Monday, March 4, 2013

Timeline of Challenging Early Childhood Behaviour

When it comes to challenging early childhood behaviour, every parent, whether they care to admit it, has received their fair share. From excessive crying and head-banging, to toddler tantrums, preschool nightmares and everything in between. This timeline showcases the normal, yet challenging, behaviour your child may exhibit from birth till they start school. The timeline will enable you to better understand your child’s thinking and why he acts the way he does at certain times. By consulting this timeline you will be able to handle his difficult periods much better as you will know what will happen before it does.

Jump to age...

1 Month 2 Months 6 Weeks 3 Months 4 Months 5 Months
6 Months 7 Months 8 Months 9 Months 10 Months 11 Months
12 Months 13 Months 14 Months 15 Months 16 Months 17 Months
18 Months 19 Months 20 Months 23 Months 24 Months 30 Months
3 Years 4 Years 5 Years

1 Month Old:

  • Crying: Crying in an infant does not have the same meaning as it does in an older child. Imagine for a moment what life might be like if your baby never cried. You would have no way of knowing that he was hungry, ill or in pain, or simply needing a hug. All babies cry, and there is always a reason for it. You may not believe it now, but there will come a time when you will be able to recognise the difference between his cries and be able to respond quickly and, as a result, he will gradually cry less. 
  • Excessive crying: In medical terms, excessive crying is defined as “continuous crying lasting more than three hours in 24 hours” (Laurent 2009). As many as one in four babies, from newborn to three months of age, display this level of crying (Johnson 2005; Fredregill 2004). The following can be helpful: cuddling, motion, white noise (e.g. washing machine, hairdryer, television tuned into a static-filled channel, detuned radio), going for a drive, comfort sucking, massage, swaddling, singing, talking, and reducing external stimuli. Symptoms of excessive crying usually last from three to four months.
  • Colic: The period between birth and three months is one of adjustment of your baby’s immature nervous and digestive systems to life in the outside world. A smooth adjustment is harder for some babies to achieve than others. Infantile colic is a condition in which an otherwise healthy baby cries or displays symptoms of distress (cramping, moaning, etc) frequently and for extended periods, without any discernible reason. The condition typically appears within the first month of life and often disappears rather suddenly, before the baby is three to four months old, but can last up to one year. Many mothers are tempted to just forget about breastfeeding and switch to formula at this point, but that can be a major mistake. Most babies who have a food allergy are sensitive to cows’ milk, the primary ingredient in baby formula. Instead of eliminating colic, formula may actually make it worse.
  • Dislike of Bathing: Some babies are terrified of having a bath. If your baby is one of them, don’t force the issue. It will unsettle him and upset you. Topping and tailing is quite sufficient until he is happy in the water. When he is ready, you can introduce small amounts of water to the bath and gradually increase the volume with each bath time. Or even better - bath with your baby.

2 Months Old:

  • Demanding: At this age your baby is now too old to habituate - to shut down and shut out stimulation (see ‘Timeline of Baby and Toddler Sleep’), but she has not yet mastered the art of self-calming (West 2010). The result is that your baby will now become more demanding, particularly in late afternoon and early evening. She may cry more often, as this is her way of expressing how stressful she is finding adapting to her new environment. Your baby will want you to spend more time amusing her. She may want you to be totally absorbed in her, and only her (Rijt and Plooij 2011).

6 Weeks Old:

  • Dislike of Dressing: Your baby may cry when being dressed or undressed. Hold him gently but firmly, smile at him, and make reassuring noises. The following can also help: make sure the room is warm enough; keep clothing changes to a minimum; make sure his clothes are large enough to remove with ease. If all else fails – use stealth: distract him with a toy or book.
  • Peak of Crying: Perhaps surprisingly, your baby’s level of crying is not at its highest when he is a newborn. The rate of crying gradually increases from birth until a baby is around six weeks old, then subsides. This is often referred to as the developmental crying peak (Johnson 2005).
  • Fretfulness: Your baby is going through a major growth spurt, which may make your baby fretful because she is hungry. If you’re breastfeeding, rest assured, you are making enough milk, it’s just time to take production up another notch by feeding more frequently. Your baby is growing and preparing your body for the additional nourishment she needs (see, ‘Timeline of a Breastfed Baby’). If you’re formula feeding, you may find your baby is looking for just a little more formula at the end of each feed.
  • Over-Tired: During these early weeks it is so easy for your baby to become over-tired and over-stimulated by the vastness of life. When this happens, try a ‘white-out’: put your baby over your shoulder and face them to a white wall. This relaxes the baby and makes them sleepy.

3 Months Old:

  • Refusing a bottle: If your baby has been fed exclusively from the breast until now but you want him to take a bottle (perhaps you are returning to work), he may need coaxing. Sucking milk from a teat requires a different technique to the ‘suckling’ action of breastfeeding, so practice is required. His reluctance to take a bottle from you is likely in part to be because he associates you will breastfeeding, which he prefers. Your partner, a friend, or family member may therefore have more success. Giving the bottle in the dark can also work until bottle feeding is established. Also, experiment with teats. There is a huge variety of types and shapes available. If you only need to use bottles for short periods, cup feeding rather than bottle feeding is more compatible with continued breastfeeding.

4 Months Old:

  • Fear of the Bathtub: At this age, your baby is too big for a baby bath. However she may be over- whelmed by the vastness of the adult bathtub. She may fret about slipping underwater, getting soap in her eyes or even seeing and hearing the water go down the drain. If your baby finds the bathtub frightening, be patient and let her get used to it gradually. You could try filling the baby bath with water and put a few toys in; then place it inside the bathtub and put a non-slip bath mat next to it. Put your baby in the bathtub where she can play with the toys. Or alternatively, try putting a tiny amount of water in the big bath until your baby gets used to it, then add a bit more each day. If it’s summer and it’s hot, you can use a paddling pool substitute – throw in some bubblebath and a bucket of warm water and it’s just a bath in the garden.

