Remember the first time you held your little one? Or the times you cheered for their first rollover, first tooth, first step? Before you know it, they have grown into a toddler with big feelings. It is easy to get frustrated during episodes of tantrums. It is helpful to know that these are developmentally appropriate and a big part of a toddler’s job is to push boundaries.
Our role as an adult is to be consistent and trustworthy leaders to guide them as they explore the world around them. Here are some tips:
1. Acknowledge their feelings
Toddlers cry for many reasons. When they insist on putting on their shoes without help but could not do so. When they have finished their snacks and realized there was no more. Or, when they cannot go to the playground because there is a thunderstorm out there. Toddlers cry to express their frustration, sadness, anger and disappointment. It may appear silly to adults sometimes but it helps them when we verbalize their feelings. “You want to play outside and it is raining. It is disappointing when things don’t go as planned.” “You want more snacks and I said no. It is hard not to get what you want.” When toddlers feel understood, they learn that we are in it together and they can trust us with their feelings.
2. Connect before correction
Challenging behaviors are usually crying for attention. During an emotional outburst, you will not be able to engage your child’s logical thinking as their brain is still developing. (Fun fact: the frontal lobe, which drives our rational thinking, is only fully developed at age 25!) So before you want to jump right in to correct any behaviors, take time to connect with them first. These help them to develop more confidence in managing their big feelings as they grow. You can offer a quiet and comfortable spot to calm down, something to drink or a hug. This gives the adult a chance to calm down and address the matter appropriately.
3. ‘This or that’ choice
“NO!” That is one of their favorite words. They are learning how much power this word provides and how adults will react to their behaviors. There are non-negotiable in our household – car seats, meals at the table. In other things, we try to anticipate their reactions and provide a ‘this or that’ choice – “Would you like to change your clothes or brush your teeth first?”, “Let’s keep the toys together. Do you want to put away the Legos or the blocks?” This way, your child gets to make choices without feeling overwhelmed.
Be careful of how questions are phrased when you say, “let’s go and shower after keeping toys, ok?” It may seem respectful to seek their approval but it also gives them a chance to say no to your request.
4. Stay calm – don an imaginary superhero suit!
Some days, nothing seems to go their way. They need us to stay calm and lead with patience. Yet, we know how many things we have on hand to accomplish and want to waste no time getting out of the door. At times like this, take a deep breath and pretend to put on a superhero suit that can deflect the loudest and most irritating outburst. Donning this superhero suit allows you to help your child and yourself to stay focus on the tasks ahead while not letting the emotions rule over you.
5. Be consistent
It is important to set clear and consistent rules. When we do not stick to the rules agreed, it is hard for the toddler to know what to expect. This makes them want to continuously seek and test boundaries. Having a consistent routine also allows children to ease into transition throughout the day and reduce bedtime resistance. When there are upcoming changes in the routine, you can also share them with your child to prepare them for it.
As our little ones begin to explore the world and understand themselves in relation to others while managing their big feelings, they would need us to accept all their emotions as we guide them.
By Lim Qiaoyi.
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