As a Toddler Mom, I often feel that toddlers are quite misunderstood. The thought of the ‘terrible 2s’ gives many mothers jitters.
But the more I understand my own 2.5 yo daughter, the more I read about toddlers and their brain, the more I help other toddler parents overcome their struggles – the more I realize that the picture of toddlers as little monsters trying to manipulate their parents with their tantrums – must change!
After much deliberation, experience and research, I’ve come to the conclusion that toddlers can be very peaceful, playful and happy, if their needs are met.
Unmet needs lead to disruptive behavior in toddlers.
Well, that’s true of all humans. But what adds to the challenge with toddlers is their inability to communicate as well as adults can.
So, the onus is on the parents to decipher their toddlers needs and provide accordingly, it’s almost like trying to read someone’s mind. And it’s not easy.
To make it a little easier for parents, I’ve put together the top 6 most important needs of a toddler.
The six basic needs of a toddler are:
Health, Attention, Power, Predictability, Inclusion and Evolution.
Fulfilling these needs on a daily basis, make and keep your toddler HAPPIE.
Let me explain these needs in more detail.
Understanding your toddler’s needs
This aspect relates to the physical well-being of your toddler.
- Is she well-fed?
- Is she well-rested with enough sleep during the day & night?
- Is she experiencing any kind of physical uneasiness due to teething, indigestion, colic, fatigue, or injury?
- Is she experiencing enough warmth & comfort from a parent/caregiver?
- Is she getting enough opportunities to move around & play indoor & outdoor?
- Is her Sugar intake excessive? Excess sugar is also known to cause aggressive behavior, lack of sleep because of the effect it can have on the brain.
All of us crave for attention from our loved ones. For kids, attention means your ‘undivided’ positive time & presence. So, if you are near your child expecting her to play with her toys, while you are glued to your phone – that does not count as attention for them.
When kids feel a lack of positive attention from you, that’s when they knowingly or unknowingly resort to negative behaviour that is sure to get your attention!
So, take time out when you can indulge with your toddler one-to-one personally, give her special time with hugs, cuddles, story time and play. When her cup of attention is full, you will notice her drift away slowly, and she will leave you alone to tend to your own work.
- Is she getting enough hugs, cuddles and play with me/other parent during the day?
- Am I intently listening to her, and making enough eye contact when she speaks?
- Am I sure that she feels seen, heard and understood by me/other parent?
- Do I pay ‘real’ attention to what she’s doing and appreciate her efforts & tiny successes?
When you’re a kid whose life is mostly controlled by an adult, you will at some point feel POWERLESS. As a fact, nobody likes to feel powerless! As parents, we must learn to respect our child’s need for power. Most of us have been raised by authoritarian parents, and so subconsciously we believe that elders know better, and kids are not really capable of doing things themselves, making choices. We feel that if a kid is given too much power or control, they will get spoilt or take us for a ride. Well, ‘too much’ power is bad – but age-appropriate power is necessary for your child.
It is when a child feels powerless, that he tries to snatch the power from you by rolling on the floor wailing at top decibel, forcing you to buy him the lollipop that he demanded!
On the other hand, giving age-appropriate choices is a good way to help your toddler experience power that she can manage. For example, “Do you want to have the lollipop, or do you want us to take you to the park after shopping?” (Give choices where you are fine with whatever your child chooses.)
Creating spaces with the house where your child can explore unrestricted (without you constantly saying, “No, don’t do that!”) also gives the child a sense of positive power.
- Is she being restricted with too many ‘No’ during the day?
- Is she given enough age-appropriate choices to make?
- Does she feel ‘independent’ in doing age-appropriate tasks like helping you dry clothes, or remove her own pants?
Knowing what will happen in our lives gives us a sense of power, doesn’t it?
The same is true with toddlers. Predictability in their daily schedules, in your responses and reactions gives them a much-needed sense of power, stability, familiarity and calm. That’s why, establishing routines, responding to similar requests or behaviour in a consistent manner helps!
When every next moment is unpredictable, anxiousness is bound to arise – which can easily trigger any of the alarm systems that result in tantrums/aggressive behavior.
A sudden change in routine like a new daycare/playschool, change of residence, change in caregiver will need to be handled with care, by gently preparing the toddler mentally much in advance of the change. Also, try to bring in the change gradually, if possible – For example, instead of starting the 1st day of day care with 4 hours straight, start with just 1 hour.
Transition from one activity to the next can sometimes be difficult, like ending bathtime and getting dressed. So, before end of bathtime, explain to your toddler what will come next, and how much fun that is going to be!
- Do we have an established daily routine for day-to-day activities like brushing, bathing, food time, nap time?
- Can we handle transitions in a more fun way?
How do we feel when people whom we adore & admire, refuse to include us in their plans? Well, for toddlers, they admire & adore us – they want to be like us. And so, they want to participate in all that we do, they want to feel included.
That’s why, when we constantly keep telling them, “You can’t do this”, or “You can do this when you grow up.”, it reiterates their feeling of smallness/powerlessness. It can be frustrating, which if bottled up can erupt as tantrums.
Do your best to include your toddler in your routine activities, they love to ‘help’.
As long as the activity is safe, find smaller versions of the huge task that they can manage.
Appreciate their ‘efforts’, however avoid praises like ‘You’re such a good boy!”. Such praises tell the child nothing about themselves. Rather a more helpful praise is, “I am happy you helped me dry these clothes. Thank you.” Your toddler will swell with pride, and that’s good for building her self-esteem and confidence.
Think of your toddler as your ‘partner’, they love it! Your work might slow down a bit, but it sure is worthwhile, helping them gain life skills and also connect with you deeply.
- How can I include my toddler in daily household activities?
- Is my child receiving enough appreciation that makes him feel like she’s contributing positively to the family / tasks at hand?
Progress is essential for humankind, and hence it is hardwired within us. There is a dire need within all of us to keep learning, gain mastery, discover new things, explore and evolve.
Likewise, toddlers constantly want to learn, explore and gain mastery. By helping your toddler fulfill this need for constant growth, progress and evolution – you will not only help him hone necessary life-skills, but also build her inner spirit with self-confidence & self-esteem.
Giving your toddler age-appropriate tasks, letting her explore by herself, helping her when she needs or asks for help, encouraging her to try when she fails, and accepting her stance when she does not want to try anymore – are simple ways to fulfill your child’s inner need for progress & mastery.
- Is my child constantly learning new things?
- Does he have enough opportunity to gain mastery at age-appropriate tasks?
- Is he being encouraged to try when he fails?
- Is he being unnecessarily pushed even when he does not want to try anymore?
So, the next time, you have an aggressive or unhappy toddler – think what’s making him/her unHAPPIE!!
A side note: If you’re concerned about your toddler’s aggression – hitting / biting / pulling hair / throwing / pushing / kicking – I’d strongly recommend this COMPREHENSIVE ACTION PLAN for Resolving Toddler Aggression. You can click here to download it for FREE. Thank me later! 😊
If you’d prefer a more personalized solution for your toddler concern, book a consultation with me (FREE for a limited period only) by clicking here.
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