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​​​Toddler email series Issue12345

The Many Levels of Behavior

With child behavior, there is almost always much more than meets the eye. Because it occurs on so many different levels, ​child behavior that seems simple and routine can often be much more complex and meaningful.

For example, a toddler's chronic pattern of getting into cupboards, drawers and closed rooms, even after being told not to, could easily be perceived as simple mischief. When the toddler's parents view the behavior on that level, they see it as unacceptable and worthy of discipline. But the behavior also could be viewed on a more complex and meaningful level as child exploration. At that level, a child might soldier on to achieve future discoveries even when he regularly encounters an angry parent who gives consequences to make the behavior stop. When parents are able to see that the child's behavior is not mere disobedience, but is born out of natural curiosity (a good trait), they are more likely to accept and appropriately monitor it. And although the behavior may merit cautionary responses to ensure the child's safety, it is less likely to lead to discipline.

There are countless other examples. A young child taking a goldfish out of its bowl may on the surface seem like just a mischievous behavior. But it also could be the child's innocent attempt to express physical affection to a pet.

The point is that child behavior often can appear to be oppositional, selfish or generally unacceptable if viewed only at its very basic level. However, the same behavior also can involve something broader and more meaningful. This doesn't mean the behavior should be ignored, especially if it is inappropriate. But by looking at the bigger picture of a child's behavior, parents can gain a fuller understanding of what they're dealing with and exercise more flexibility in how they respond.

Teaching Activity

Walk in Their Shoes

Put yourself in the shoes of your toddler this week. Focus very hard on trying to understand why he or she does things. Spend your free time actively playing with your child. Do what he or she is doing without interrupting, and let your toddler explore and figure things out on his or her own. Keep an eye out for specific misbehaviors during the week and correct them with as few words as possible. Pay particular attention when your toddler misbehaves, and try to determine if your toddler is using the behavior to get a need met at another level. Then address the behavior by teaching your child another way to get the need met in an appropriate way.

Social Skills

Accepting "No" for an Answer

This is one of the best social skills your child can learn because it is one he or she will use often! The steps are simple:

  • Look - Look at the person.
  • Say - Say "Okay."
  • Calm - Stay Calm.
  • Later - If you disagree, ask later.

It helps to write down the steps of this skill (or any skill you are teaching) and hang them on the fridge. When you are teaching, you can walk over and read the steps aloud as you teach your child how to accept "No" for an answer.

Coming up in Issue 4

The Ins and Outs of Using Time-Out


Practice Time-Out


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