5 Months Old:

  • Moody: Some babies’ moods swing wildly at this time. One day they are all smiles, but the next they do nothing but cry. These mood swings may even occur from one moment to the next. One minute they’re shrieking with laughter, and the next they burst into tears. Sometimes, they even start to cry in the middle of laughing (Rijt and Plooij 2011).

6 Months Old:

  • Biting: The primary teeth usually start to erupt during the second six months of life, and subsequently your baby will learn to bite and chew. Many babies will take the opportunity to bite on anything that comes close to their mouths. Biting is a normal part of experimental behaviour, and is usually a transient phenomenon. If your baby bites during breastfeeding, remove her from the breast, look her in the eye and say firmly, ‘No biting’. Be serious but not angry. Offer the breast again, but if she continues to bite, give her a teething toy to help reinforce its use. Soon your baby will begin to associate biting with the items you have offered.
  • Jealousy: Research shows that from 6 months babies display jealousy when their mother diverts their attention to another baby. They kick and cry furiously until they have her full attention once more (Laurent 2009). While babies of this age are capable of demonstrating a whole range of emotions it is important to understand that they have no concept of good or bad behaviour and should not be punished.
  • Food Refusal: Some babies are little gannets from the start, while others take a far more leisurely view of solids introduction. If she closes her mouth or turns her head away, simply put the food aside and try again another day. Apparently babies are genetically wired to be suspicious of unknown foodstuffs (to save them from poisoning themselves).
  • Tooth Grinding: Tooth grinding (bruxism) occurs in up to half of normal infants, usually once the top and bottom teeth have erupted (Friedman and Saunders 2007). Tooth grinding is most frequent at night. Fortunately, it is a habit that wanes with time, and it will not damage your baby’s teeth.
  • Crying: It’s normal for a baby to have bouts of more persistent crying before a particular developmental stage. It may be connected to major changes in the baby’s brain and nervous system when a new developmental challenge is met (Johnson 2005). Around now your baby is learning to sit unsupportive and to begin eating solid foods – major developmental milestones.

7 Months Old:

  • 'Inappropriate' Sleep Associations: Babies often develop sleep associations, or ‘props’ to help them fall asleep. For example, if your baby always falls asleep while feeding, while listening to background music, or while his back is being rubbed, he might expect those conditions to be present each time he falls asleep. Other potentially-problematic sleep associations include, excessive rocking, needing to be driven in the car to fall asleep, and falling asleep with the television on. A baby with inappropriate sleep associations may awaken seven to eight times a night. The situation is made worse at this age, because now your baby takes longer to reach deep sleep than he did as a newborn (Skula 2012). 
  • Separation Anxiety: Your baby may become less relaxed around strangers. Where previously he may have happily smiled at anyone and go to them for a cuddle, now he may be more reluctant, and soon you are likely to be his firm favourite to the point where he becomes anxious and upset if you even leave the room. This ‘separation anxiety’ is an important stage in your baby’s development. The reason for this behaviour is that your baby does not yet fully understand that things that disappear from sight continue to exist. If Daddy goes out of sight, your baby may be unsure whether he still exists or whether he is gone for good. Separation anxiety is a primeval response to ensure babies don’t get left behind by their parents. So your baby isn’t being manipulative; she’s genuinely anxious and will need to be reassured and cuddled.
  • Dislike of Hair Washing: By now your baby will be sitting up in the adult bath (maybe propped by a seat) and any dislike of bathing is likely to have diminished. However most babies still dislike having their hair washed. Wearing a plastic visor is a good way of keeping shampoos out of your baby's eyes (sun shields work well). You can also try drawing a line across his forehead with petroleum jelly to stop shampoo running down into his eyes. Alternatively, he may be less distressed if you hold him in your lap while hair washing, and use a flannel to wet and rinse rather than pouring water over his head. If your baby is still distressed, it may be best to keep hair washing separate from bath time; if he associates the two he may start to fuss about taking baths as well. 

8 Months Old:

  • Thumb-Sucking: Thumb-sucking means different things in babies than in older children. For babies, it is a comforter that your child needs at special times. He sucks when he is tired, bored or frustrated. Thumb-sucking by itself is not a sign of unhappiness, maladjustment or lack of love. If your child gives up thumb-sucking by six years of age, as usually happens, there is very little chance of the displacement of permanent teeth (Spock 2004).
  • Masturbation: When you remove your baby’s nappy you may discover that he starts playing with his penis. It is completely normal for boys and girls to touch their genitals. Just as babies discover their hands and feet, they also discover their genitals around now, and if handling them feels good, they will do it again. If your child masturbates in public, try to distract him rather than scolding or showing disapproval.
  • Anxiety and Fright: Your baby may start to worry about things that never bothered him before. Typically, it may be the sound of the vacuum cleaner, or the sight of an animal, for example. This is due to your baby being more aware of his surroundings.

9 Months Old:

  • Stranger Anxiety: Your nine-month-old baby is suspicious not only of the doctor; anything new or unfamiliar makes him anxious, even a new hat on his mother or his father’s clean-shaven face if he is used to seeing his father with a beard. This behaviour is called stranger anxiety. By nine months, the thinking part of your baby’s brain – the outer layer or cortex – is much more functional. One result is that your baby now has better memory skills. He clearly recognises the difference between what is familiar and what is strange and he has the ability to understand that strange things may be dangerous. Many adults don’t have the sense to leave a small child alone while he sizes them up. They rush up to him, full of talk and enthusiasm. As a result it takes him longer to work up his courage to be friendly. By 12 to 15 months, stranger anxiety will ease.
  • Head Banging: While head-banging in older children may be a sign of emotional disturbance, in a baby it is often a rhythmical comfort habit and your baby may find both the sensation and the sound it makes soothing. Unsurprisingly, the behaviour is most likely to occur when the child is tired, sleepy or frustrated. Approximately a quarter of babies will go through this phase (Smith 2009; Welford 1990; Spock 2004). Boys are three times more likely to do it than girls (Baby Centre 2013). Head banging will usually stop without any intervention before baby reaches four years old. Occasionally, head-banging can be caused by pain or discomfort, such as earache.
  • Grumpiness: Your baby wants to crawl, but can’t. Consequently, he may for a few weeks become incredibly grumpy every time you put him down.

