Parenting a toddler is not for the faint-hearted. Suddenly, your sweet baby is yelling, “No!” and trying to run into the street. You start to worry that your precious child is actually trying to drive you crazy. Kids, by definition, have not yet learned to control their impulses, toddlers most especially. Ease your worries and discover what signs of impulsivity in toddlers should worry you and what signs are typical.
Self-regulation is the opposite of impulsivity. Children who can self-regulate can manage their emotions, handle disappointments and control their impulses. According to Scholastic, self-regulation is twice as important as intelligence in predicting future academic success. Toddlers typically don’t have a lot of self-regulation skills; they are likely to act out when they are unhappy or frustrated. When Great-Aunt Rose gives them a hideous sweater as a gift, they are more likely to cry about it than to say thank you. While that’s completely embarrassing for you, it is developmentally appropriate.
Toddlers are inclined to kick, bite and hit when they are angry. That is a common impulse that parents and caregivers teach them to control, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Occasionally, toddlers may forget to use their words when they are angry, but these moments should occur less often as they get older. If you feel that your toddler is becoming less able to control these impulses, or that he’s been extremely aggressive for more than a few weeks, you should contact your pediatrician, suggests the AAP. It reports that parents should also be concerned if their toddlers regularly leave bite marks, bruises and head bumps on themselves or others, if they attack adults or are barred from neighbors or day cares.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
When we talk about impulsivity with toddlers, a term that comes up a lot is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. One of the hallmarks of ADHD is poor impulse control; kids with ADHD do impulsive things like run into the street, even at an age when they should know better. In 2012, the AAP lowered the age at which an ADHD diagnosis was possible, from 6 years old to 4 years old. But even though a toddler can’t be diagnosed with ADHD, that doesn’t mean there aren’t signs that can be seen during the toddler years. Toddlers who were later diagnosed with ADHD had trouble sitting still at all during the toddler years, even for cuddles, stories or favorite foods. They had a lot of energy, no patience and little sense of danger, reports WebMD.
Parents can actually help children build their self-control, even when they are toddlers. A consistent routine with clear expectations can help, suggests Zero to Three. When toddlers do have tantrums, focus on helping them regain control and calm down, not on the issue. Try hugging them and using a soothing voice when they melt down at the grocery store, rather than explaining why you won’t buy five boxes of cookies. Both Scholastic and Zero to Three stress that parents should act as role models for toddlers by showing them how to handle stressful situations calmly. That means instead of banging on the steering wheel and muttering insults when someone cuts you off in traffic, take deep breaths and keep the comments to yourself.