Are you the parent of a toddler? If so, chances are you understand the many ways these youngsters can get themselves into trouble. Whether it's harassing the dog or the baby sister, toddlers crave attention—and they want it now! Are you looking for ways to keep your toddler's outbursts at bay but don't know where to start? Here are some of the more common toddler troubles, with information on why these behaviors happen and what you can do to stop them.
1. Refusing to Sleep
Toddlers are just learning how to do things on their own. Now they can walk, talk, and eat by themselves—and they love to express their newfound independence. So when your little one doesn't want to go to bed, he will probably let you know!
"Many toddlers refuse sleep because of separation anxiety," says Dr. Mary Muscari, PhD, RN, professor of pediatric nursing at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, and author of the Not My Kid parenting books. Children of this age are just getting used to sleeping alone, so it's important to make a ritual of bedtime. For example, develop a set before-bed routine: Your child takes a bath, puts on his pajamas and brushes his teeth, you then read him a story, and so on. Once these rituals are in place, bedtime usually becomes much easier. A self-soothing transitional object may also be in order, says Dr. Muscari. This can be a blanket, teddy bear, or another soft object your child loves.
2. Refusing to Eat
Toddlers often refuse to eat because they aren't growing as quickly as they did during infancy; they are hungry less and eat smaller portions. Many toddlers are also picky eaters, says Dr. Muscari. As a result, you may find the need to provide more mealtime encouragement. "Don't make it a battle because it's no contest," advises Dr. Muscari. "Toddlers always win." Instead, try to make your foods more toddler-friendly. Serve finger foods and put meals in sectioned plates. Instead of giving your child three large meals, give her several smaller ones, suggests Dr. Muscari. And every time she tries a new food, "heap on the praise," adds Dr. Kenneth Haller, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. And don't forget to always reward your child's positive behavior.
3. Sibling Rivalry
Most sibling rivalry is caused by jealousy. Your toddler may believe that a younger sibling is receiving more attention than he or she really is, and consequently act out to gain more of your attention. To avoid this common trap, ensure that all of your children receive equal time and attention. Dr. Muscari suggests that if your toddler is the eldest in your family, give him praise for being the big brother and try to ignore negative behavior. Dr. Haller explains, "Your child soon will figure out that he gets more attention from you when he sits quietly reading a book than when he throws it at his little sister."
4. Temper Tantrums
They come as if from nowhere—and often at the most inopportune times, such as in the middle of the grocery store or at a friend's house. For many toddlers, the world seems to end when they don't get their way. How should you deal with these outbursts? "Ignore them," says Dr. Muscari. Your child is screaming and yelling because he or she wants your attention. You're only encouraging more tantrums in the future if you react to them now. Try distracting your toddler—mentioning that it is almost mealtime or asking her where a favorite toy is can take her out of a difficult situation and help her move on.