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Our Blog: April 23rd, 2021

Understanding Age-Appropriate Behaviors

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

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:

  • to feel powerful
  • to get attention
  • to explore their environment
  • self-defense, fear, or anxiety
  • to relieve teething pain
  • a lack of self-control
  • frustration
  • excitement
  • an inability to communicate strong emotions or needs

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:

  • If your child bites a sibling because they are playing with his/her toy, say, “I see you are angry because they have your toy. Instead of biting, use your words and say, ‘I’m upset, because that is my toy.’”
  • If your child feels powerless, give them appropriate opportunities to make better choices, such as, “Would you like to play with your blocks in your room or would you like to take them outside?”

Defiance

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:

  • to feel powerful and independent
  • to get attention
  • fear or anxiety
  • an inability to communicate strong emotions or needs

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.

  • For example, your child can get dressed and put a coat on, but you will remain in charge of buckling them into their car seat. Explain that this is for their own safety.   
  • Explain why defiant or disrespectful behavior is unacceptable—and be consistent. Do not engage in arguments with your child. By engaging, you give the power to your child, and he/she will continue to use this tactic to solve their problems.
  • Your child will test you to see if you’ll give in. Explain that you have made your decision and it will not change, even with continued arguing.

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.
About the Author

Dr. Susan Canizares

Dr. Susan Canizares is the Chief Academic Officer at Learning Care Group, responsible for leading all aspects of the educational mission. Dr. Canizares earned her Ph.D. in language and literacy development from Fordham University and a master’s degree in special education, specializing in Early Childhood, from New York University. She has authored more than 100 nonfiction photographic titles for beginning readers. Some of her published credits include Side by Side Series: Little Raccoon Catches a Cold and A Writer’s Garden.

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