Toddlers are funny, adorable, intelligent little beings, but it’s not uncommon for them to turn angry and stubborn in a split second when they don’t get their way. You gave them the “wrong” cup, so they refuse to drink out of it? Yep, that’s typical toddler! It’s helpful to keep in mind that while irrational behaviors can drive you to the brink, they’re 100% normal – and even a sign of healthy development!
What Causes Irrational Behavior in Toddlers?
The simple answer? Toddlers’ brains are still developing. The areas of the brain that process logical thinking still need time to mature. It is a work already in progress though, so with time, guidance (and patience!) you should see more logical thought processes sneak in.
But there’s more to irrational behavior than a lack of logical thinking. Perhaps one of the most challenging tasks for little ones is that they have a small toolkit for big emotions. They can feel blissfully happy, immensely sad, very angry, and deeply scared… sometimes all in a short period of time. It’s a roller coaster, and sometimes toddlers act out simply because they feel emotionally overwhelmed and don’t know what else to do.
Another reason for irrational behavior is that your toddler is beginning to develop Theory of Mind, or the understanding that they have thougths and feelings that are different from others’. Before, they assumed that you were thinking and feeling exactly what they were all the time. So when your toddler starts to realize that you don’t have the same feelings they do about their favorite cup, they might act out because they feel a loss of control.
Handling Irrational Toddler Behavior
When your toddler’s reactions seem mind-boggling, these tips can help:
- Be their biggest support: When your toddler’s behavior is disproportionally intense, you may want to roll your eyes (at least on the inside). But it’s important to remember that what they feel is real to them, and showing understanding goes a long way. If your little one is in a full-blown meltdown because you passed the ice cream shop without stopping, you could say: “I know you feel disappointed because we didn’t stop for ice cream. I wish we could, too, but we need to get home for dinner.” This isn’t magic – it won’t stop meltdowns in their tracks – but it can help your child feel heard and understood.
- Keep your cool: When your toddler acts irrationally, it’s more important than ever to stay calm. When you do, it shows them how you deal with stressful situations, and that it’s not necessary to act out.
- Stay consistent: Toddlers sometimes act irrationally to push boundaries. As we mentioned, their developing understanding that they have their own thoughts and feelings can spark a desire to convince you to play by their rules. When you set limits, however, you show them that limits are important, and acting out won’t change that.