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It can be hard to tell the difference between age-appropriate behaviors and those that can signal a deeper problem. Age-appropriate behaviors, even if they are challenging, help children learn and progress in their social development. It is normal and necessary for children to test limits in order to learn about relationships and how the world works. Understanding how children grow and develop will help you effectively respond to and prevent challenging behaviors. Let’s explore two common examples: biting and defiance.
Biting is an age-appropriate behavior that often begins during the infant-toddler years and may last until early preschool. There are many reasons for biting, however, most children do not intend to intentionally hurt another person.
Reasons children bite may include:
How can I discourage biting?
You want to discourage this behavior by firmly saying, “No, we do not bite!” Explain that biting hurts the other person. Acknowledge their feelings and encourage the use of appropriate words and actions. For example:
Defiance is another age-appropriate behavior that can cause deep frustration for many parents. Defiance can begin in the toddler years and can manifest throughout childhood.
Reasons children express defiance may include:
In general, children are defiant because they are experimenting with independence and their sense of self. This experimentation is vital to a child’s social-emotional development.
How can I discourage defiance?
Give your child the freedom and space to assert their independence. However, know that this is not always possible and may result in a meltdown or tantrum. Explain to your child that you are very proud of their motivation and how they want to do things for themselves, but that sometimes it is important for the parent to complete a task.
Remember that most challenging behaviors are normal.It is important to understand these behaviors are completely normal. They are a sign your child is progressing through childhood as expected. Young children are trying to understand the world around them. By safely allowing children the freedom to experiment with these behaviors and expectations, we are giving them the opportunity to gain self-confidence in their own abilities.