10 Months Old:

  • Repetitive Behaviour: Your baby will become fascinated with certain movements (such as turning around in a circle) and want to carry them out again and again. The reason your baby does this is due to the way his developing brain is functioning at this stage. “An activity must be repeated many times to firm up neural networks for proficiency” (Masi 2001).
  • Hair-Pulling: Occasionally, an infant gets into the habit of stroking and tugging on strands of their own hair. The result can be unattractive bald spots and worry for the parents. The best explanation for his behaviour is that it is just a habit, not a sign of emotional or physical disturbance. The best treatment is to cut the hair short so that there is nothing for the baby to get hold of. By the time the hair grows back, the habit is usually gone. (Note that, in older children, compulsive hair-pulling is more likely to be a sign of anxiety or psychological tension, so professional consultation makes sense).

11 Months Old:

  • Peak of Separation Anxiety: The distress of separation anxiety peaks at the end of the first year. This stage can be tricky for close family and friends, who may feel rejected by your baby’s sudden refusal to go to them. Your baby’s transition from immobility (sitting) to mobility (crawling or walking) makes her extra ‘clingy’. It is common for a baby to become clingy to the main carer – usually the mother – and refuse to be looked after by the other. She craves touch: skin to skin contact in your arms, at your breasts, in your bed. She extracts whatever physical contact she can get from you.
  • Resisting Sleep: At the moment your baby is all about movement. She’s crawling, probably pulling to a stand and cruising, perhaps even walking. To understand the impact of these advancements, imagine learning how to fly. You’d be amazed at your new ability – and you’d want to spend every waking moment practicing, exploring and soaring! Every time your baby hits a new milestone, it feels to her like she’s learned how to fly, and it will be awfully hard for her to feel like slowing down. Consequently she won’t be as tempted to do so when it’s time to sleep.
  • Over-Reliance on Pacifier: If your baby has a pacifier (dummy), you may wish to think about beginning to wean her off it around now, or at least reducing its use if it’s become a very frequent daytime habit. Medically speaking, pacifier use is discouraged after the age of one – mainly for the sake of your baby’s speech and language skills, which are, in fact, already in the making well before her first birthday (for more information on pacifiers, see my article, 'Dummies and Social Class').

12 Months Old:

  • Waking Too Early: The fact is that most babies are notoriously early risers and their interpretation of what is ‘morning’ is likely to be a good few hours shy of yours. The chances are that your baby has had all the sleep they need and, unlike you, they are bright eyed and raring to go!
  • Standing and Playing at Meals: This may be quite a problem even before the age of a year. It comes about because your baby is less ravenous for food and more interested in all kinds of new activities. You may notice that your baby climbs and plays when he’s partly satisfied, not when he’s really hungry. Be realistic. Forcing your toddler to remain at the table until everyone has finished will seem like an eternity to him, and it’s not surprising he gets bored and fractious. Instead, insist that he remains seated when eating, but whenever he loses interest in the food, assume he’s had enough, let him down from the chair and take away the food.

13 Months Old:

  • Ignoring Other Children: Don’t worry, your child is not being unfriendly, she just hasn’t reached the stage in her social development where she is able to play with other children. Instead, she prefers to play alongside them in what is known as parallel play. And while she might have looked as though she was ignoring them, rest assured she was taking everything in, and in a year or so she will be playing with the best of them.

14 Months Old:

  • Casting: As he moves into his second year he will start to understand that he is an individual, separate from you. This is a profound change to his thinking, and the uncertainties and confusions it can conjure up will prompt him to test your boundaries. You’ll probably observe your child throwing objects out of his pram or cot – a behaviour called casting. If, for example, he throws a cup of milk to the floor and you tell him off, he may do it again with one eye on you to see what happens. This isn’t your toddler being naughty – he is simply learning about cause and effect, actions, and reactions. He is experimenting.
  • Not Sharing: As he begins to define himself as separate and individual, then he is bound to be strongly possessive of his toys. It requires the next step in development for him to understand that it is safe to share things. There is no point in trying to teach your toddler to share; he simply isn’t ready. To share, a child has to understand that something belongs to him – that he can give it away and expect to get it back. That your toddler won’t share has nothing to do with how generous a person he will become when he is older.

15 Months:

  • Defiance: Toddlers this age are not being bratty when they test limits. They’re learning cause and effect: “If I do this, then Dad does that”. If your child drops her sippy cup on the floor during dinner, and you get mad – that’s fascinating (to her). Watch her do it again, and again – looking right at you as she does, to see if she can re-create the experience (because it’s so interesting). Have you ever thought you might lose your mind because you’ve already told your toddler for the 18 billionth time not to put her sticky hands on the walls or furniture, and there she goes again? It’s not just that she wants to push your buttons – though it is certainly mesmerizing to her when you get angry, and your strong reaction (positive or negative) will often serve to reinforce her behaviour, whether you realize it or not. She’s also probably doing the behaviour, in her mind, with some slight variation on the last time she tried: maybe this time it’s just her left hand that touches the wall, or this time it’s chocolate on her hands instead of banana. If it’s different to her, she’ll test it out – to see what happens. Cause and effect (Waldburger and Spivack 2009).
  • Reluctance with Diaper Changing: However much you sing to her and jolly her along, your toddler will probably hate having her diaper changed by this age as she wants to be up and off, and will not be happy about being pinioned to the changing mat.
  • Hitting: Toddlers hit when they are frustrated, to get attention, or simply to see what happens. It is common behaviour. 68% of toddlers are still hitting by their second birthday (Green 2006).

