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Why Babies and Toddlers Misbehave

Before you get angry when Baby acts a certain way, put yourself in her piggytoes. Babies and toddlers seldom do things out of spite or defiance, so run a quick reality check: Are your expectations realistic considering the circumstances and your child's developmental stage? An infant who "misbehaves" may be:

  • Curious A baby who persists in playing with the telephone buttons or grabbing the cat's tail is fascinated rather than willfully disobedient. Babies learn through their actions and their senses. So call it "discovering by doing" instead of "being naughty."

  • testing her power Especially between the ages of 14 and 22 months, a toddler is becoming aware that she is a separate person from her parents and that her individuality carries with it a certain degree of personal power. Continuing to stomp on the floor after you've asked her to stop is her way of ascertaining her limits. It's as if she's thinking, "What will happen if I do this just one more time?"

  • in need of attention A child may be bored, lonely, or just thrilled with the agitated response that she's learned she'll get by dropping her food from the high chair. To her mind, negative attention  -- in the form of your reprimands or fussing  -- is better than no attention at all.

  • frustrated Toddlers want to do many things that they simply can't. They may have a physical limitation, such as not enough coordination to stack ten blocks perfectly. Or limits may be imposed, as when a parent appropriately insists on holding a child's hand when she crosses the street. A tantrum is a way to express the frustration borne of such experiences.

  • tired Little ones need lots of naps. If you take your child on a long morning of errands past naptime, her whininess in the checkout line won't be about a coveted piece of candy. It's her way of saying "Enough!"

  • hungry Small children need lots of refueling. When basic needs are met (including thirst, sleep, and a dry bottom), your child is much more likely to be cooperative.
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