(Family Features) If your little one has ever caught you off guard by dropping a verbal bomb or your young child struggles with separation anxiety, you’re certainly not alone. Inappropriate language, separation anxiety, and attention-seeking behaviors are all normal and expected parts of early childhood. It is important to understand their root causes and how to curb these undesired behaviors.
To help parents tackle these issues, Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine provides this guidance and reassurance.
Foul or inappropriate language by children is typically learned by hearing adults in their lives use these words or by imitating language overheard on handheld devices or in television shows or movies. The best way to prevent this is to buffer exposure to such language. If a child uses a curse word, pause before giving the cursing immediate attention so the word isn’t unintentionally reinforced. Next, ask the child how they are feeling or help the child label their emotion. For example, “I think you are angry and hurt because you hit your toe on the step.” Suggest alternate language and label the word that was used as not nice or bad. Then ensure this is modeled by adults. If a child hears adults use the language again, they are likely to repeat it, too.
As a normative developmental behavior that reflects a strong attachment to parents and caregivers, separation anxiety frequently manifests as clinging to a parent or caregiver when being dropped off at school or having an emotional reaction to being left with a different caregiver. While infants, toddlers, and preschoolers have different developmental reasons for showing this behavior, consistently handling it across all early childhood ages is important. Ensure drop-offs take place when the child is not overly hungry or tired. A well-rested and well-fed child is often less stressed and may transition easier. Make drop-offs short and consistent. Establish a simple routine such as giving the child a hug, saying when you expect to return, and then leaving. The more consistent the drop-off routine, the quicker the separation anxiety will resolve.
Children desire attention and some will seek it through any means available, including hurting others, throwing tantrums, overly dramatizing injuries, whining, or being defiant to parents or caregivers. It is important to understand the child is asking for attention for a reason. Evaluate if the child has an unmet need, such as hunger, tiredness, or self-care. When possible, ignore the attention-seeking behavior and then seek opportunities to provide overt, strong attention for positive behaviors. For example, after ignoring the child throwing blocks across the room, strongly emphasize positive behavior when they put away the toys neatly. Label emotions and ask how they are feeling. Discuss ways to show these feelings in more appropriate ways, and be consistent with consequences. For example, “We cannot break our crayons, even when we are angry. You broke your crayons so you cannot play with your art materials.”