Sometimes it takes a little imagination to be able to look at the bright side of bad behavior. But in many cases, the naughty things our toddlers and preschoolers do demonstrate that they’ve hit a new ability or understanding and are showing it off—inappropriately, but showing it off all the same. So whether your child’s hitting her playmate or lying through her teeth, here are the reasons to take heart—and the best ways to react.
Coloring the kitchen wall with markers? Grinding talcum-powder patterns into the Oriental rug? Kids ages 2 to 4 get a thrill out of using art supplies, but they don’t always understand where those projects should take place.
The bright side: Your child’s misplaced art projects show a healthy desire to create and accomplish something.
How to handle it: Make sure she has plenty of mom-approved opportunities to color, paint, and get her fingers dirty in everyday life. When you catch her coloring on the walls or furniture, be sure you get her to help clean up the mess. Having to deal with the consequences of misplaced art makes most kids decide it isn’t worth the trouble.
In kids ages 20 months to 3 years, aggressive behavior—grabbing, shoving, yanking, kicking, and biting—toward siblings and peers is quite common.
The bright side: Though it may feel awful the first time your child inflicts harm on another, being pushy on a playmate at this age is a normal and oddly effective way for kids to get one another’s attention. It’s also how a child first learns to go after what he wants and stick up for himself.
How to handle it: When your toddler acts aggressively toward a playmate or sibling, don’t shame him for being aggressive, but do remove him from the situation. Give him a few minutes to cool down before you let him try again. When he’s older, he will better understand how his actions make other kids feel.
Research suggests that by age 5, almost 100 percent of children tell lies. Deception seems to be part of human nature.
The bright side: Your preschooler’s first attempt to put one over on you shows a significant cognitive leap: She’s figured out that what you think and what she thinks are not the same. Believe it or not, this new understanding helps her empathize with others.
How to handle it: The best way to deal with a lie? A matter-of-fact, can’t fool-me attitude. Simply announce that you know what she’s saying is not true; then tell her how you expect her to remedy the situation. Never retell or laugh about the story in front of her—the unwarranted attention may encourage her to do it again.
Being Mean to Mommy
Sound familiar? You pick up your normally affectionate 4-year-old from preschool and ask, “How was your morning with your friends?” “It was fun,” he says, then turns on you: “Until you came along and wrecked it!” Ouch.
The bright side: Heart-wrenching as it is to be pushed away by your preschooler, such rejection shows that he feels secure in your love for him. He’s just testing the attachment to see how far he can stretch it.
Don’t overreact with tears or anger, and don’t try to make him apologize or take back his words. Simply tell him you’re sorry he feels angry at you right now because you love him and always like spending time with him. Your child will be reassured that you love him no matter what, and you’ll have avoided an emotional showdown.