Any mom with a one- or a two-year-old will tell you that it’s hard work, and you spend most of the time saying, “No” and wondering what you’re doing wrong. How did you land up with such a naughty toddler, and what can you do to fix it? The good (or maybe bad) news is that you’re not alone, and your child is not naughty. In fact, he’s completely normal and a tough first three years are part and parcel of the task of parenting.
“A child under the age of three is seldom ‘naughty’, which is a word that I don’t even like to use – on purpose,” says Cape Town based social worker in private practice Anne Cawood, who is also the author of Toddlers Need Boundaries. “And you really need to have realistic expectations when it comes to disciplining your toddler.
“They are tiny people. They are still learning and developing, and their intent is seldom malicious.
“The sooner you realise this and figure out how to manage your toddler, the better it will be for everyone.”
Welcome to the wonderful ones: 12 to 24 months
When your one-year-old puts his toys in the bin or throws them out the bath...
When he spits out his food, refuses to have his nappy changed, refuses to get in his car seat, when he unpacks your bookshelf, your Tupperware cupboard and hits you and his older brother, all the while following you around, pulling the cat’s tail, and begging, shrieking and crying to be picked up, he’s not being naughty, he’s being completely normal.
“A young toddler under the age of two doesn’t know what naughty is, and when he hits, it’s to see what the reaction is. The same applies to when he spits out his food. It’s completely normal behaviour and happens because he’s learning about cause and effect.
“It’s also very normal for a one-year-old to suffer from separation anxiety and shout and yell if you don’t pick him up or if you leave the room. It all boils down to frustration and not being able to say what he wants to say,” says Anne. “It’s how he communicates.”
What about the two-year-old?
The challenge for your toddler is to develop basic autonomy and independence. If your two-year-old toddler spits out his food or will only make a poo in his nappy or wants to stay up at night, he’s not being naughty, he’s just being a perfectly normal two-year-old.
“Eating, sleeping and going to the toilet are in your toddler’s control, and if he refuses to do any of these things,
he’s not being naughty, he’s simply asserting his control. Easy children will just do what they’re supposed to do.
More strong-willed children, however, will realise that you can’t make them do anything that they don’t want to do,” Anne explains.
And if your two-year-old hits or bites other children, it's not also because he is being naughty. It's perfectly normal toddler behaviour - albeit not ideal.
"The big thing when it comes to toddler aggression is that they have the feelings of frustration, but they don't always have the words to say how they feel, so they hit," she explains.
“It is absolutely normal for toddlers to be aggressive. “And those who are not simply have much more easy-going temperaments.”
When does the naughty corner start working?
If all else fails and your toddler won’t behave, then it might be a good idea to put him in the quiet corner or on the think-about-it chair by himself to calm down and reflect on his behaviour.
“Personally I really don’t like the term ‘naughty corner’, but I do believe that in certain instances a toddler needs to be removed from the situation or environment until he can compose himself,” Anne says.
When such a corner starts to work largely depends on the nature of the child, but generally at around two years, a toddler will realise that there are consequences to his actions. Of course, some children are quite verbal from 18 months, so it really does depend on each individual. That said, you can’t expect a toddler to understand the concept of a naughty corner and what it means just because he can talk, she says.
“Often, I hear from parents that the toddler won’t stay on the chair or in the corner. If this happens, you need to stay calm, give him your full attention, pick him up, take him outside, speak firmly to him, and then leave it at that – a whole speech isn’t necessary.”
She adds that if you find your toddler refuses to sit in the corner by himself, then it’s fine for him to sit next to you on the floor. “Two-year-olds often need an adult to be close by, and they also need physical as well as emotional containment,” she explains.