What to Do When Your Toddler Gets Bitchy
If you’ve got a 3-year-old, you’re probably wondering where your adorable little muffin went, and and where this insane devil-child, who can throw shade like a cactus in the desert at sundown, came from. You’re probably wondering if bitchiness is normal toddler behavior. And you’re probably wondering what to do when your child says he hates you (other than punch/cry into your pillow).
Well, the short – and totally counterintuitive – answer is that you should ignore your 3-year-old’s rude behavior. And here’s why.
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A 3-year-old’s rude behavior is an experiment in self-expression.
If you have a “threenager” of your own, you probably already recognize that this is a time of boundary testing. Your kid is at a stage when she can communicate verbally and experience strong emotions — but doesn’t yet know the best way to regulate and express those feelings. So, she’s doing little tests to figure it out. She may have tried throwing tantrums. Maybe she let loose with a swear word. She’s doing all of this to judge what is appropriate and what is not; this is normal toddler behavior. And guess what tells her what is appropriate? Your reaction!
But probably not in the way you think.
If you freak out, you reward your child’s rudeness.
To toddlers, your attention is their whole world. They need it like they need a drug, and while your positive attention feels the best (which is why it works so well in preventing bad behavior), negative attention is a close second. So, they go in search of either. And one of the best ways to get your attention is to look for words and statements that elicit strong reactions from you.
When your 3-year-old throws out an “I hate you,” or “Go away,” and you stop what you’re doing, wince, turn to her, and yell, or reprimand, or express displeasure, or show you’re hurt, you have unwittingly conveyed her behavior is an appropriate way to get someone’s attention. And the next time she feels insecure or needy, she won’t hesitate in using that method again to put herself back in the limelight, because she knows it works.
Dealing with a disrespectful toddler, then, boils down to denying them your attention in response to their rude behavior. The best response to their mean or outrageous comments is to ignore them completely. If you pay attention to these statements — even negative attention like frowning or reprimanding — you are imbuing them with an importance that will only make them more frequent, in a bid to get you to repeat that attention. The more you either ignore these statements, or brush them off, however, the less they will be repeated.
It’s not always easy; it can be heart stopping when a toddler says, for example, “I want to die,” or “I hope you die.” But it gets easier if you remember this one important fact: Your 3-year-old literally doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She is repeating words she’s heard before, with no understanding of the profundity of her comments, in order to test their effect and her understanding of complex and confusing topics (such as hate or death).
So, what do you do when your child says he hates you?
You completely ignore it. Don’t react, make eye contact, or respond. If making this statement gets nothing out of you, it will quickly become boring, and it will eventually stop.
Of course, some outrageous statements may seem to necessitate a response. But when your toddler says, “I don’t want to go to the park with my brother because I hate him and want him to die,” (good times!) try to make your reaction as easy-breezy and unflustered as possible. Don’t launch into a speech about how that’s not true, it’s a horrible thing to say, blah blah blah. All your toddler will hear is: “This is how you get mom/dad to stop what they’re doing and pay attention!” Instead, try a casual, “OK, stay home today. Maybe you’ll change your mind and decide to come tomorrow.”
In other words, put on your best poker face in response to your disrespectful toddler; otherwise, the little maniac will take you for everything you’ve got.
Oh, and don’t forget to lavish praise when your toddler behaves well. It’s so much more effective in getting him to avoid the mean or outrageous comments in the first place. But if you’restill struggling to communicate what is appropriate behavior, try a time out — just be sure to introduce it in the right way.
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