Why Do Toddlers Misbehave? – Part 2

I wrote about this some time back, but now I feel a need to expand further…

I hate to use the word misbehave because it implies that toddlers are inherently naughty when that isn’t really the case. Unfortunately, that is what most parents think – or at least the ones from the generation before us do because I often hear comments about toddlers being “naughty” when the behaviour displayed is normal and age-appropriate.  I think it would be more appropriate to say that toddlers annoy us rather than to say they misbehave because if you think about it, there is often nothing inherently bad about the behaviour, however it can be incredibly inconvenient to us as parents.

For example, Gavin loves to help.  Once he took my tub of yoghurt and tried to “help” me put it back into the refrigerator.  Along the way, he accidentally dropped the tub and spilled half of it onto the floor making a huge mess.  He wasn’t being naughty, he was trying to be helpful.  Sure, we tell him to hold things carefully with two hands when he carries them, but accidents do happen – especially when you’re a toddler.

Here’s another example: Gavin normally “helps” me make fruit juice.  Since his help usually means we take twice as long to get things done, I decided not to let him help me one day when I was in a hurry.  Being distracted and trying to get things done quickly, I didn’t notice he was reaching for a sauceplate on one of the kitchen counters containing some chili sauce that my MIL had made.  Then he came up to me and said, “Uh oh, I spilled it.”  He wasn’t being naughty, he was curious.  If I had kept him busy with his usual task of helping me with the fruits, he would not have been wondering around looking for things to do.

Sure, we tell him not to touch things on counter tops, open the kitchen cabinets, press all the buttons on the remote control, etc. but two year old toddlers have poor memories.  They forget easily and need to be reminded often until the lesson is hard-wired.  When you remind them, you can see the light bulb going on inside that little head as the memory of the first lesson comes rushing back.

Then there is the point my friend S highlighted on his blog – adult rules are often confusing to a toddler. To reiterate one of the examples he highlighted: we encourage our toddlers to throw a ball, but not their toy car.  And not all round objects are for throwing, for instance, oranges may not be thrown.  The adult world is full of exceptions which take time for a toddler to learn.

Children are also affected by our moods and their behaviour often reflects ours.  If we are cranky, you can bet that’s when they will act up in the worse way possible.  For instance, on Sunday, I had a bout of PMS.  I was harsher and shorter with Gavin than usual and it clearly upset him.  As a result, he behaved poorly that day (not that I blame him – although at the time it just made me angrier) which ticked Daddy off and the whole thing spiralled out of control.

Aside from that, children also crave our attention – as I discovered the hard way.  If the usual methods of getting your attention don’t work, they’ll misbehave to get you to listen because negative attention is better than no attention.

So here is the more complete list of why toddlers misbehave:

  • they’re bored
  • they’re trying to help
  • they’re curious
  • they’re still trying to understand “the rules”
  • they’re forgetful
  • they’re affected by our moods
  • they want our attention

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

3 thoughts on “Why Do Toddlers Misbehave? – Part 2

  1. Hi Helen – PMS = pre-menstrual syndrome or PMT = pre-menstrual tension. I usually get affected prior to the start of my cycle.

    Hi Frank – Not quite sure I understand your question. Could you rephrase? Thanks.


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