started on something, for example.

Distraction and re-direction are also great tools for dealing with small children. They can often be distracted from their upsets and their frustrations by the offer of something exciting or new. Often times, for example, just deciding to relocate outside can make all the difference to their fractiousness. It might be harder to achieve with the baby to organise too, but it always worth considering the benefits of fresh air and distraction.

Sometimes we need to prompt them in the direction of what we want them to do. Offering ourselves for company or shared activity is also a good way to keeping them on track. But, one of the things that you will notice, is that parenting young children requires proximity. We have to be near them, we have to be involved with them and we have to be active in guiding and directing their behaviour. There is no substitute for our presence.

Sometimes it helps to take a more positive view of children. All the behaviours you describe are very normal and typical for children his age. Being able to look at those as being age appropriate, and developmentally sound, might also remind you that your son is not bad, he is just a preschooler.

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