From the age of 2 to 5, you might find yourself asking the same questions as the mums I see asking on my Forums. “Why did my toddler hit his sister?”, or “she bit a friend at nursery, is she ‘mean’?”

It can seem like you’ve got a while new person on your hands to that cute baby you’ve been raising for a year or so. Well the truth is, in many ways, you have. When babies become toddlers they change because they become little people who express themselves in lots of different ways. Hello, Mum! Meet your child.

The first good thing to know is that some of this behaviour is learned if you allow it, so don’t allow it and your child will know it’s not OK. Pick your battles and let your child know from the beginning that certain behaviour is unacceptable. Effective intonation, repetition and exclusion for a bit can teach more than you realize.

If your child is constantly jumping on the sofa, it’s because you’ve let him before – so he’s learned it’s ok. If it hasn’t been taken in hand, it becomes a learned behaviour. And when a tantrum gets physical, that’s when it’s a bit scary. Watching your child harming himself or someone else is not fun and can be worrying. But it can be dealt with efficiently and successfully.

The well-being of a toddler on every level is constantly evolving. Having emotional meltdowns, because he can’t understand why things aren’t happening the way he wants them to, is common. It’s also a time when he’s exploring and wants more independence. Three and 4 year olds are one step further on, developing their fine motor skills and coordination. They want to do more things for themselves. That’s challenging, as you’ll want your tot to be able to, but at the same time you need boundaries. Who hasn’t heard their little one say “I do it!’? He wants to try to be like mummy or daddy and do something, whether it’s tying his shoes or pouring milk on his cereal. But lack of coordination equals increased frustration and he can lose his patience. So allowing him to do it with some shadowing can make all the difference. There are three main ways a newly mobile toddler generally expresses himself – hitting himself (or head-butting walls, for example), hitting others (as well as biting, nipping, pulling hair), and doing ‘naughty’ things e.g. putting toast in the DVD player. I call this exploration – doing things that seem fun because they’re new.

How to deal with a head banger
When this kind of behaviour becomes destructive for everyone in the family, you need to address it promptly. Keep your child safe, keep communication simple, distract if necessary, and move on so that emotionally he is not controlling.

How to deal with a lashing out biter
The first time is ok. That’s when your toddler doesn’t know it’s wrong. The second time isn’t ok. That’s when you need to be proactive in changing his behaviour. Remove your child from your hip or your space so he learns to know it’s wrong. That means no biting you. If he does it to a little child exclude him from activities for a while and then bring him back in, explaining the rules again.

How to Deal with a Little Explorer
A child doesn’t know something’s wrong the first time if the behaviour has never been challenged. So that first time he drops the toy in the loo, it’s exploration. When he does it, that’s your chance to explain. Say something simple like, “That’s not water we play with, that’s where we do wee wees. Don’t throw your toys in the toilet.” The next time it happens, that’s when you step in. Because the second time, he knows it’s not where he plays ‘what floats..’ That’s when you can start to teach that it’s not acceptable behaviour, and put in boundaries and introduce consequences. Show him how we can play with water safely. Fill up the kitchen sink or a box, but remember around water, children must always be supervised.

Copywritten by Jo Frost

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