- It’s not unusual for toddlers to see big emotional swings.
- However, sometimes typical toddler behavior is an indicator that they’re dealing with something more.
- Some typical behaviors, such as for example picky eating when it’s more extreme, could become dangerous if not treated appropriately.
Many parents are aware some of the biggest challenges that include raising kids happen in the first few years.
When that second birthday rolls around, it marks a period of seeking independence by whatever means necessary.
Toddlers are just getting minds of the own. They’re testing their boundaries, experimenting using their independence, and often experiencing big emotions they don’t quite understand how to process yet.
The often results in parents dealing with little tornados who are susceptible to tantrums and picky eating, and who have trouble sleeping.
In other words, toddlerhood may be rough on both parents and kids. But all of this is perfectly healthy behavior to an extent.
However, for parents who are exhausted and overwhelmed, the question of whether their child’s more extreme behavior is crossing the line into concerning territory is often very real.
Healthline recently spoke with child health experts to simply help parents identify when five typical types of toddler behavior might actually be considered a sign they’re dealing with something more serious.
“Tantrums are normal reactions for young children, as they can get so overwhelmed with big emotions that they don’t know what to do with them,” explains Jennifer Daffon, a licensed mental health counselor who owns Emotesy Child and Family Counseling Services in Everett, Washington.
She said that because young kids haven’t learned how exactly to regulate their emotions yet, and often don’t have the vocabulary expressing those emotions, they resort to acting out instead.
But while tantrums may be completely developmentally appropriate, she added that causes for concern develop around safety issues.
For example, if your child is hitting their head from the wall when angry or throwing objects at others during fits, that might be reason to talk to your pediatrician.
“Another red flag is if you’re noticing your child is having multiple tantrums through the day which are lasting several minutes,” Daffon explained. “This might be an indicator for disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.”
Typical apparent symptoms of that, she said, are children who:
- experience multiple tantrums
- are giving an answer to a trigger in a way that’s outside what’s developmentally normal
- have difficulty time for baseline behaviors
However, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) is just a relatively new disorder, and is normally only diagnosed in children more than 6 and younger than 18 who have these symptoms consistently over greater than a year.
“A child therapist will help the kid learn coping skills and appropriate ways to manage big feelings. Parents also can assist the therapist to achieve additional skills to simply help the youngster be more successful,” Daffon said.
2. Picky eating
Melanie Potock is just a pediatric speech language pathologist and feeding specialist who has years of experience working together with kids whose picky eating crosses the line into concerning.
She said, “From 6 to 18 months old, most children are open to trying new foods, provided that parents continue to give you a wide selection of flavors and textures. But as a child approaches age 2, it’s natural in order for them to become a little more picky.”
Potock explained you can find really two reasons: Growth is reducing and kids are busy.
“They’re now running about, playing and engaging on the planet, and sitting at the table to eat isn’t a high priority for them. Plus, because growth has begun to taper as set alongside the first 18 months of life, kids just don’t eat just as much,” she said.
But simply because they don’t need just as much food doesn’t mean they don’t still need good nutrition. And for some kids, that picky eating can devolve into something a lot more concerning.
In the book Raising a Healthy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating, which Potock co-authored with pediatrician Dr. Nimali Fernando, she outlined the next issues that may indicate a reason to create your child’s picky eating to the eye of the pediatrician:
- Feeding your child is frustrating and causing stress in the family.
- Your toddler’s growth is stalling, not merely slowing down.
- Your son or daughter seems especially picky and is limiting his foods to certain categories (crackers and breads, etc.) or only certain textures or containers, like pouches of applesauce.
- Your son or daughter eats great at day care, however, not at home.
- Your son or daughter is gagging frequently or has already established an episode of choking (even one choking incident is very important to discuss along with your pediatrician).
Because picky eating can be quite a normal developmental stage, Potock said some pediatricians might be quick to write concerns off initially. But she explained that, “Research shows that at the least 1 out of 4 kids won’t grow out of picky eating.”
In reality, there’s a newly recognized eating disorder called avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) which frequently starts in toddlerhood and can become dangerous if not treated appropriately.
“Don’t wait to request a conventional feeding evaluation with pediatric feeding expert. Typically, that expert has advanced training in pediatric feeding disorders and is most often a speech language pathologist or occupational therapist,” Potock advised.
3. Hitting and biting
No one wants their kid to be hurting others, but there are some behaviors that we tend to forgive only a little easier in toddlerhood, and that features hitting and biting.
“Some aggressive behavior such as for example hitting when angry is developmentally right for toddlers,” explained Daffon. “They haven’t quite learned social norms or how to manage their feelings just yet. Oahu is the job of the caregiver to model what behavior is expected once the toddler is angry or upset.”
Doing that, she explained, involves naming the feelings you are seeing and verbalizing those emotions to your child, so that they’ll begin to have a vocabulary for their particular feelings.
This really is also when you should be trying to explain to your child acceptable and unacceptable ways to show they are upset. (Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean that it’s okay.)