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4 weird toddler behaviours that are actually normal

November 3, 2021 • read

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4 weird toddler behaviours that are actually normal

Toddlers are kooky. They make up their own languages and love to dress outrageously. Some of the weird things toddlers do, however, are more likely to provoke worry than a laugh. As a parent, it’s hard to know what’s normal toddler behaviour and when it’s time to worry. Here are some weird — but common — toddler behaviours, and how to know when it’s time to reach out to a healthcare provider.

Is your child’s head banging normal?

Head banging is often associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but it’s also relatively common in neurotypical children, that is children not experiencing intellectual or developmental differences, and can become a weird self-soothing habit for some toddlers. In these cases, you might notice them banging their head rhythmically at night or naptime. Beating your head on a pillow probably isn’t on your list of top 10 calming bedtime routines, but rhythmic bumping is a helpful self-soothing behaviour for some toddlers.

If your child head bangs when they’re having a temper tantrum, it’s likely about their inability to articulate or get what they want. If you’ve given in to their wishes because of head banging before, you’ve inadvertently reinforced the behaviour. As hard as it can be, acting nonchalant about the head banging — while also ensuring that your child is safe — is the best thing you can do. If your toddler is trying to hit their head on a hard surface, try moving them to a softer one like a bed, or placing a pillow under their head. 

Watching your child hit their head is understandably distressing, but for many toddlers, physical behaviours are their only means of self-expression. You can try to teach your child to hit a pillow instead, but many children lack the impulse control to do it until they’re older. Some evidence even suggests that head banging may be a sign that your child is more advanced. If that provides small comfort, know that most children grow out of the behaviour by age three. If you’re concerned that your child is causing themselves physical injury, if the frequency or intensity of head banging increases, however, or if your child exhibits other behaviours like hand flapping, rocking, or abnormal social interactions, don’t hesitate to speak to their healthcare provider.

Is it normal for toddlers not to answer when you talk?

While this might be one of the more frustrating things your toddler does, it probably isn’t cause for concern. If your child’s hearing has been tested and their language is otherwise normal, not answering is most likely normal developmental behaviour. Your toddler might not answer for a variety of reasons. They might need more time to process what you’re saying, or they could be overwhelmed by what you’re asking. Certain open-ended questions like, “what did you do at school today?” are actually quite difficult to answer. It can be easier to ignore the question altogether. It’s even possible that your toddler’s too busy with what they’re doing to answer, similar to having a hard time carrying on a conversation while texting.

Alternatively, not answering may be your toddler’s way of exerting power. Children don’t have a lot of control over their schedule or environment. Not listening might be their way of trying to take some of that power back. Try giving your toddler small choices like choosing their plate colour, or where to read their bedtime book. You might find that satisfying their need for power in small ways helps resolve some of the larger issues. If you can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong though, or if your toddler doesn’t follow simple directions by age two, you should speak to their healthcare provider. 

Night terrors

Unlike nightmares, night terrors aren’t that common – doctors think they happen to between 1% and 6.5% of children. Night terrors happen in the deepest parts of your child’s sleep, and during one your child might flail, cry, sit up, yell and/or talk all without waking up. These episodes can be excruciating as you’ll likely be unable to soothe them while they’re happening. Despite this, it’s important not to try to wake them up during one. As hard as it may be, the best thing to do is to try and comfort them until it ends. While night terrors are disturbing for parents, however, your child likely won’t remember the episode the following day.

It’s a good idea to mention this strange toddler behaviour to your child’s healthcare provider, but in most cases, treatment for night terrors is limited to behavioural interventions. Make sure your child is sleeping an age-appropriate amount as sleep deprivation can trigger them. You’ll also want to make sure you’re practicing proper sleep hygiene with their environment, routine and timing. If your child seems to have an episode at a regular time each night, you can try to wake them up 30 minutes beforehand to reset their sleep patterns. And keep in mind that the episodes are likely time-limited. Although they can occur up to 3-5 times per week, they only last a few minutes and most children grow out of them by adolescence. 

For any other sleep difficulties you’re concerned about, it may be helpful to see a sleep therapist. Sleep therapists are trained to recognize mental and behavioural issues that contribute to sleep disorders and problems. They can help prevent, treat, and manage issues including falling asleep and anxiety around going to sleep.

Is your child’s limping normal?

If you grew up hearing “walk it off,” the idea of a limping child might seem more or less ok. But while it isn’t always serious, limping is never normal behaviour for a toddler. Like adults, children’s limps are often because of a slight injury, like a sprain or bruise. A number of other things can cause your child to limp, however, and some of them are serious. Juvenile arthritis, muscular dystrophy, and even cancer can all trigger limping.

Luckily, the worst-case scenarios aren’t all that common. Your child’s limp is much more likely the result of something less scary. Viral infections, for example, can infect a joint and cause a limp — just like they can cause an upset tummy or a runny nose. Toddler limps without obvious causes are often due to this — it’s called transient synovitis. Whatever you suspect the cause of your child’s limp to be, however, they need to see a healthcare provider. If they also have a fever, rash, severe pain, or loss of appetite, they should be taken to the emergency department. 

You should expect a certain amount of odd behaviour from your toddler. Anytime your parent spidey sense goes off though, it’s a red flag that your toddler’s behaviour might not be normal. Kids sometimes seem more resilient than adults – those hard heads! — but some seemingly low-grade issues can turn serious in a flash. If you’re concerned that something’s off, don’t wait. With Maple, you can talk to a doctor in two minutes or less. Connect instantly with Canadian doctors from your phone, tablet, or computer and get to the bottom of your toddler’s strange habits.

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