How do I tame that beast toddler?
The term ‘toddler’ is synonymous with incredible leaps in social, emotional and cognitive development. We see a significant burst in language, physicality, creative play, social interactions, and brain development during this important stage. Aside from this, when we think of toddlers, the most frequent image that comes to mind is the ‘terrible twos’. While they’re learning about the world and where they fit into it, they’re also learning the art of self regulation; that is, the ability to control their urges (and realise that they have some control over this now). This battle often looks like behavioural problems or uncontrollable emotions, aka ‘tantrums’. I refer to them as ‘tantrums’ (in inverted commas) because I don’t believe that all toddlers are angry and have tempers! Instead, I believe them to be little people with emotions that they don’t yet understand, and a vocabulary that they haven’t yet mastered. Thus, a ‘temper tantrum’ is simply a form of communication. Our role as parents is to listen to their attempts at communication and help teach them more effective and less emotive ways of communicating.
Here are some tips on how to control support your child’s development of self regulation during this critical time:
- ‘Tantrums’ are completely and utterly NORMAL! Sometimes they just need to happen;
- Children at this age need intellectual stimulation; this basically refers to their need to be doing something and engaging in something. They have terribly short attention spans so be prepared to consistently provide the stimulation they need. This is how they learn. Outward displays of emotion often result when a child is bored;
- Model self regulation – they do as you do! If they see you taking some deep breaths to calm down, they’re likely to learn to do that for themselves in the future;
- Help instill emotional intelligence (the ability to know what an emotion is and how to regulate that emotion). You can do this by talking to them about their emotions (i.e., ‘are you feeling sad right now’, ‘you’re looking a little angry’) as well as your own (i.e., ‘mummy is feeling a bit sad’, ’daddy is being a little bit angry’), and offering solutions to the emotion (i.e., ‘when mummy is sad she gets a hug from daddy’, ‘when daddy feels angry he takes some big deep breaths’). When they know and eventually, understand, the emotion they are feeling, they are better able to regulate it;
- PRAISE THEM! Does this sound familiar – when your child is misbehaving or doing something they shouldn’t be doing, do you let them know it? You may say things like, ‘stop that’, ‘be quiet’, ‘sit still’ or ‘don’t touch’. Do you ever hear yourself say ‘you’re being so nice and quiet’, ‘good boy for not touching anything’, ‘it’s great to see you sitting still’? We often get animated and energised when our children are not behaving; conversely, we often ignore (or remain silent) when they’re behaving well. Children like things that make noises! They start to learn that you make noises only when they’re misbehaving! Start making noise when they’re being good;
- Choose your battles. If it’s mild, let it go! Sometimes we can escalate the situation simply by addressing it;
- Children need consistency, on a consistent basis. Providing them with clear boundaries not only provides consistency but predictability. Predictability helps reduce fear and anxiety;
- Listen to them. Just because they’re 2 or 3 years old, doesn’t mean they don’t have valid and important things to say. Often, life can get very busy and we find ourselves, unintentionally, ignoring our children. I don’t know about you, but when I’m not being heard, I speak louder or I so something that brings the attention back to me! You can avoid ‘tantrums’ by listening to them the first time;
- Be strong. If you say no to having the chocolate bar in the shopping center and your 4 year old starts yelling as a result, don’t give in (unless you want them to scream each time you go to the shop). Forget about what other people are doing or whether or not they’re looking at you! In the long run, those people aren’t important in your life, but your child is. Take your child to a quieter spot, get down to their level, and explain to them why they can’t have the chocolate and provide them with a possible solution for the way they are feeling. Let them know that it’s ok to feel sad or frustrated, but it’s not ok to yell and scream. This is often referred to as time in (helping your child to calm down) as opposed to time out.
If you want a more in depth assessment with your toddler then contact our Child Psychologist.