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Had enough of fussy eating, nose-picking and toddler tantrums? Hang on in there. This sort of toddler behaviour is normal and we can help you through it
Next time your toddler is has their hands down their pants in public and another parent gives you a sympathetic smile, take it. We understand. We’ve all been there. And while toddler habits may drive you crazy, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Life is never boring with a toddler. They constantly keep us on our toes. From wailing because the peas are touching the carrots to only wanting to wear the yellow T-shirt this week, a toddler always keeps you guessing.
But given that a toddler can behave like a mini rock star, with random demands and unpredictable behaviour, it can be hard for parents to keep up. When your child wants to wear a princess dress to the supermarket, or seems to be the only one at playgroup who won’t share, try not to panic.
All of it, the good and the bad, is normal.
Extreme appetite swings
One day you can’t fill them up, the next day your toddler seems to live on fresh air. This is because toddlers grow in fits and spurts and some days they need more calories than others. Don’t focus on what they eat in a particular day, instead think about their diet across the week. If your child has plenty of energy and generally seems well then they are probably getting enough nutrition.
Once a toddler learns how to say no, they like to use this superpower as often as possible. So last week’s favourite dish is off the menu for no apparent reason. Don’t panic, simply keep offering a variety of foods and eventually the fussy phase will pass.
Playing with poo
Toddlers love to get stuck in with their hands, and multisensory play is how they learn. Add this natural curiosity to the fact they they’re becoming more aware of bodily functions and you may have a bit of a mess on your (and their) hands. If your child seems keen on hands-on play, distract them with mud pies, sandpits and water games.
Whether it’s up their nose or rummaging around in their pants, your delightfully unselfconscious toddler is yet to discover where it is and isn’t acceptable to put your hands in public. Again, distraction is your friend. Plus an age-appropriate chat about things it’s OK to do in private versus things it’s OK to do in the supermarket.
In their own little world
Toddlers have very active imaginations, so yours may do anything from pretending to be a dog called Dave to refusing to wear clothes. Expect the unexpected and you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy that your child is exploring their own creative mind and hasn’t become boring and predictable like the adults have. As long as it doesn’t interfere with day-to-day life, this behaviour is normal and unproblematic.
My mini diva
Ultimately much of a toddler’s behaviour can boil down to one thing: they’re after your undivided attention. And they’re determined to get it. But you can use that fact to your advantage, by ignoring whatever you want them to stop doing and paying attention to the stuff you’re trying to encourage.
When they behave in a loving way, or spontaneously share their toys, give lots of praise. When they throw a tantrum, remember that this is a show. There’s no show without an audience, so walk away.
Talk about it
More than anything else, other parents are your best friends. Either online or in real life, talk to other parents of toddlers and you’ll find that we’re all facing our own struggles. Yes, my child lives on fresh air and the dust he finds on the floor. No, he never sleeps past 5am. It’s not just you, it’s everybody! We can deal with it and keep going.
Toddlerdom is one of the most challenging and stressful times that you will face as a parent, second only to life with a teenager. But it can also be one of the most fun times. So enjoy your toddler and their quirky habits. These are the times you’ll look back on and laugh at. Believe it or not, you’ll miss them too.
By Joanne Mallon, author of Toddlers: An Instruction Manual