Parents realize very quickly that the toddler stage is a completely different animal than what they expected. Children are considered toddlers between the ages of one and three, when they make their way onto their feet and start moving around the house. This age includes the terrible twos and the loss of most parents’ sanity.
The tricky part about the toddler phase is that a child is not fully a baby or fully old enough to reasonably communicate like a school-aged child. This makes everything more difficult. Plus, sometimes parents do things that make the toddler phase more complicated for everyone, often not knowing it.
Psychiatrists and researchers are calling out the normal things we do with toddlers that stand the potential to be dangerous to them, either physically or emotionally. While it takes a ton of self-control to not yell or shame a child for bad behavior, it can make this already volatile phase much easier to live through.
If items on this list sound familiar, don’t feel shame. All of us are trying to figure out how to live through this short but important part of our kids’ lives and to raise them to be decent human beings who don’t scream, throw, or bite every time they don’t get their way. There is no formula for guaranteed success, but avoiding these common habits can help our children thrive physically and mentally during the toddler years. They might help us stay sane as well.
15 Swing Them By The Arms
We’ve all seen parents swing their children by the arms, and we may have done this as well. Kids love it when we grab their arms and then lift their bodies off the ground, sometimes swinging them in a circular motion. However, this is not a good idea, no matter how much our kids love it.
Nursemaid’s elbow, an injury where part of the elbow is dislocated, happens easily in younger children because their bones aren’t fully formed yet. Plus, they have looser ligaments, and that makes this injury the most common for kids who are entering their toddler years at one, all the way up to the preschool age of four.
14 Telling Them Not To Fight Back
We don’t want to raise our kids to be aggressive or to see fighting as a first option, but we need to be careful about teaching our children to never fight back. In a world where bullying is a major issue, kids need to know that asserting themselves is sometimes necessary.
None of us want our kids to grow up to be yes people, the kind who are doormats because they are afraid of not being accepted. Teaching them how not to be this way starts early, and toddlers should know that just because they are kids doesn’t mean others can push them around. A child needs to know their body is their own space, and they should stand up to kids who try to harm them.
13 Threaten To Leave Them Behind
This is a mistake most of us have made because we knew we wouldn’t actually leave our child behind, but we wanted them to think we would. The problem is they probably believed us, and while that may have served the purpose of getting them to finally leave the park or the pool or wherever they didn’t want to leave, it did damage to their attachment to us.
Toddlers need to feel safe with their parents, and they need to know that they can’t do anything to be left behind. Though there are plenty of instances where they will throw sass about transitioning from one place to another, we need to sit with them and explain why it’s time to leave. With toddlers, we may also be able to distract them by having them search for items on our walk to the car.
However we decide to get our little people moving again, it shouldn’t be by saying we’re leaving without them. Our kids trust us, and they will trust what we say when we tell them they are going to be stranded.
12 Give Them Access To Tablets And Phones
We can’t avoid screens, and it’s naïve to even try. However, regulating screen time is important no matter how old our child is, but it’s essential during the toddler years when children are learning self-regulation and social skills.
The problem is we often hand our kids a tablet when we don’t want to deal with their behavior or when we’d like them to be distracted. While it may work for us, it deprives a toddler the chance to work on self-regulation skills, an important part of development.
Children will not know how to use their internal self-regulation skills to calm down or solve problems if they are always handed an external device, like a tablet or smart phone, to calm down.
Plus, there are doubts about the educational value of tablets. Giving a child blocks helps them learn about numbers and building, and putting them in the dirt with a spoon lets them explore nature. These are preferable to unplugging them from human interaction by giving them a device.
11 Not Limiting TV Time
One of the screens that affects our kids the most is the television screen. Though researchers have been telling parents for years that access to non-stop television is not good for children, many parents use TV as a babysitter, a pacifier, and a way to grab time for themselves during the day.
When a child first enters the toddler stage at the age of one, they should still not be watching TV. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP), children under the age of two do not need to be exposed to television, not even the shows that brag about having educational value.
Children who are watching TV are missing out on other activities, such as free play. TV is a passive activity that can cause them to zone out, and children who are exposed to too much screen time have a harder time with sleep, paying attention, language skills, and memory. Even when a child reaches the age of two, they shouldn’t view more than one t0 two hours of TV a day, and much less if possible.
10 Praising Them For Everything
Encouraging a child and giving them recognition for a job well done is fine. However, when parents praise every little thing a child does, they are actually setting their children up for failure.
Children who are praised constantly or told that they are smart are less likely to try new things. When we tell a kid everything they do is fabulous, they grow addicted to those words, so when they run across a task that is a challenge they are more likely to quit than risk not being praised.
Our praise needs to be intentional and specific, and we need to focus on a child’s effort as opposed to just their outcome. Praising them for hard work and perseverance or for trying a task that was new to them are much better ways to go about building them up. We can use our words to encourage them to work hard as opposed to just do what’s easy for empty praise.
9 Skipping Story Time
Reading with kids should be something we do from the moment of birth. Children learn to speak by hearing others, and the focused time they receive from us while we read to them is important for their development.
While toddlers may not seem like they want to sit down for story time, encouraging them to take time from their busy day and enjoy stories is important. Children who are read to may have better discipline and concentration, and they will also have better thinking skills. Hearing a story and working out the plot and how the problems are solved helps them think logically, a critical skill we want them to learn during this difficult stage.
Responding to a child when they are speaking to us, singing to kids, and playing with our children are also great ways to stimulate their mental development and build a relationship with them that they will treasure.
8 Shaming Kids For Their Feelings
Shaming a toddler is easy because they have big feelings over what we perceive as very small things. Not receiving the cup they want or the food they hope to eat is enough to push them over the edge, resulting in a tantrum that is hard to shut down.