16 Months:

  • Refusing Food: Toddlers eat when they are hungry and are not governed by our artificial adult mealtimes. If you continue to offer your toddler healthy meals and snacks and he turns his nose up at them, don’t despair. Being picky about what they eat and reluctant to try new foods is a perfectly normal part of your toddler’s development. There is even a special name for it – it is called neophobia, or fear of the new. This extremely common toddler response evolved many thousands of years ago as part of a young child’s basic survival mechanism. By being suspicious of new foods, an increasingly mobile toddler is less likely to accidentally eat anything poisonous or harmful to them. Keep giving your toddler a range of foods at each meal that includes a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar items. Avoid the temptation to coax your him to eat. He may seize the opportunity to do battle with you if you show him that you are concerned about his eating. It may help to bear in mind that “it takes a toddler sixty-eight days to starve” (Lewis 2009).
  • Kicking Off In Restaurants: Your toddler is now too old to be sufficiently entertained by a spoon balancing on a cup, yet he is too young to wait for prolonged periods. This can make dining out a tense experience. To avoid crabbiness which may lead to noisy scenes, it is wise to ensure that your child is comfortable before you sit down to eat – not over-tired or starving hungry (give a banana or similar beforehand). Also bring a bag of interesting un-breakable, un-noisy toys for him to play with. Crayons and paper are ideal.
  • Fear of Noises: It is normal for toddlers of this age to be frightened of a great variety of noises, even such common ones as household appliances. This does not mean that your child is hypersensitive or emotionally disturbed, and the phenomenon in any case is usually very short lived.
  • Traumatic Teeth-Brushing: If brushing your toddler’s teeth has become a twice-daily nightmare, rest assured, this is very typical behaviour. Dentists recommend that you brush your child’s teeth and don’t let them have total control over their own toothbrushing until at least school age (Nicholls 2009). However your toddler can’t understand why his teeth must be cleaned and resents having it done. He is too young to know about tooth decay, so your best bet is to turn the whole teeth-brushing process into a game. I used to pretend my daughter’s mouth was a house, and we’d make sure we cleaned the bedrooms, and the kitchen, and the living room.

17 Months:

  • Shyness: At this age, many toddlers are still very attached to their main carer and your child may continue to be wary of strangers. Some children are shy by nature. Common types of shy behaviour include disliking new experiences, reluctance to join in social gatherings, and unwillingness to look at or talk to new people. By withdrawing temporarily, your child can gain a sense of control. As they observe and the gain some experience within the social situation that is frightening them, their shyness wanes. A good way of dealing with it is by preparing your child for any situation she’s likely to find difficult, perhaps with a story. In most cases, time and patience is all that is needed. Don’t force her to speak to strangers in shops, or even unfamiliar relatives.
  • Fears: Along with your toddler’s growing understanding may come seemingly irrational fears. These may be of the dark, spiders, of her bath, or even of your perfectly harmless next-door-neighbour. Try to be sympathetic while, if possible, showing that you are not afraid of what is frightening her. Your toddler can’t rationalise her emotions, but with your support she will grow in confidence and maturity and these normal and common childhood fears will fade away naturally.
  • Comfort Objects: Your child may be attached to an object such as a blanket or special toy as a consolation when you’re not around. Nearly all children have some form of comfort that they control (Stoppard 2008). Very often comfort objects are ones that children suck or stroke to simulate the effect of being stroked or being comforted.

18 Months:

  • Clinginess: Around this age, many children who have been happy explorers develop a new, heightened clinginess. They can imagine being apart from their parents and the image is frightening. This period of anxious clinging usually fades away sometime around age two and a half, as children learn that separations are always followed by reunions.
  • Attention-seeking: Your toddler craves your attention and while she would far rather have your positive attention, for instance playing, chatting and cuddling, if she doesn’t get this, she will go out of her way to get any attention at all, even if she has to make you cross to get a response. This can be hard to deal with but don’t worry – you haven’t produced a superbrat. She just needs a little more time to manage her emotions.
  • Regressing: Your child is still a baby in many ways and will frequently revert to babyish behaviour, for example, using baby-talk, especially if she is unwell or unsettled. This is entirely normal behaviour, so let her be a baby when she needs to be.
  • Frustration: As your toddler grows up her desire to do things far outstrips her ability to do them, and so she becomes frustrated. By this age her spirit of adventure is in excess of her balance, mobility, and coordination. Make your home as child-proof as possible to accommodate her developing abilities.

19 Months:

  • Selective Hearing: Ignoring parental requests starts early: you ask your toddler to pick up her toys because it’s time for bed, and she acts as if she’s never heard you – or giggles and laughs and runs the other way. Alternatively, she may look away from you or even close her eyes. In effect, she’s saying “I’m not listening to you, and if I can’t see you, then I can’t hear you either”. For a toddler, ignoring you is actually developmentally normal; she’s practising a bit of autonomy with the person she loves the most (lucky you!)
  • Refusal to Get Dressed: Staying still, even for a few minutes, is difficult for your inquisitive toddler. Also around now, she is gradually beginning to notice the colours and type of clothing you put on her, and she might develop preferences. Clothes that seem similar to those worn by mom or dad might seem particularly attractive. The feel of a garment will also be important to her – whether, for example, it is soft or itchy, tight or stretchy. If she takes a dislike to a garment, it may be because it doesn’t fit properly and is therefore uncomfortable to wear; but of course, she doesn’t have the vocabulary to explain this.
  • Repeating “No”: This age is the beginning of the process called individuation, when your toddler begins to become a person in her own right. The honeymoon with you is over, at least partly, because to become her own person she needs to push back against your control. Your toddler is approaching the terrible twos. In fact, in Italy the terrible twos are known as 'fase del no', which roughly translated means the 'phase of saying no'. Be aware that your toddler’s saying “No” is also a way of telling you that she wants to do things for herself. If, for instance, she says “No” when you ruin the bathroom tap, it may be because she wanted to turn the tap on, not that she doesn’t want her hands washed.

