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Toddler - Week #86

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Your 20-month-old toddler (week 86)

By Shelley Feldman, edHelperBaby

           Right now you're probably beginning to catch glimpses of what is coming around the corner very quickly...the "two's."  Don't worry, some children never go through what has been lovingly dubbed "The Terrible Two's", however, brace yourself because most children do.  Consider the little hints of assertiveness that you are now witnessing, little warning signs of what the next few months (or years!) may be like.

       If your toddler has suddenly begun to do exactly what you have told her not to do three seconds before, welcome to Assertiveness Training 101.  Prepare for temper tantrums when your little sweetheart doesn't get what she wants, and expect her to ask for something that she really doesn't even need, just to see if you'll follow her orders.  Your toddler's beginning to dabble with some assertive behaviors and you are providing her with the perfect opportunity and perfect target for her practice on.

       Keep it in the back of your mind that this new delightful behavior actually comes in part from you and is the result of all of the positive feedback and positive reinforcement that you have been giving her over these past 20 months.  You have successfully made your toddler feel on top of the world (and why shouldn't she?), her self-esteem is through the roof, and now she wants control over everything and anything that stumbles her way.  Fortunately for her, it is also your job to help her learn to navigate and negotiate the world around her, without stepping on too many toes along the way.


Aggressiveness Too?
           Assertiveness and aggressiveness may appear to go hand-in-hand this month, as they both make your little one feel in control of the world around him, and above all...important.  You will now begin to watch as your toddler asserts himself aggressively, in order to feel more substantial and bigger than he actually is.  Basically, you are now entering the stage when he will act out when someone has something he wants, takes something he has, or is standing in the way of getting something he "needs".

       Your 20-month-old is also becoming curious about the nature of cause-and-effect relationships, and although he doesn't yet have the ability to fully comprehend their true meaning, he is intrigued by how they work.  Prepare now for your 20-month-old's new interest in seeing if he gets the same reaction across the board from all of his little buddies when he acts in a certain way (especially aggressively).  This type of endearing behavior is more common among little boys, but parents of little girls should not expect to get away from this phase scot-free either.  All toddlers this age are unable to understand that other children have feelings too, and right now, your little one doesn't have the ability to understand that hitting, biting, hair pulling, poking and kicking hurts.  To top it all off, impulse control and social etiquette are neither innate nor understood yet, and he cannot foresee the consequences of his actions before they happen.

       What your toddler can do however, is express his need for independence, let you and everyone else know when he is frustrated, hungry, tired, sick, upset about a new sibling, or just in the need of some plain old attention.  When your little toddler feels threatened or "weak" in any way, his survival instincts kick in.  Right now in his little mind actions speak much louder than words, especially because he does not yet have the vocabulary to express himself appropriately or effectively.

       Your toddler is still laying the groundwork regarding becoming more independent and developing his own identity.  Expect frustration when he can't control things and people around him, and remember...he still thinks that he is the center of the entire world, not just yours.


How To Handle And Cope With Aggressive Behavior
           When you are faced with an aggressive toddler, try not to overreact.  If you respond with aggression, it only teaches that it is an acceptable reaction and she will want to follow your lead.  Your 20-month-old was not born knowing how to handle her own aggressive behavior, so she has to be taught what is right, and what is wrong.

       Put on your game face, and do your best to calmly talk to your child, explaining that hitting, biting, and acting-out are not options.  Be sure to provide her with alternative means of getting frustrations out and expressing intense feelings, and show by example how to use words instead of hands (or teeth, or feet).  Encourage your toddler to use her growing vocabulary to describe her feelings, and continue to find the words for her when she is unable to do so herself.

       Try and reduce frustrations by teaching your child how to do things on her own, and by not presenting her with situations that may inevitably cause her to unravel.  Routinely have down time throughout the day for you and your toddler to "decompress" and "recharge" before facing a new challenge, but most importantly, tune in to your toddler's state of mind, and anticipate events before they happen.  When you do see aggressive behavior emerging, try to redirect her attention onto something else, but don't forget to acknowledge your child's uncomfortable feelings as well.