As hard as it is, we don’t need to shame our children for their feelings, even if it’s hard for us to empathize with what they are going through because we are adults and don’t remember being this passionate about which spoon we ate with.
Shaming a child teaches them not to come to us with their emotions. We want kids to come to us so we can teach them how to handle their responses and solve the problem that has caused them to be upset. Shutting them down with shame early will create a pattern of them holding feelings in and us not knowing what they are going through. That is especially problematic as kids enter the tween an teen years.
7 Yelling At Toddlers
Most of us have read the research that says spanking children is harmful and can actually lead to more aggressive behavior. What parents may not be aware of is that researchers now believe yelling at our children may be just as harmful as spanking.
Yelling doesn’t teach kids how we want them to behave. In fact, it teaches them what we don’t want them to do, since none of us want our kids yelling back at us. How we yell at our kids and how often also matters. Children whose parents yell insults at them more than 25 times a year are going to be the kids who suffer the most. These children are at higher risk for aggression, depression, and low self-esteem.
It’s normal to yell for a child to stop if they are about to run into traffic, but yelling insulting or threatening remarks at a child as a form of discipline is not okay, and because of all the growth taking place in toddlers’ brains, they may be heavily influenced by yelling.
6 Let Them Ride In Carts Without The Seat Belt
When we take our kids to any store, we are just trying to get what we need and get out. That can sometimes lead to us putting a child in a shopping cart and not buckling their seat belt. We assume they will sit, and we will be right there if they try to stand up, right?
Not buckling kids in when there are safety belts provided is a huge mistake. Toddlers are known for their curiosity, and though we may ask them to stay seated, if there is something they want on a shelf, they will likely stand up or reach out to get it. This can lead to them falling and hitting their heads on what are usually hard floors.
It’s also essential that when kids ride any sort of moving machine, we strap them in. Many stores have coin rides that look innocent enough since a child just sits while the car moves slowly. However, if a child decides to exit while the ride is still moving, they can be knocked to the ground and need medical care.
5 Letting Them Stay Up Past Their Bedtime
All of us beg for bed time to arrive quickly on those days our toddlers can’t seem to stop throwing fits. Even on the good days, mom and dad usually need a break by nightfall. However, bed time routines can be so involved that parents start late or let their kids stay up hoping they will fall asleep easier later. This is a bad idea because not getting enough sleep can harm toddlers in many ways.
Sleep is important for all of us, and it’s especially essential for children who are growing physically and mentally the way toddlers are. Sleep can protect children from heart problems, obesity, and diabetes. It can also help kids fight illness and increase a child’s attention span. Plus, kids who haven’t received the proper amount of sleep may have a harder time learning.
4 Asking Instead Of Telling
We want to give our kids choices, and that’s not a bad thing. Many times being given a choice helps a child feel empowered, and choices can also avoid tantrums. However, too many choices can cause the tantrums we want to avoid.
Asking kids to do things instead of telling them can have catastrophic results. While it’s fine to ask a child if they want to wear their pink or blue coat, it’s not okay to ask them if they want to wear a coat when it’s freezing outside. The reason? Because if their answer is no and mom and dad are going to force the jacket on them anyway, then a child is going to be upset that they were asked but denied.
A good rule is that if it is something we are going to make our kids do, tell them to do it. If we can find a way to give them a choices within that command, such as letting them choose between an apple and an orange, that’s fine. However, we shouldn’t ask if they want to eat fruit when we know that is the only snack choice we are giving them.
3 Letting Them Use Trampolines
Doctors hate trampolines, and so should we. Trampolines are the reason many kids end up in the emergency room, even toddlers.
While there are now nets that go around a trampoline, and springs are covered by pads so kids don’t chance getting their feet stuck in them, the biggest risk to a toddler is being on the trampoline itself. When more than one child is on a trampoline, they bounce each other each time they jump, causing the smaller ones to fly in the air higher than they should.
When kids land, they often land on each other, and some researchers say that falling from a high altitude and landing on another person can be close to the same impact as hitting concrete.
2 Punishing For Age-Appropriate Responses
When our kid throws a toy or hits their sibling, our first response is to punish them for the unacceptable behavior. The problem is that this behavior, while not ideal, is natural for a toddler who has little self-control and a limited vocabulary to express emotions. Basically, toddlers feel a big emotion, such as anger, and they then proceed to act based on that emotion.
Punishing a child for hitting makes them feel punished for having an emotion. Anger is a normal feeling, and we need to talk to our kids about the feeling that led to the behavior. From there we can explain appropriate responses to our big feelings and tell our kids that hitting is not one of them.
However, these are toddlers, meaning that even if they know they shouldn’t hit or throw objects, they will likely do it again.
1 Think Toddlers Shouldn’t Be Babied
Toddlers look and act like completely different creatures than the infants we were first introduced to. Because of this, parents can be deceived into thinking their children are ready for more independence when they’re not.
Sure, a child who is two years old may technically be capable of more than they were at six months old, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still need to be held, assisted with sleep, and to a certain degree, babied. The toddler phase is confusing not just for parents but for toddlers, and they will often revert to old habits even if they seem babyish to mom and dad.
Indulging them and making sure they are receiving plenty of snuggles and time with mom and dad is essential.
We also need to avoid transitioning a child from one phase to the next if there’s no reason except we think they need to make the transition due to their age. Let kids take the lead on big things, like sleeping in a big kid bed or potty training. The transition will be easier if our toddlers are on board.
Resources: Healthychildren.org, Theatlantic.com, Todaysparent.com, Theguardian.com