20 Months:

  • Continued Fear of Hair Washing: Unlike dogs, who will generally just cower sadly under the shower head, a toddler who has not grown out of their babyhood fear of having their hair washed will be more of a challenge (due to their ability to pole vault over the side and get out). Therefore, use a jug instead of a shower head and try this tip: Stick pictures or glowing stars high on your bathroom wall or ceiling to encourage your child to tip back his head for hair rinsing. It will also provide distraction from the job in hand.
  • Dawdling: Instead of walking right along, your toddler wanders across the pavement and climbs the front steps of every house he passes on the way. The more you call to him, the more he lingers. Your toddler doesn’t have a behavioural problem; his natural instincts say to him, “Look at that pavement to explore! Look at those stairs!” So when you’re planning to go somewhere, it’s wise to build in some dawdling time.
  • Impatience: Your toddler may start to find it difficult not being the centre of attention. For example, you might be mid-conversation with someone else when your toddler decides he wants to talk to you. At this age your toddler will find it nigh impossible to wait his turn, and may even try grabbing your face and forcing you to break off your conversation to focus solely on him. Young toddlers are almost incapable of waiting; their mental development literally cannot factor in that anything else could take your attention.

23 Months:

  • Sleep Problems: Some toddlers resist going to bed with all their considerable might. If your child is one of them, it is important to try to discover why this might be happening. There are several possible reasons: he is not used to going to sleep on his own; his routine has been disrupted; he needs a later bedtime; he thinks he is being left out; he is thirsty. Keeping a sleep diary for two weeks can be very helpful. Record your toddler’s sleep patterns – day and night – for this period and note events like amount of time spent playing or cuddling at sleep time. This will give a picture of what is really happening, rather than what you perceive to be happening.

24 Months:

  • Picky Eater: You may notice your child’s appetite dropping around the time of her second birthday, when her growth rate falls. Your previously happy eater may become more picky about food, especially if she is testing your boundaries, but remember that she won’t starve and try to stay calm if she refuses food. It can help to have a quiet time immediately before mealtimes. It’s hard to get an excited child to calm down enough to eat properly.
  • Self-centredness: Most toddlers of this age have tunnel vision, which focuses only on their own needs and happiness. When your child is playing and wants a particular toy, it is unlikely that she will ask politely for it when ‘smash and grab’ is more effective. Your child is in the preoperational stage and can see things only from her own point of view. She’s self-centred though not necessarily selfish. If her father is unhappy, she may bring over her favourite stuffed animal to try to comfort him (after all, it works for her).
  • Tantrums: Frequently, the power and confusion of her emotions – the tension between needing you and discovering the lure of independence – can become too much for your toddler, and this can result in a tantrum. “Most two-year-olds have at least one tantrum per week” (Cooper 2011). Some sources maintain that one in five two-year-olds is estimated to have two tantrums a day, with the average tantrum lasting 11 minutes (Beswick 2009; Einon 2004). You might consider calling the tantrum behaviour by a special name – ‘the nasties’, for instance, or ‘the stormies’. You can talk to your child in advance how to recognise when ‘the stormies’ are coming, and how to beat them. This put you and your child on the same side, and gives them a sense of control. It can sometimes even divert a potential display of anger into a fit of giggles. For information on what to do when your toddler has a tantrum – in public, see here).
  • Breath-Holding: Your toddler may work herself up into such a state of fury and distress that she stops breathing. Your child cannot hurt herself by holding her breath. This is because long before she can do herself any harm through oxygen deprivation, she will lose consciousness – and the moment she does, she will start breathing again. Thankfully, most children grow out of these episodes before they reach school age. A few children have a far rarer condition called reflex anoxic seizures, which is where a breath-holding episode results in convulsion and if this happens, you should seek medical advice.
  • Nightmares: Nightmares are very common in young children and at this age your toddler may not have the words to explain how she is feeling. Nightmares usually occur toward the end of a sleep period. Having a nightmare is a horrible experience for an adult – but at least when you wake you know it’s a dream. How much more distressing it must be for a young child, who is hardly aware of the difference between imagination or reality. Reassure your toddler that you will always come if she needs you and try to get to her as quickly as possible if she has a bad dream. Avoid scary stories or high-action videos before bed, and keep her bedtime routine as calm as possible. When your child wakes after having a nightmare, make a point of turning the pillow over to turn the nightmare away.
  • Talking to Herself: Your child’s verbal abilities will likely take off like a rocket during this age range, and suddenly she’ll be talking up a storm (most toddlers have about fifty words by 24 months). Children tend to practice language when they’re least distracted, which often occurs in their cots or beds. Instead of running to join in the conversation, try to allow your child alone time in which to practice (and enjoy) her new words.
  • Fear of the Hairdresser: The first haircut is often an exciting occasion, at least for the parent, but your toddler may howl in protest. Keep haircutting simple and avoid high-maintenance styles. You can prepare your child by playing ‘hairdressers’ – let her brush your hair and then tell her it’s your turn to brush hers. There’s no need to visit the hairdresser if your child really hates going there – opt for a mobile hairdresser who will come to your home, or cut her hair yourself. Although shorter styles are easier to keep clean and presentable, there is little point in subjecting your little one to frequent haircuts if she finds it traumatic.