       Be firm yet gentle with your toddler, and set limits while allowing your child to make choices.  Focus on the positive behavior instead of the negative, and know when to butt in and when to butt out.  There is a certain degree to which your little one has to learn how to work things out on her own: however there is a time and a place where it can be done safely.


           Make Your Own Play-Dough       

       Break out your mixing bowls, it's time to make some Play-Dough!  This is a wonderful activity for your toddler to strengthen his little fingers, and it is also a great way to get out some of his aggressions as he mixes, pounds, and squeezes his way through the task.

       In order to begin, you will need 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of water, a variety of cookie cutters, a rolling pin, and food coloring (if you want to get creative).  Put the salt and flour into a big bowl and allow your toddler to mix them up with his hands.  Slowly begin to add water (to which food coloring may be added) to the mixture.  As you continue to mix all of the ingredients together, knead the dough until it is smooth and stretchy, but not sticky, and you may have to add a bit more flour to the mix to get the consistency that you need.

       At this point allow your little one to explore the texture of the concoction, and don't be surprised if it takes him a few minutes to get used to the way it feels.  Show him how to roll the play dough into a ball, or roll it on the table to form a snake.  Teach him how to pound on the dough with his fists, and squish it between his fingers.  You can also place the dough on a flat-floured surface, roll it out with a rolling pin, and use cookie cutters to press out different shapes and letters.

       The best part about making this Play-Dough yourself is when your toddler inevitably sneaks a few bites when you turn your back, you don't have to worry about the consequences.


  Andrew and Devin's Opinion
           Like usual, I waited until after my 20-month-old twin boys awoke from their afternoon nap in order to attempt this activity.  I also fed them a snack in the hopes that any huger pangs would be waned, and they would not attempt to feast on the Play-Dough.  Opting for containing my boys during this activity, I placed them in their high-chairs and provided each of them with their own mixing bowls already filled with salt and flour.  Both Devin and Andrew immediately shoved their hands into the mixture (so much for spoons) and began to play with the dry ingredients.  Andrew, as expected, was a bit more aggressive mixer, and Devin a bit more timid...but, that has become standard regarding their personalities lately.

       Things did, however, quickly take a 360 degree turn once the blue food coloring and water was added, and my boys were faced with a new texture that they have never come into contact with before.  Devin loves slimy things, and Andrew wants nothing to do with them.  Devin quickly stuck his hands back into his bowl, and with my help kneaded the dough to the perfect consistency.  Andrew on the other hand, stuck one finger into the mix, looked straight into my eyes and said, "Uh, Uh", shaking his head back and forth in disgust.  Obviously, Andrew had made up his mind that he would be taking no further part in the creation of his Play-Dough.

       Once both batches of Play-Dough were completed, I showed the boys how to play with it, and gave Andrew another opportunity to try it out.  This time he was much braver (probably because the mixture was drier now) and appeared to thoroughly enjoy squishing it, pounding on it, and using the cookie cutters.  To give it one final seal of approval, both Devin and Andrew did take a sampling of their creations as I turned to face the sink, and their antics would have gone completely unnoticed, if not for the blue lips that resulted.


  Have you begun to wonder...
           How do I speak to my toddler about his aggressive behavior so he will listen?       

       Improve your child's listening skills by paying close attention to how you make requests.  Be sure that you have your little one's attention before you try and talk to him, because if you are dragging him across the playground after he has "borrowed" a handful of hair from another child, trying to discuss the inappropriateness of his actions as well as reviewing the potential consequences, you will be ignored.

       Keep in mind that toddlers this age get lost when words come flying at them fast and furious, so do your best to relax, then kneel down so the two of you are on the same level, and look at him directly in the eyes.  Your goal is to try and eliminate as many distractions at possible, and when he is focused on you and your face, his field of vision is taken up (at least for the moment).

       Once your eyes lock, make your statements simple and specific, and give clear directions regarding his behavior.  Simply state, "We don't hit",  "Hitting hurts", and end your instructions on a positive note like "We play nice".  More than likely, if the last word he hears is "hit", he may return and repeat the actions you are trying to stop because it was the final thing he heard you say.

       If you're lucky your conversations should sink in eventually, but expect to repeat yourself over and over again before he really gets the gist of it.


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