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Good Cop, Bad Cop: Dealing with Your Child’s ‘Dual Personality’

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Does your child behave like a little angel in front of your spouse, but turns into a tiny terror as soon as they’re with you? This is more common than you think; here are some reasons why this happens.

An Easy Target

An Easy Target

Experts have found that toddlers target their bad behaviour at the parent who spends the most time with them. If you’re on the receiving end of tantrums, it’s generally because your child feels most comfortable expressing strong feelings with you. While frustrating, acting this way doesn’t mean your little one doesn’t want to be with you; it’s actually a sign that your little one feels safe with you!

Testing the Waters

Testing the Waters

Another reason why your little one is doing this is their rapidly developing brain. Their memory has begun improving, and they will begin remembering what they want more often – and throw tantrums to demand for them. They’ll do this to see how far they can push things, and to test the boundaries of their relationships with you; which is why you’ll be the one experiencing most of the arguments and resistance.

Growing Attachments

Growing Attachments

If you’re constantly asked to move along - “I don’t want you, where’s Daddy?” “Go away, where’s Mommy?” – this is actually a sign that your little one feels closer to you. It’s not personal; your child is experimenting with separation and attachment, and knows that you will always be there no matter how many tantrums are thrown. It’s a clear sign that your child’s imagination and memory are growing, and they are beginning to make their own choices and making their desires known – yes, this is a good thing!

So now that you know and understand why this ‘dual personality’ manifests, how do you deal with the fallout? Here are some tips that may help, but remember, every child (and parent!) is different, and you’ll need a bit of experimentation to figure out what works.

Sound an advanced warning

Sound an advanced warning:

Transitions are when your child will react the most, so give them fair warning - with all the steps so your little one knows what will happen next; “One more episode and it’s time to fill up the tub for your bath”, “Three more games, then you’ll have your story before bed.” DON’T give in to the ‘just one more’ request – not only won’t this make you look like the ‘good guy’, it will tell your child you don’t really mean what you say.

Give a little control

Give a little control:

One interesting way of avoiding a tantrum is to give your little one choices as a way of showing they have some control over a situation. For instance, if you’re going out and you know they’ll act up, ask them if they want the pink or blue ribbon, which shoes they want to wear, and so on and so forth. This will be even more effective if you do the same - “I think I’ll take this red one, it goes well with these shoes” – so it doesn’t feel like only they are being asked to do something.

Keep it friendly

Keep it friendly:

No matter what you do, sometimes your toddler will insist on giving you a hard time. Getting angry won’t make the situation better, and will only show them what they should do to press your buttons. As far as possible, keep calm and speak as you would normally; acknowledging your child for wanting to make a decision is also great. Better yet, involve yourself in whatever process they are resisting; showing your little one you need their help can actually motivate them to give it!

Take a time out

Take a time out:

On some more difficult days, it’s OK to just take a time out and get the support of your spouse to deal with the situation. If your child is showing signs of throwing a tantrum about food, let your partner handle mealtime while you curl up with a book. This will help you regain your composure and well-being, and ready you for another day of parenting.