The ability to control feelings and emotions usually comes with maturity. Because learning self-control is a process, parents often experience a lack of self-control in toddlers. While not pleasant, these behavior issues are normal in young children. Once you understand your toddler’s actions and the reasons behind them, encouraging more acceptable behavior will be the next step.
The Young Child’s Brain
The prefrontal cortex is not developed in a baby. Because this area of the brain is responsible for reasoning, the child will not exhibit impulse control and focused attention initially. In average children without imbalances or disorders, the prefrontal cortex starts to match up with the rest of a child’s brain around the age of 4.
Set Firm Expectations
Although a toddler cannot conform to extreme or unrealistic expectations, it’s important to set firm expectations with your child so she learns from the beginning. Your toddler might not always be able to exert self-control to conform to your expectations, but with practice your child will learn and develop these skills. Keep expectations basic with a young toddler — perhaps limiting your expectations to avoiding dangerous activities such as climbing high places and running into the street. Initially, you will need to supervise your child continuously to ensure she follows the rules. When she doesn’t follow the rules, pick her up and prevent her from doing something dangerous. As your child gets a little older, she’ll learn the expectations and she’ll learn how to follow the rules.
Firm and gentle consistency is the key to teaching a toddler self-control. Even though the toddler will exhibit little self-control at first, he will learn with time. For example, a toddler might learn not to run into the street or touch a hot stove. You won’t be able to trust your child to exhibit reliable self-control, however. With increased verbal skills after your child turns 2, the toddler will develop more self-control. In addition, the development of conscience in a 2-year-old will have a significant effect on the child’s self-control. A conscience helps the child learn judgment when making decisions.
Check Your Example
One of the most effective ways to teach your child is by example. Even a very young child learns to model her behavior by the behavior she sees around her. If you typically slam objects, throw items, yell when you get angry and stomp your feet, it’s likely your toddler will learn these behaviors and repeat them. In contrast, if your child sees you experience frustration and anger, but not react negatively, you teach your child self-control. Make frequent efforts to show your child how to react with self-control so your toddler learns how you want her to behave.