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Toddler Troubles – understanding and dealing with common problems

Toddler Troubles - understanding and dealing with common problems

Are you the parent of a toddler? If so, chances are you understand the many ways these youngsters can get themselves into trouble. 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 behaviours happen and what you can do to stop them.

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, 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.

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, assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. And don't forget to always reward your child's positive behaviour.

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 behaviour. 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."

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 favourite toy is can take her out of a difficult situation and help her move on.

Excessive Crying

Children typically cry for a reason, whether they're seeking attention or experiencing legitimate fears or worries. But excessive crying is something parents must address. "Figure out why the child is crying and deal with the underlying cause," says Dr. Muscari. You can do this by simply asking, adds Dr. Haller. Even if it sounds silly, their reasons are very real. If your little one is afraid of being alone in her room at night, or is afraid of "monsters" under the bed, talk with her about her feelings. Make these emotionally-charged situations fun-get out the flashlight and search in the closets and under the bed together. If you suspect your child is genuinely feeling sad or scared, try to empathize with her. "Acknowledge that your child is upset, and that it makes you upset, too," says Dr. Haller. But if your little one is in a defiant mood, you may just have to let her calm down on her own. If an answer still doesn't come, look for signs of injury or illness, says Dr. Haller. Is your child holding his stomach or head? If so, maybe his tears are a result of not feeling well. Remember, confronting why your child is crying is much more important than putting a stop to the crying.

Biting and Hitting

Toddlerhood is a time of often uncontrollable emotions. If you little one suddenly has an aggressive outburst resulting in biting or hitting, make it absolutely clear that you do not approve of this behaviour. Be firm, but don't display violence of your own. "This undercuts your message that violence is bad," says Dr. Haller. Try a time out when your toddler acts this way. Be sure to discuss with him why he had to take time out and always reinforce positive behaviour. Don't forget to tell him you love him after his quiet time, and that it makes you extremely proud when he doesn't act out or behave violently.


What can you do when your toddler suddenly wants to do everything on her own? "Use your judgment," says Dr. Haller. "You know what your child can handle safely and what she can't." Be around when she wants to try new things and offer a guiding hand. Strive to help your child to refine her motor and mental skills, while giving her an overall feeling of accomplishment. Think of it this way: your toddler is going to try to do things on her own anyway, so why not be there to help? The key is to try and prevent possible injuries or bruised egos. Of course, if your toddler is trying to do something dangerous, a firm "no" is in order. Safety first! Toddlerhood is undoubtedly challenging, but with a little perseverance and a lot of patience, your child will grow up and out of these common toddler troubles. It's a bumpy journey, but before you know it, she'll be starting kindergarten. So, try to enjoy this time while it lasts-the teenage years are right around the corner!

Author: Brenda Stokes (