Most little ones have insatiable curiosity and an inbuilt drive to seek out stimulus. It is this ‘seeking system’ that will serve them well in later life, leading them to be independent, self-starting individuals able to problem solve, fend off boredom and deal with new experiences in positive ways. But this same system in their early years can be a continual challenge for us as parents. It requires us to be both endlessly patient and flexible, and forever vigilant to prevent creative play leading to calamity.
Young children get hijacked (as we all do from time to time) by their underdeveloped brain. When their little bodies become over-run with powerful hormones, the ability to control primal impulses (those to defend territory for example) becomes virtually impossible. Youngsters who have not yet learnt the capacity for conscious, rational and logical thought, need help to learn these skills and patience from us to allow their naive brains to grow and develop.
In addition to infant neurology young children will ‘act up’, cause chaos or, more accurately, what we may perceive as chaos, for any number of reasons:
- Hunger/High blood sugar
There are countless ways we can help make their lives (and ours) less like a battlefield and more like a playground for joyful exploration.
Dealing with boredom & frustration:
Give them (lots of) positive attention. This is the easiest and quickest way to ensure desired behaviour but often the thing that so many of us resist. All of us need attention from significant others for optimum wellbeing. Our preference for whether we seek it in positive ways (through affection, loving contact or attentive listening) or more harmful ways, will be set in our early childhood and determined by the kind of attention we are given by our parental figures. The amount of positive energy, eye contact and attention a young child needs to really thrive is usually much, much higher than we expect or our society considers to be “acceptable”. When it is not given freely children will, as well we know, naturally seek out any form of attention they can get.
It’s not always easy to give as much attention as is required and sometimes it can seem like the more we give, the more they need. It requires us to slow down, to re-think the multi-tasking approach to life that has become so common and focus on that which is really important – our children. It requires us to be present in the moment, to turn the volume down on our inner monologue and tune in to their world for a change. Perhaps to relax some of our standards and go with the flow a little more.
Avoid keeping them cooped up indoors for long stretches. A child’s sense of time may be different from our own, an hour can seem like a very long stretch for an infant. If you need to be inside, aim for spaces with plenty of natural daylight and good ventilation, young ones are particularly sensitive to these things. Getting them out in the fresh air (come rain or shine) regularly from early on, will also set up helpful life-long habits.
Make a minature world for them. It must be frustrating and potentially frightening to be smaller than everyone all the time, to have things constantly out of reach and too big for little hands, to have to ask, or shout, for what we want all the time.
Creating a space that is child-size, where your little one can access their own things when they want to without having to ask, can greatly reduce frustration and increase feelings of confidence and self esteem. Perhaps allocate a cupboard/box/shelf in each room that is just for them. Install a small table and chairs as their own workspace. Consider investing in minature versions of things that you use regularly around the home so that they can join in the housework or gardening. Get down to their level often so that they know what it feels like to be on a level playing field with the significant others in their world.
Keep them busy. It sounds obvious but If you don’t provide an outlet for their energy and curiosity they will find one. Most young children have an abundance of energy and limited attention spans and it does take work to provide the right balance of stimulation. It’s important to find age appropriate activities that sufficiently occupy minds and bodies without creating too much frustration. If your toddler quickly gets bored with similarity, try rotating toys every week or so, switch rooms, and get them regularly out of the house.
Being a toddler is all about movement. If your child constantly wants to run, jump and climb – help them to do that, find an appropriate context so you don’t have to be constantly telling them ‘no’. Install a trampoline, take them to the playground or out into the woods.
Introduce quiet time. For young growing brains, everything is stimulation. What we might tune out as part of everyday life, to a little person is a sensory riot. Enough stimulation is vital but this can quickly tip over into hyper-stimulation which is physically painful for young children. Build in frequent quiet-time to combat overstimulation and allow them to rest. TV doesn’t count as quiet time as it produces a state of arousal in the brain – despite outside appearances. In addition to quiet time, encourage and facilitate naps for younger children.
Reduce ambient noise levels. Having the radio or TV on constantly in the background may be ‘company’ for you but is bombarding your child’s senses. Busy coffee shops with lots of people are ripe for hyper-stimulation of young babies.