Toddlers between the ages of two to four will begin to explore with their bodies. It is at this age they realize certain things feel good or comfortable, and it is completely normal behavior. Toddlers will squeeze their legs together for many different reasons.
Most of the time, it is out of frustration or pleasure that they do so. A toddler will get frustrated for any reason and stiffen their body while squeezing their legs together. While other times they also may be doing so because of a possible hereditary nervous habit or stress reliever.
And less often, it could be a sign that there is a possibility of sexual abuse. Seeking your pediatrician’s advice, in that case, would be necessary. Here are some tips to help to get you through the toddler body exploration years.
Ignoring the behavior
Often, toddlers will feed off of your reaction. Meaning if they see their behavior is causing you to make a big deal about it, they will either continue the behavior or possibly even feel shame because of their actions.
By ignoring the toddler, they will see that you simply are not acknowledging the behavior and, therefore, will stop because they are not getting the reaction they had hoped for. That is why planned ignoring is a great option. It takes the attention away from the behavior and shows the toddler; there is no reason to continue. This also allows the child to realize there is no shame for their behavior, and over time they will cease the action.
Simply walk away or turn your attention elsewhere when the leg squeezing begins. Planned ignoring works well throughout the years into childhood and can be used for many different situations and scenarios.
Explaining and answering questions
The toddler years are vital in brain growth and development. Toddlers have more than one hundred trillion cell connections by age two. That is the most they will ever have in their lives. So, It is no wonder that toddlers love the simple question of why.
Learning at this stage is crucial, and everything is new and exciting to them. If you ask your toddler to stop squeezing their legs together and they ask why you can simply answer the question.
Explain in terms that they can comprehend and stay at eye level with them while doing so. Taking this approach will show them that it isn’t a big deal but probably just not a good idea. If the toddler is doing it out of anger or frustration, help them come up with new ways to express their feelings.
During stress, the learning portion of their brain is disabled. So, finding new ways for them to express their emotions positively is key.
Toddlers’ brains are constantly developing, and they are quick to pick up on cause and effect. Positive reinforcement is a good tool to use for this age group. It is showing them that by stopping this behavior, they are going to be rewarded. This can be the quickest solution.
Toddlers are one of the easiest age groups to reward. It doesn’t take much to appease them. With a short attention span, it may take a while for them to remember not to squeeze their legs after just a short time of being told to stop. However, once they get the hang of it, they will be waiting for their next reward. A simple sticker chart or small treasure box full of fruit snacks or cheap toys can do the trick.
Keep in mind toddlers often cannot go an entire day waiting for a reward; breaking the day into smaller sections will help. Having different rewards throughout the day will also help to keep them engaged in a positive behavior as well.
Stay on a Schedule
All children, especially toddlers, thrive on consistency and schedules. Often, when a child is off of their schedule or out of their environment, it will lead to chaos in the form of tantrums or other behaviors such as leg squeezing.
A daily chart broken down by the hour can help keep you on schedule. Making sure you are home in time for naps, dinner, bath time, etc. will help to keep the behavior away. If you find your toddler squeezing their legs together, take a look at their day.
Has the child possibly missed a nap or been somewhere new? If so, there is a chance the behavior is due to their schedule being off. When you are unable to keep the schedule due to planned events, try to adjust it accordingly.
When on vacation, try to keep a schedule as close to the one at home as possible. If your schedule cannot be kept, try to have a backup plan such as the reward system or another distraction to keep the behavior at bay.
The toddler years can be stressful on a good day. Toddlers are constantly on the go and seem to have no downtime. They demand a lot of attention and crave knowledge. Staying positive will is crucial to get you through the hard times.
If it seems as though you are losing the battle, take a deep breath and remember it’s all trial and error. What works for one child may not work for the other. Take breaks when necessary. If you feel as though you are getting overwhelmed or frustrated, take a step away and allow another adult to take over if possible.
Remember that toddlers, just like adults, have habits, good and bad. Breaking a habit takes time, and it will not go away overnight.
Squeezing their legs together may be frustrating to watch but keep in mind that it is an outlet for their emotions. Luckily not too many habits that are formed in the toddler years will stick with them throughout life, so this too should be short-lived. If the behavior over time does not seem to get better, you can always seek the advice of a healthcare professional.