I remember when I had my first toddler class back in the 1990’s. One girl entered my class as a sweet agreeable toddler who had just turned one and was just starting to walk. In less than a month her mom was asking me “what happened to my sweet baby?”
Between the ages of one and four, children experience many changes, they learn to walk and talk and most importantly, they learn that they have power.
They have the power to express how they feel, they have the power to get what they want, they have so much power that they did not know they had before.
Imagine you woke up one morning and discovered that you had a superpower, you would spend some time learning about your power, you would want to learn when and how to use it, how to control it, and just how far you could push it. In your attempts to understand and control your power, you might hurt other people; you might knock someone over as you fly by fast or startle someone as you run past. You are not meaning to hurt them; you are not being mean; you are just not experienced enough with your powers to safely use them. That is basically what a toddler is doing in those amazing and challenging toddler years.
This happens at different times for each child, just as all stages of development do. I have known one-year olds who start testing boundaries and other children who do not start this until they are three. No matter when they start, it is an important part of their development.
They need to test the boundaries; they need to find out what happens when they take a toy from a friend or even when they knock another child down. This is how they learn to use and control the power they have. Some children push and test these boundaries for a short period and others will keep at it for months.
This is one of the reasons why strong relationships with care givers is important. Children need to know that they can push and push and test and test and still be loved and valued by their caregivers. Often the safer, more secure they feel, the harder they will test and push the boundaries.
The important thing for parents and caregivers to remember during these times is that your child is not turning into a spoiled little sociopath and this behavior will not last forever. It is also important to be consistent in how you respond to this behavior.
I have found that the best strategy is to acknowledge how everyone in any given situation is feeling. I recently had a two-year-old take a toy from a one-year-old. The one-year-old cried for a few seconds and then went on to play with something else. After watching to make sure the situation did not develop into a physical fight for the toy, I talked to the older child about what happened and about how the other child probably felt. I did not force him to give the toy back, the other child had already moved on, I did not tell him that it was mean to take the toy, because he was not being mean, he was being two. I helped him to understand how his action made the other child feel. Will he take another toy, probably, will we have the same conversation twenty more time, probably? But if we consistently help him to understand the consequences of his actions, he will learn.
There are many ways in which young children will test the boundaries, as long as you stay calm, stay consistent and talk to them, you will make it through and more than likely your sweet baby will come back as a sweet child.
This toddler knows we don’t allow them to climb on the table but he wants to make sure we really mean it when we say “keep your feet on the ground, its not safe to climb on the tables.”