30 Months:

  • Fear of the Toilet: Some children are afraid to sit on the toilet, which obviously makes toilet training well nigh impossible. This fear may arise from a number of cases – maybe the association with a severe pain when passing a particularly hard stool or fear of being sucked into the toilet when it is flushed and being washed out to see down a big pipe. Other children refuse to sit on the toilet purely out of attention-seeking, toddler stubbornness. Alternatively, your toddler may be one of the ones who contently urinates in the toilet but will only pass stools in his diaper. Doing a poop in a diaper is a very different feeling from doing one in the relatively open expanse of the potty or toilet, and the sensation of almost losing part of themselves can make a toddler very fearful. As a result, many toddlers will request a diaper when they need to poop. So here’s how to deal with it: When he asks for a diaper, put it on in the bathroom, so that he passes stools in that room. The next step is to encourage him to sit on the toilet with the diaper on. Later still, he can sit on the toilet with the diaper on but undone, and finally, sit him on the toilet with the diaper stretched over the seat.
  • Clinginess: Although he will need less holding than when he was a young baby, he will often ask to be carried like he used to when he’s generally tired and cranky. He’s likely to be clingy when he feels pain or discomfort, when a tooth is coming through, or if he is feeling off colour. Your child’s second molars (the largest, most troublesome ones) will erupt around now, bringing clinginess to it’s peak.
  • Night Terrors: Night terrors occur during non-REM sleep (when your child is coming out of deep sleep) and usually within two hours of falling asleep. They are different to nightmares as your child might appear to wake but won’t know where he is or who you are and may scream, shout and behave strangely. He is not properly awake and is unlikely to remember it in the morning. These episodes rarely last more than half an hour and all you can do is be there as a reassuring presence until he falls back to sleep. Night terrors won’t harm your toddler, although it is important to prevent him injuring himself if he is flailing or running around, but if they are happening frequently, or your child seems under stress, see your doctor. Your child is more likely to experience night terrors if you had them as a child or if you had a partial-arousal sleep disorder such as sleepwalking (West 2010).
  • Night Playing: Some toddlers awake in the night and appear happy, alert and ready to play. If this describes your toddler it may be that your child is no longer tired because he is getting sufficient sleep at other times. You can tweek his daytime naps to address this. Also keep your toddler’s access to rewarding and stimulating nighttime activities to an absolute minimum; put toys and books away in boxes, on high shelves out of sight. When he wakes at 3am, your child will be less inclined to think it’s playtime.
  • Biting: Perhaps unsurprisingly, biting is most common just after the child’s second birthday. Children at this age can’t express their feelings in words, so their frustration or desire to dominate comes out in primitive ways, like biting. Also, it takes small children some time to realise that other children feel the same way as they do and that they too can be hurt. Most parents of biters worry a lot, imagining that their sweet child may grow up to be a cruel adult. But biting is usually temporary behaviour that even the gentlest of children engage in. It usually stops by the third birthday or a little after. By that time, the child has learned to use words to express his desires or vent his frustrations.
  • Whining: Young mammals of many species whine for attention and nurturance (think of puppies). So whining is natural and universal, but it’s still annoying. The wheedling, nagging ever-increasing high-pitched tone is unmistakable and such behaviour can easily become habitual. Your child wants to do more and more for himself, but he becomes easily frustrated and often decides – rightly so – that you can help him out. Make sure you don’t use a whining voice when asking your child to do things. Many parents are unaware that they nag their children in a whining voice and so you need to lead by example. You may have already realised that many children whine at only one parent. A firm, unemotional, “use your words, I don’t listen to wining” is sometimes a useful response. Otherwise, distraction is often the answer, so think about learning to tap dance.
  • Stuttering: Almost every young child goes through a period when talking is an effort and the words sometimes don’t come out right; he may repeat words or hesitate then rush ahead too fast. This is part of normal speech development. Why is stuttering so common between two and three? This is the age when your child works very hard at talking. When he was younger, he used short sentences that he didn’t need to think about: “See the car”. “Want to go out”. When he gets past two, he tries to make up longer sentences to express new ideas. He may start a sentence three or four times, only to break off in the middle because he can’t find the right words. Telling your child to ‘slow down’ or asking him to repeat himself often just increases his self-consciousness, making the stuttering worse. Instead, try to respond to what your child is saying rather than how he says it. Train yourself to speak in a relaxed, unpressured way and help others in the family to do the same. Seek medical advice if the stuttering hasn’t shown signs of improving after four to six months.
  • Hyperactivity: Many parents worry that their toddler may be showing early signs of ADHD, however fear not. Toddlers are highly curious and adventurous by nature. Being into everything is their way of exploring the world. They want to know what happens when they swing from the curtain, or open the washing-machine door. It is normal for toddlers to be active all day, especially if they have recently abandoned their daytime nap (See, “Timeline of Baby and Toddler Sleep”).
  • Refusal to get dressed: For your toddler, the process of getting dressed can feel very restrictive. They are being forced to stand still and then have their body manipulated into clothing. In addition, they may feel unhappy with what they are being made to wear, all of which goes against your toddler’s desire for greater independence and can lead to anger and frustration on their part and yours.
  • Dislike of Car Seat: A car really is like a prison to your toddler. Not only are they stuck in a confined space – they are also strapped into a seat with very little room for manoeuvre. This doesn’t sit well with a newly independent toddler, who may start protesting at the very prospect of going in their car seat, getting things off to a stressful start before the journey has even begun. One key to tackling this behaviour is to be a positive role model yourself by making sure you and other adults in your car always buckle up. Talk about it as a 'grown up behaviour' and praise your child when they willingly let you buckle them up.
  • Curiosity About Genitals: While your toddler is becoming toilet trained, they will naturally become more aware of their genitals. Toddlers notice very quickly that boys and girls are different, and they often like to undress to show each other their bodies, to watch each other go potty and to play together in the bath. Penises, being more conspicuous than vaginas, are particularly fascinating. Boys often like to look at or touch each other’s penises, and girls may be intrigued by them too. At this age, the interest shown in other children’s bodies is mostly due to simple curiosity reinforced by a fascination with toilet functions, and this exploratory play is usually full of laughter.

