The Crazy Things That Toddlers Do (cont.)

The key is the more you offer attention for positive behaviors, she says, the more you pre-empt that attention-seeking behavior.

Good Touch, Bad Touch

A hot topic of conversation for parents of toddlers is "sexploration" -- fondling or touching themselves as they become more aware of their bodies.

"The first thing for parents to know is that it's a normative phase of development," says Briggs. "As long as it's a moderate amount of exploration and touching, don't get worried at all."

She emphasizes that it's important to let your child know: "It's your private part and if you want to touch it, you need to do it in your private time." Also, you should explain the difference between "good touch, bad touch" -- who can touch it and what are appropriate times, like during bath time or at the doctor's office.

Roberts remembers how her toddler thought "poke the pee-pee was the funniest game in the world." He and the other boys would be fully dressed and giggle hysterically as they pointed out that somebody had a penis.

Kids at this age, says Briggs, are fascinated by the concept of "same and different" in gender. If your child is getting hands-on with other children, explain calmly: "Sweetheart, we don't touch other people's private parts just as nobody touches your private part."

How should parents deal with this type of toddler behavior? Stay calm and deliver your comments in the same voice that you use for an explanation of how to tie shoes, she says.

Unlocking the Mysteries of Toddler Behavior

Beatrice DeArmond in Gallup, N.M., says her 2-year-old granddaughter Isa can't get enough of doggie treats and Charlie the dog's water bowl. As soon as she could crawl, Isa would head straight for the kitchen where the dog's food and water are stored.

"She sticks her face in it like she's bobbing for apples and then sticks her tongue out and tries to drink like the dog," she says. "The family tried a lot of tactics, including putting up barricades and eventually taking Charlie's food and water from him during the day."

Karp says that toddlers are little scientists, wanting to try everything out firsthand. "They want to interact," he says. "They want to touch, feel, roll, taste, smell, see, and experiment with the properties of objects. That's how they are observing and learning about the world."

Briggs refutes the bad reputation of "the terrible twos." "Your toddler is caught in the middle" she says, "between this incredibly exciting and exhilarating feeling of independence -- 'I can walk, I can talk, I can feed myself, I can dress myself, the world is mine' -- and on the other side, just a year away from not having been able to do any of those things. There's that tension that the child is feeling between thinking they can be on their own and feeling like mommy's little baby."

A job of parenting is to civilize your child, says Karp, "so by the time they get to be 4, they say 'please' and 'thank you,' wait in line, share their toys, and have impulse control. But they don't start out that way."

When you think your kid is acting like a little caveman, bear in mind these simple strategies for handling toddler behavior:

Tone it down. Karp says that in situations that are "yellow light" behaviors, you need to be clear but empathetic. For example, you can say: "Yes, you are taking off your clothes, but no, sweetheart, we don't take off our clothes at church." Or if your child is using a bad word, try a stern voice: "Say it again and we have to go home."

Find a solution that works for you. Roberts admits that she resorted to duct taping Dylan's diaper to keep him from ripping it off. "I'm not one of your finicky, perfect moms," she says. "I'd rather be sane than perfect."

Reinforce what you like. "Catch your child being good," says Karp. "Encourage them when they are doing good things. Too often, when your child is being quiet in the other room, we take that as an opportunity to finish all the things we need to do. Go and spend time with them."

SOURCES:

Melinda Roberts, author, Mommy Confidential: Tales from the Wonderbelly of Motherhood, San Jose, Calif.

Harvey Karp, MD, pediatrician; author, The Happiest Toddler on the Block.

Rahil Briggs, PsyD, infant-toddler psychologist, Children's Hospital at Montefiore, New York.

Jennifer Cilione, Baldwin Harbor, N.Y.

Allison Ellis, owner of Hopscotch Consulting, Seattle.

Beatrice DeArmond, Gallup, N.M.

Reviewed on April 17, 2009

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Last Editorial Review: 4/17/2009 6:36:32 PM