Part of what we do in Child Anxiety Support is figure out whether or not our children’s behaviors are normal and to-be-expected from kids that age. There are some things we just need to accept as part of parenting (babies are messy eaters) and some things we can influence (all typically developing kids will potty train eventually but caregivers can speed up or slow things down).
Learning what is developmentally appropriate for your unique child is one of the most important things we can do as parents. It helps us have more realistic expectations. But sometimes when we’re talking about what’s developmentally appropriate, parents get confused. They’ll either argue that I’m giving their kids an excuse to misbehave or they decide that there’s nothing they can do with the problem behavior but live with it.
Neither is true.
Babies will always be messy eaters. That’s a non-negotiable. But when it comes to 2-year old tantrums and 4-year olds who dawdle in the morning and 9-year olds who talk back and teenagers who miss curfew, there’s some room to work.
Understanding child development in general and the behavior of our individual children specifically helps us respond more appropriately.
Why are babies messy? They don’t have great motor skills just yet. And they’re also learning about their environment with pretty broad strokes (smell, touch, taste).
Why do 2-year olds tantrum? They’re easily frustrated, are lousy at transitions, have limited communication skills and are working at being independent.
Messy babies at meal times make sense. 2-year olds who tantrum also makes sense.
There’s not much we can do to influence motor skills other than give lots of opportunity and practice. But tantruming toddlers? That we can address.
- Toddlers are easily frustrated; we can help them acknowledge their frustration.
- Toddlers are lousy at transitions; we can begin preparing them for transitions ahead of time.
- Toddlers have limited communication skills; we can give them words for their feelings and their wants and wishes.
- Toddlers need the opportunity to practice independence; we can build in some developmentally-appropriate independence into their lives.
It’s easy to see that behavior (tantrums) and want to know how to deal with that behavior. But to get it at its source, we need to know what developmental needs are driving the behavior. Just because it’s normal for a 2-year old to tantrum doesn’t mean that we don’t have tools to help our kids with the task of growing out of them.