Three Years:

  • Favouritism Towards One Parent: Sometimes a child around this age can get along with either parent alone, but when the other one comes on the scene she flies into a rage. It may be partly jealousy, but at an age  when she’s sensitive about being bossed around and trying to do a little bossing herself, she may just feel outnumbered when she has to take on two important people at once.
  • Food Jag: Around this age you may find that your child gets stuck on one particular food and wants to eat it at every meal. For example, he may go for a week eating only yogurt and fruit, then suddenly go right off yogurt and start eating nothing but cheese and mashed potato. This is called a “food jag” and if you go along with it, your child will probably quickly get bored. As long as the food is nutritious and the jag doesn’t last too long, there’s nothing to worry about.
  • After-Dinner High Jinks: It is rather irksome to hear the cry of “Hungry! More food!” ten minutes after you’ve scraped a large plate of shepherd’s pie into the food bin and finished washing up 27 pans. It’s nigh on impossible to stop the words, “Well, you should have eaten your dinner then!” tripping off your bitter and twister tongue, as though you have morphed into your own mother. This is an inevitable part of living with a fussy preschooler. You can keep dinner to one side, covered with clingfilm or a plate cover. You can then answer their cries of hunger with, “well, aren’t you lucky? I’ve kept your dinner for you!” and present them with their previously spurned meal (Nicholls 2009).
  • Prolonging Bedtime Routine: This is your preschooler’s reincarnated version of “Inappropriate Sleep Associations” from when she was 7 months old. She may develop rituals associated with bedtime. These are fine in themselves – but they can develop a momentum of their own almost without you realising it. What starts as a reasonable request to give teddy a kiss goodnight can gradually extend to demands for you to kiss every single soft toy on the toy shelves. To combat these delaying tactics, offer choices in the bedtime routine; so when you do need to set limits when leaving the doom, your child will feel like she’s had some control. Ask her which pyjamas she’d like to wear, allow her to pick out which story she’d like, and be sure to ask whether she’d like one more sip of water or whether she needs to use the toilet. You can end with something like, “How many kisses would you like before bed- three or four?” (not twenty-five).
  • Renewed Separation Anxiety: Even at this age, your child will still have fears about loosing you. When she was younger, she worried about loosing sight of you; now, she is fearful that you will not come back. This renewed separation anxiety is perpetuated when your child is taking leaps forward in her development or handling a major transition. For children who have not attended any type of day care prior to preschool, separation from parents can be truly anxiety provoking. “Some children – about one in seven – have brains that are biologically programmed to respond to changes with anxiety” (Spock 2004). A good way to reassure your child is to go step by step through what is going to happen when you leave her.
  • Night-Time Fears: Fears of the dark, or of bedtime, can develop in your child around now, even if they have previously been happy about both. Perhaps your child has seen a vivid TV program, or read a book that has sparked off her imagination. These fears can be very real to a child at nighttime, even though during the day she can probably convince herself that she has nothing to worry about. Nighttime fears can often be ‘cured’ by helping your child to gain control over them. If she’s frightened about monsters, for example, read some funny stories that will ‘demystify’ them.
  • Sleepwalking: Sleepwalking occurs in as many as 17 percent of children (American Academy of Sleep Medicine 2013). If your child is one of them, be sure to clear their bedroom of toys before they go to sleep, in case they trip over them. Don't try to wake a sleepwalking child, just give him a cuddle and put him back to bed. Sleepwalking is more common when one parent has a history of the disorder, and it is much more common if both parents were sleepwalkers. Ironically, it can be triggered by sleep deprivation.
  • Fear of Animals: All children no matter how carefully they are brought up, are frightened by something (Spock 2004); this is a normal element of the developmental process. It’s not hard to understand why. Fears occur when your child’s understanding of an object or even is too poorly developed. Fear of animals is particularly common. It may begin around 2 years old, and reach a peak at age 3 (Green 2006).
  • Pretend Friends: Your child has a vivid imagination. By this age, her imagination has become so intense that sometimes there is a blur between real and pretend. This is the peak age for pretend friends – a sign of a normal, healthy imagination. 65 percent of preschoolers befriend imaginary companions, and nearly one-third continue to play with them through to age 7 (Margo 2010). Eldest and only children are most likely to have imaginary friends. Typically, girls choose younger imaginary friends and boys choose older macho friends (Margo 2010). Interestingly, imaginary friends fill three primary roles: companion, confidante, and often, scapegoat.
  • Leaving Food: Until the age of four or five your child will prefer to eat frequently throughout the day. Her stomach still can’t cope with three adult-sized meals a day, so she is not ready to adopt an adult eating pattern. She may want to eat between 3 and 14 times a day, but the typical range is five to seven times (Stoppard 2008).
  • Anxiety Regarding Sex Differences: Children get mixed up and anxious about the natural differences between boys and girls. If a boy around the age of three sees a girl undressed, it may strike him as odd that she doesn’t have a penis as he does. He’s apt to say, “Where is her wee-wee?” If he doesn’t receive a satisfactory answer right away, he may jump to the conclusion that some accident has happened to her. Next comes the anxious thought, “That might happen to me too”. The same misunderstanding may worry the little girl when she realizes that boys are made differently. First she asks, “What’s that?”Then she anxiously wants to know, “Why don’t I have one? What happened to it?” That’s the way a three-year-old’s mind works. Children may be so upset that they’re afraid to question their parents.
  • Repeatedly Asking Why: From the age of three, or sometimes earlier, most children ask “Why” a lot. In time, your child will understand that “Why” tacked onto a word or sentence doesn’t always make sense. Answer questions like “Why is hot?” but ignore “Why door?” unless you can figure out what she means.
  • Lack of Tactfulness: Young children are admirable for their honesty, but unfortunately, being honest isn’t always socially acceptable. Your child can cause you considerable embarrassment through her complete lack of inhibition and self-restraint; for instance, by loudly making observations that would be far better left unsaid. She may think nothing of saying, “You’re fat” or “Your hair is funny”. Your child is not being deliberately rude at this age, she is simply being inquisitive and trying to make sense of her world, as well as demonstrating her powers of observation. Don’t respond by embarrassing your toddler. Loudly telling her, in front of everyone, that what she has done is rude or impolite will give your toddler a mixed message  - if you care so much about the feelings of other people, why don’t you care about hers?
  • Swearing: The average age for a child to begin swearing is three years old (Jay 2013). Children of this age who use bad language may be parroting something they’ve heard, picking up on the strength of the adult vehemence behind it rather than having any understanding of what they’re saying. Children learn so much by copying that if they see someone (it may not even be their parent) hurt their finger and say “Shit”, they think that when you hurt yourself you’re supposed to say “Shit”. Ages 3 and 4 are rife for this behaviour, as your child is expanding their vocabulary quickly.

