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The Real Reasons Toddlers Act Out...

You’re a parent. You can’t help it. The instinct to tell your young child to, “Behave!”, is rooted in all of us. We know kids to run, laugh, and play. But it’s not asking too much for them to listen to us, every once in a while, is it?

Maybe you’re one of the patient parents, speaking speak slowly and carefully, explaining how things are going to unfold. (Parenting high five. You rock!) You receive a solemn nod in understanding, and a reluctant promise to behave.

Reasons Toddlers Act Out | Lies About Parenting

A few minutes later, your child’s morphed into a monster. Whether it’s raucous behavior, flailing limbs, or seemingly angry actions–your child is not his or her self. Do you ever wonder why? What are the reasons your toddler's acting out?

We usually blame poor behavior on hunger, fatigue, or being "spoiled." But those aren’t the only reasons toddlers act out (or any young child). Here are 6 common emotional “tells” we often face with young children, and what they might really mean.

1. The Chuckler: Cue The Inappropriate Laugh

Is your child queen of the inappropriate laugh? Holding our daughter during a serious, adult conversation (not angry, just intense) will often result in peanut gallery laughs.

Why? Nerves.

Unsure of how to react to the environment, a fake, loud laugh is a sign of nervousness, and sometimes fear. Check the emotional environment and see if it’s time to offer a little reassurance.

Inappropriate laughter will often happen when an intense talk is taking place. That laugh is your child’s way of telling you she needs someone to reassure her she is safe, and explain that intense conversation is very different from anger.

2. The Wrestler: Hit, Shove, Whack!

Ever seen your child give or take a hit, for seemingly no reason?

Hitting is often triggered by feelings of fear, or anxiety. When your child is feeling overwhelmed, fear will manifest itself in more aggressive behaviors, because the youngest don’t have the developmental skills needed to discuss the emotions at play. Older children struggle with the identification of underlying feelings, too.

The fear, and consequent hitting, can be caused by playmates, or even by a frustrated parent who scoops a child up too quickly. Before you reprimand, consider what emotion caused the hit in the first place.

3. The Wild Child: Witching Hour Energy Burst

Does your child ramp up right before bed? It’s common to hear parents, and especially grandparents, say, “He’s not tired. Look at him go!”

The opposite is true. Your wild child is exhausted, and running on the fumes of Goldfish and juice. As we tire, our bodies ramp up production of adrenaline-style hormones designed to keep us awake, like a natural caffeine. Children are affected by these energy surges, and unable to contain them.

Try an earlier bedtime (30-60 minutes), and you might find the wild behavior winds down quickly, or even better, never starts in the first place.

4. The Biter: An Expression of Excitement.

We all dread that kid. You know, the biter. The kid who will play nicely and then, for no apparent reason, take a chunk out of your kid’s arm without warning. He’ll even go after you, if you get too close.

The last thing you feel like doing at a playdate is playing shadow, in a preemptive strike on biting.

A young child biting, while in a happy, calm social situation, is often acting out of excitement. It’s their version of an excited kiss.

A few more potential biting causes: a need for more active playtime, sensory overload, and tiredness. Triggers include an excess of: noise, lights, sounds, or people.

If your child successfully bites someone, let them view the reaction. Don’t rush away to time out, or to talk. Calmly, explain that biting hurts, and that’s why his friend is crying. Let him see the cause and effect of his actions.

5. The Carry-Me Kid: Up, Up, and Away

Does your child suddenly demand to be carried? All.The.Time. This exhausting phenomenon commonly triggered by the need for additional support, in the face of life changes, or a busy schedule.

Life changes, like starting a new schedule, welcoming a new baby, or even toilet training, can trigger the demand to be held. It’s extra reassurance. A child will regress to old behaviors, such as wanting to be carried, in an effort to process new events.

Try setting aside a few minutes a day to spend cuddling your little one. Read some extra books, cuddle on the couch during a tv show, or draw out the bedtime ritual a bit. Your child just needs to feel connected.

6. The Dictator: My Way Or The Highway

Children are headstrong, possessive, and self-absorbed. Like the strongest dictator, they want things done a certain way. Now.

If you don’t abide by their rules, watch out.

This need for repetition (you want to wear that, again?) stems from the need for control. New sights, smells, and experiences constantly bombard your child, and repetitive requests allow them to realign their existence into some semblance of order.

Whenever possible, offer a choice. Limit the choices to 2 or 3 items, and this little bit of control will head off many a tantrum, and help your child develop a healthy sense of self-control.

It’s Not Naughty, It’s Normal.

Young children are fun, exciting, and exhausting. Identifying the underlying causes of challenging behavior can reduce frustration and anger, for both parent and child.

Kids are designed to test limits. It’s how they learn, and grow. Acknowledging their emotions is a critical step towards teaching children self-control. Help your child understand why they’re acting a certain way.

The next time you think your child is being "bad", or challenging you, stop for a minute. See what might have caused your child’s challenging behavior. What you find might surprise you.

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  • My youngest Minion bites, but his is absolutely out of anger and frustration. Not enough words quite yet, so biting is the go to.

    Either that, or he’s on his way to becoming Hannibal, and will start demanding fava beans.

    • Melissa,

      You made me laugh out loud. I’m now picturing a sea of little Minion Hannibals….all zipping around the playground demanding fava beans. And yes, the biting is so often out of anger/frustration. Biting out of excitement is seen less often, but those are the ones that always seem to catch me by surprise! Thanks for commenting (and making me laugh). Love your blog, btw!

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