Parents and caregivers of toddlers may find themselves surprised and confused by the repetitive behavior that toddlers sometimes exhibit. In many cases, this is nothing to worry about. However, knowing what's normal and what's not can go a long way towards easing the mind or getting early intervention in the event there actually is a problem.
Common Types of Repetitive Behavior
Repetitive behavior can manifest in many ways in toddlers, reports the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development. Some toddlers are thumb suckers or nail biters. Others rock, pull their hair, masturbate or pound their heads. This behavior varies in severity and commonality.
Causes of Repetition in Toddlers
Children engage in repetitive behavior for many reasons. Often, repetition is a reaction to stress in children. Toddlers may feel soothed by engaging in these behaviors. They can also start repeating behavior during times of fast emotional or physical development and during times of change and upheaval in their lives. An example of a time of upheaval is during a move to a new home or with the arrival of a new sibling. In extreme cases, repetitive behavior can be an early warning sign of certain conditions such as autism. Repetition can also sometimes be an indication of abuse in toddlers.
How to Handle Repetition
For toddlers who are repeating harmless behaviors a bit, often the best course of action is to ignore the behavior as much as you can and not make a big deal out of it or make the child feel bad. Just offer extra love and reassurance and reduce stress in the child's life if possible.Some repetitive behaviors are improved if the child gets out excess energy in other ways; so if possible, increase the toddler's physical activity. Run around at the park, play ball or run short races with your child-- anything to exert energy.If the toddler is inclined to repetitive behavior such as head pounding, do everything possible to ensure safety. Make sure she is supervised and kept away from sharp edges.
In some cases, repetition in toddlers can be a sign of other problems. If your toddler is exhibiting repetitious behavior like biting herself, cutting herself, repeatedly picking at scabs until they bleed, or hitting herself in a way to cause self-injury, consult with her pediatrician immediately as this may be a sign of more serious problems. Other warning signs that there may be a problem with your toddler's repetitive behavior is if it's accompanied by being non-communicative, a dislike of physical affection, or wanting to be left alone a good deal.