You may occasionally find yourself wondering why your toddler repeats a certain unwanted behavior. Why does he always bite his sister? Why does she throw her food on the floor during mealtime? Why does she push other kids on the playground?

The key is to understand what your child is trying to communicate through those behaviors. To do that, you need to learn to observe and analyze her behavior regularly. What is your little one trying to tell you?

Patterns in behavior

Behaviors that occur repeatedly are happening for a reason. If you take note of the behavior and what was going on before, during, and after it, you might find the pattern and realize why it’s happening and how to stop it. It’s a good idea to write down those notes, so that you can go back to them when the behavior happens again.

How to deal with challenging behaviors in the moment

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Keep in mind that, since children are just beginning to develop self-control and self-regulation skills, challenging behavior is usual and even expected the first years. Toddlers are impulsive and act on their feelings. When they’re overwhelmed, they act out and throw a tantrum or behave in an unwanted way. That’s how you’ll know they need your help. Try to stay calm and be steady, that way you’ll be your kid’a anchor back to calmness. Model self-regulation yourself.

Try to become aware of your child’s feelings. Put yourself in your little one’s shoes and try to imagine what it must be like for her. Once she calms down a bit, help your little one manage the situation by naming the feeling and redirecting her attention to something else that she likes.

It’s important to be lovingly firm. If you need to set a limit, don’t budge, empathize with your child, be unconditionally accepting, and hear her out, but don’t give in if the limit is important for her well-being. Being consistent helps your child feel safe and learn about limits.