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How to distinguish typical preschool struggles from more concerning actions

Children go through significant developmental changes between the ages of two and five, making it important for teachers to track key milestones and plan developmentally-appropriate activities for their students. During this time of rapid change, it is common for children to struggle. Many have not yet mastered the coping skills to deal with different emotions, so they express their frustration through tantrums or in disagreements with other children. 

In these situations, early childhood educators can use strategies to reduce conflict. As we emphasized in a recent article, it is important to stay calm, consider changing the setting or activity, teach alternate methods of responding to frustration, provide your students choice and notice and encourage positive behavior. Remember that changing challenging behavior is a gradual process that requires patience, as well as input and help from the child's parents when necessary.   

Why do children display challenging behavior during these years?

Keep in mind that toddlers are often testing the limits of their own competence, leading them to say "no" frequently. Rather than viewing this only as an act of defiance, it's important to understand it as a normal part of child development.

Beginning in the toddler years, children are trying to exert a degree of independence. Much of what they do is controlled by the adults in their life. Moreover, while there is a lot they might want to do, most simply haven't reached the developmental stage to take part in certain activities. In addition, they are still in the early phases of their language and negotiation development. This set of factors can result in situations of frustration and acting out. 

Is aggressive behavior between children, such as hitting, biting or fighting over toys normal?

Early childhood educators certainly want to limit the frequency of these incidents. But this behavior in and of itself is not something to be immediately concerned about. Since children haven't yet developed the necessary language and coping skills, they're more likely to resort to problematic behaviors. However, if you find that the behavior is escalating or ongoing, you should consider possible solutions, including scheduling a meeting with the child's parents. 

For more information on this subject, refer to ProSolutions Training's course "Activities That Promote Social and Emotional Development in Toddlers." ProSolutions Training also offers a CDA course and a CDA Renewal course, both developed to meet the needs of early care and education professionals seeking the CDA Credential. The credential is administered and awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition. In 2013, ProSolutions Training became the first online training company to become a formal partner of the Council.