By Dr. Heather
Ah, the bliss of babyhood. Tiny ones who snuggle, coo and nap on a regular schedule. Why can’t it stay that way forever? We quickly forget the strain of those early, sleepless nights with baby as we confront the new challenges of TODDLERHOOD.
With this in mind, let’s talk about toddlers. Here, we’ll focus on the weird, wacky (and often annoying) behaviors that toddlers can develop, including:
Parents often come to me, stumped by these new, strange, and intense behaviors, worried that something must be wrong. But the behaviors actually make a lot of sense to your toddler. He’s learning new skills at a lightning-fast pace, and he’s just hanging on for dear life. He doesn’t care if his simultaneous nose-picking and thumb-sucking grosses you out — his main concern is simply making it through the day while there’s a revolution going on in his body and his mind.
Here’s why: It all starts with crawling. As he crawls away from you, he can find himself in trouble — and not know how to get back to you. So while he wants independence, he’s also terrified and needs your reassurance — which increases his clinginess. But he’s now able to do more self-soothing — so even though it makes you nuts to always see him with his thumb in his mouth, know that it helps him cope a little better on his own. Those wacky self-soothing behaviors are his way of becoming more confident – and more independent. If your child has adopted one of the weirder behaviors, I hate to break it to you, but you’ve got to look away and breathe deeply. You won’t get anywhere by discouraging the behavior – in fact, you risk increasing it by focusing on in. (My own 17-month-old walks around with her finger in her belly button all day, so I sympathize.)
Next, crawling leads to toddling — which leads to falling. Toddlers start to associate the “bang” of falling with other loud sounds. So loud sounds start to be scary to him. And now that your toddler is spending more time away from you, he’s starting to notice “familiar” and “unfamiliar”. It’s likely protective, as he learns what’s safe (and what isn’t). That’s why babies this age tend to freak when they see something that looks slightly out of place – for instance, now they notice that Grandma resembles Mom. But she’s not really Mom. Is she sort-of Mom? YIKES! All of these rapid brain developments are simultaneously exciting — and upsetting.
Panicky resistance to car seats, strollers, changing tables, or high chairs also is common now. Why? Because these “baby jails” remove the element of control from your little one — and CONTROL is what helps to decrease baby’s fears.
Here’s how to cope with those intense and kooky fears in your toddler:
Of course, check with your pediatrician to make sure there’s no medical explanation for these weird behaviors. But if you get the “all clear”, know that you’re in very good company – annoying toddler behaviors are super common.
Don’t forget to read my other blog post about tips for taming the Terrible Twos!