Misunderstandings and Misbehavior
If toddlers avoid crashing into the chair but lose their balance and hit the floor, it may take a few seconds for their brains to interpret the pain signals, which are arriving from a different part of the body than they had expected. It will take another few seconds for their brain to communicate with their throat and eyes so they can let out a large wail and begin to cry. Don't conclude your child isn't hurt because he didn't start crying at once! If the child isn't injured, provide comfort by helping him up and telling him he's okay. Let him think through what just happened rather than admonishing him to “be more careful.” To avoid collisions, clear an area of your home where your toddler can run safely or provide an opportunity each day to play outside.
Perhaps an example will help you understand just how a toddler's mind and body interacts. If a toddler is reaching for a freshly iced cake sitting on the table and hears his mother yelling, “Don't touch!” his natural response is to turn his face toward the sound. Then, when he sees that Mother is addressing him, he must figure out what she's trying to tell him. Once he comprehends that her words refer to his hand reaching for the cake and realizes that she wants him to stop, he must figure out which muscles to contract and which to relax to get that little hand to drop to his lap. By then, the hand may well be covered with icing.
If a child is approaching serious danger, such as heading toward a drop-off or the top of the stairs, grab her! She won't be able to comprehend a verbal warning in enough time to avoid the danger.
It's understandable that a parent who doesn't have a grasp of toddler development gets very upset in this situation. After all, she said, “Don't touch,” and her toddler looked straight at her and stuck his hand in the cake. It's tough enough to have the problem of a ruined cake and an icing-covered toddler. The anger that comes from believing the toddler has purposely misbehaved can cause the mother to punish her child, which leaves the toddler feeling upset without even understanding what he did wrong. So instead of attributing evil intentions to toddler misbehavior, be considerate of their inability to process information quickly, and be patient!