Four Years Old:

  • Bed-Wetting: Most 3-5 year olds wet the bed; one in four still do aged 4-6 years, but half of these will have stopped by 6-8 years (Einon 2004).
  • Negativism: Stubbornness, selfishness, and disobedience are all characteristics of negativism. To some extent, all precshoolers are negativistic. They seem to delight in doing the opposite of what is asked. However, it’s not all bad; public tantrums become very rare between the ages of 4 and 6 as children develop social awareness, so would usually be too embarrassed to start shouting in public.
  • Nightmares: 39% of four year olds have nightmares at least once every two weeks (Green 2006).
  • Argumentative: During the fourth year, your child will become argumentative, and may be selfish, rough or impatient, especially with younger children or brothers and sisters (Stoppard 2008).
  • Sibling Rivalry: At this age, relationships with siblings can be turbulent. Your child is old enough to be a nuisance to older siblings and can be selfish, rough and impatient with younger siblings. Quarrels and physical fights over toys are common and there will be complaints about fairness (To find out how different age gaps effect sibling rivalry, read: ‘What No One Tells You About Child Spacing’).
  • Lying: The number of lies told by children tends to spike upwards in children age four (Leslie 2011). Your child has now reached the stage in his psychological development where he can distinguish fantasy from reality. Most children will lie if they find a situation sufficiently threatening. There are four types of lying. Exploratory Lying is done simply to see your response. For example, telling you that he didn’t like his dinner even though he ate it all. Bragging is another type of lying. It usually takes the form of a greatly exaggerated story and is done to boost the child’s self-confidence. For instance, saying that he has received many expensive birthday presents or that he lives in a huge house. Make-Believe Lies mix reality and fantasy and they serve to add excitement to everyday experiences. For example, your child may have a vivid imaginary world consisting or fairies and invisible friends. Finally, Cover-Up Lies aim to deliberately mislead. Children tell cover-up lies to avoid being punished. “Children whose parents use moral principles to explain to their children why lying is wrong effectively reduce the frequency of lying” (Stoppard 2008). Lying will subside during the first school years as your child learns that the benefits of lying come with some pretty hefty costs, such as loss of credibility (Leslie 2011).
  • Sexual Exploration: Adults tend to classify some aspects of normal development (such as games of “show”) as prurient. They are quite normal stages of development, and it is only adult interference that leads to exaggerations of sexual play.
  • Stealing: At this age your child may be so attracted to an object – a toy, coins left on the table, or candy – that he takes it when he hopes no one is looking. Sometimes he will do it in such a way that his theft will be discovered. Neither is a sign of a deep-rooted problem. Rather it is the normal result of overwhelming desire unchecked by social inhibitions. Although he seems to have grasped the idea of “mine” and “yours”, what he really sees is that something is currently in someone’s possession. He thinks that, by taking it, it becomes his. Don’t punish the act, but don’t ignore it. Tell your child clearly and calmly that it is unacceptable and insist that the object be returned.
  • Tantrums: They still occur at this age. However, by age four or five, most children are down to the rare tantrum, maybe one or two a week (Spock 2004).
  • Potty Talk: Around this age, your child may go through a phase of revelling in bathroom words. They cheerfully insult each other with expressions like, “You great big poop” and “I’ll flush you down the toilet” and think they are very witty and bold. They may also announce to an entire restaurant that they need a poo, and then talk loudly about it afterwards. This is normal development, and it usually passes quickly.

Five Years Old:

  • Nail Biting: Sometimes nail-biting is a sign of tenseness, sometimes it’s just a habit that means nothing in particular. Nail-biting is more common in highly-strung children who are inclined to worry a lot and it runs in families (Spock 2004). Your school-aged child will soon be motivated to stop nail-biting when they sense disapproval from peers or want nicer-looking nails.
  • Fear of the Dark: A child’s fear of the dark usually peaks around now, then disappears by the child’s seventh birthday (Green 2006).
  • Other Fears: By this age, your child will probably have more concrete, down-to-earn fears, like bodily harm, falling, thunder, lightening, storms (especially at night) and that her mother will not return home or be home when she gets there.
  • Aggressive Behaviour: You can expect your five-year-old to show a certain amount of aggressive behaviour. This is normal and can happen because she is still learning the difference between being assertive, by asking clearly for what she wants, and being aggressive, by taking what she wants regardless of the feelings of others. She will also find frustration hard to handle and may react by physically hitting or being destructive (Byron 2006).
  • Pester Power: By now, your five-year-old may have perfected her ability to pester. Pestering can be a very effective tactic to get what she wants and will often be used impulsively when she requires something immediately. 

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