Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Typical Toddler Behavior or Cause for Concern?

 "Is our child's behavior normal or should we be worried?" This is a frequent question from parents considering psychotherapy for their child. The response is usually, "How does it feel to you?" This may seem simplistic but how parents feel about their child's behavior is very telling. If the behavior feels unusual, it probably is.

Tantrums, aggressive behavior, difficulty separating, trouble controlling impulses, etc. are common toddler behaviors. However, when hitting, throwing, crying, and melt downs are excessive - in other words, happen frequently, last a long time, and/or appear out of nowhere - or when family, friends and other parents comment on or wonder about the child's behavior, there is likely something going on for the child outside of normal toddler anxieties.

What's most important is that parents listen to how they feel and how they experience the child's behaviors. Since children cannot always verbalize how they feel, they express it through their behaviors; they project their anxieties, worries, fears, anger, sadness or excitement and happiness onto their parents. Therefore, by paying attention to how they feel in regard to particular behaviors of their child, parents can gain tremendous insight into the child's emotional world.

It is true that toddlerhood can feel very stressful for parents. Children bring a lot of love but are also good at stirring up feelings, which can frustrate parents. Yet, when parents have a gut feeling that something about their child's behavior seems off or they are concerned by people's comments and questions, it is probably a good time to seek the guidance of a pediatrician, child psychotherapist, or developmental therapist. Early intervention is a great way to promote a child's emotional development well into adulthood.