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The Secret Language of Toddlers: What Their Behaviors Mean

Two-year-olds act out their emotions in some pretty bizarre ways. Let us help you crack the toddler behavior code.
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Your toddler is becoming a verbal, opinionated little person. In fact, he's downright bossy -- he tells you where to sit, which pants he wants to wear, and exactly what he'd like for lunch. But when it comes to communicating more complex thoughts and emotions in words, he still has a way to go, which means you're often forced to interpret some weird behavior. We asked experts to help us decipher the hidden meaning of common toddler tantrums and body language.


She won't look you in the eye.


Translation: "I'm embarrassed."


When babies avert their gaze, they're telling you that they're overwhelmed and need a break from being the star of the show. But some time around her second birthday, your toddler develops the capacity for self-conscious emotions like shame. For instance, she knows that you're angry because she kidnapped her baby brother's teddy bear again. "When a young child refuses to look at you, it means she realizes that her actions may have disappointed you," says psychologist Kristin Lagattuta, PhD, assistant professor at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.


Your response: Acknowledge what your child did wrong in simple, short sentences -- "We don't rip books," "We never push" -- and offer up a way to make it right, like taping a torn page or giving a crying pal a hug. "You want her to know that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, but it's important to take steps to fix the damage," says Dr. Lagattuta.