When my child behaves in a way that is irritating or worrisome, I can’t help but wondering “Is this normal??” Heres the truth: Realistic behavior expectations of your child are whatever he or she has been doing most of the time up until now. However, this does not mean that your child can’t learn and change.
Most parents I know expect more out of their toddlers than is psychologically age-appropriate. Realistically, toddlers and young preschoolers get distracted easily and have a very hard time controlling their impulses. This is because the part of the brain that controls impulses and emotions is not yet fully developed. Your child is not trying to ignore you or be annoying. More often than not, he truly can not help these behaviors.
The thing that frustrates me personally more than anything is when kids (around the age of 3) start to get really distracted and every task takes them triple the time (or more) to complete! Speaking from experience, getting annoyed or raising my voice never sped up the process. So what can you do teach and encourage your child along the process? Here are my top tips to help your child along with patience and love!
1. Will my child learn this skill or behavior without my intervention?
It helps to keep in mind that many of the behaviors that you are focusing on and worrying about are not a Chinuch or discipline issue at all.
I once read a story about the Brisker Rav in the book “Spare the Child” by Rav Yechiel Yaakovson (recommended reading by the way:).
At a meeting in his house a child climbed up onto the table, the Rav took him down and continued speaking as if nothing had happened. After this scene repeated itself 3 times, someone mumbled something about the child’s Chinuch. The Rav asked “What does this have to do with Chinuch? Have you ever seen a healthy adult climbing on a table?”
Often, we get frustrated and hyper-focus on ‘being Mechanech’ or disciplining our children in areas that are futile. This damages our relationship with our children and exhausts us unnecessarily.
Next time you find yourself repeating the same request to your kid over and over again, or getting frustrated that something is not getting done, ask yourself “Will my child learn this skill/behavior without my intervention?” If the answer is yes, try to bite your tongue and LET IT GO! You and your child will be happier and calmer.
Here are some examples of things that tend to stress parents out that you should not be stressing about! A typically developing child WILL learn these things by the time he is an adult without any ‘Chinuch measures’.
- He/she will get dressed independently
- Put on his shoes on his own
- Know how to clean up toys
- He will not scream in the grocery store
- Eat without getting the food all over his face
- Wash his hands and bathe without flooding the house
2. Is it kind?
Here’s one that people overlook.
Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say/do kind?” The obligation of Ve’ahavta l’reacha kamocha applies to children as well as adults. In addition to that, no one responds well when they feel attacked or put-down, including children. So in order to maximize your impact, make sure you are behaving kindly to your toddler when expecting anything from them.
3. Reality check. How is MY mood today?
Here’s another tough one.
There’s a popular saying “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” This is very true, so keep your own state in mind when expecting cooperative behavior from your child. Children and toddlers feel anxious when their mother is out of sorts and you need to be more forgiving when you are not calm.
Not to mention, we are more impatient and often expect even more from our kids when we are upset. So, you may need to lower your expectations and get your own emotions in check before expecting cooperation from your children.
4. So… Is this normal?
Often, it is age-appropriate behaviors that tend to get under our skin and knowing what IS normal can help ease our worry. I will attempt to provide realistic behavior expectations according to age in order to give you an idea.
2 Years Old:
- Put clothes in the hamper
- Put garbage in the bin
- Choose an outfit (Given 2-3 options)
3 Years Old:
- Put on velcro shoes
- Take off clothing
- Put unbreakable dishes in the sink
- Put on pants and underwear with minimal help
4 Years Old:
- Get dressed with minimal help
- Get undressed independently (not including buttons and the like)
- Wash hands independently
- Ride a tricycle or balance bike
- Help clean with a spray and rag
5 Years Old:
- Get dressed independently (not including buttons and the like)
- Make a bed with some help
- Pour a drink
- Set the table
|Unrealistic Expectations||Realistic Behavior Expectation||Tip|
|If I tell my 1 year old not to empty the pots from the cabinets, he wont.||Your child will probably keep trying everything in his power to acquire the things that he wants if they remain accessible to him.||Try locking cabinets and moving items out of your child’s reach if you dont want your child using it.|
|My 2 year old can resist the temptation to splash water out of the bath.||Water is fun! Expect that your toddler can not stop splashing whenever he has access to water.||Offer direct guidelines to your child when using water and remove them from the scene when finished.|
Alternatively, you can lay out towels and allow him time to play with water when he shows an interest.
|My 3 year old will clean up his toys when asked.||You should expect your child to put a few toys in a bin and then get distracted and start playing again.||Join in! Clean up together to keep the task short and focused.|
|My 4 year old will want to share toys and snacks with friends.||Despite your logic, your child will usually prefer the toy in another child’s hands and will not want to give away what belongs to him.||Discourage forced sharing to and from your child. Remember that you DO NOT want to teach your child “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.” Sharing is about generosity and the best way to teach that is by modelling. So model sharing with others and don’t forget to notice when your child displays a generous spirit. But reserve your judgment at times when he can not.|
This is obviously not an exhaustive list. However, if you feel that your toddler is way off the mark according to the above guidelines or compared to other children of the same age, you may want to see a specialist just to ensure that his/her behavior is in fact normal.
5. Realistically, just because my child CAN do it, doesn’t mean that he should.
Heres a funfact; even though I know how to wash my dishes, there are times that I just don’t want to. Sometimes, I would like to get someone else to do it for me. Or even better, have someone in my family actually offer to do it for me!
Children are the same way. Just because your child CAN (insert expected behavior here), doesn’t mean he/she always will. If you see your child stalling, spacing out, or really having a hard time following through on something he knows how to do- offer to help! Your toddler will not forget how to complete a task if you help him out once in a while!
Now is your time to guide your child to the realistic behavior expectations according to his age.
When bringing up children, expect the unexpected. Expect that things will not follow anyones expectations. Every child is an individual who grows at his own pace.
Slow down, give your child time and space to grow and develop on their own timeline. Try to ENJOY your childs company and his unique process because at the end of it all- your positive relationship with your child is the only thing that can affect any real change in him at all.
And remember, a mother has the greatest impact on her child. You got this!
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