Do you have a toddler? Then you know what its like to watch your little angel baby turn into an independent, control loving, person full of their own ideas and ambitions, which I might add, seldom line up with your own. It can be a daunting, frustrating, and even hurtful experience. The intimate and beautiful bond you have shared becomes broken and lost, and it feels like they are just trying to push your buttons. The good new is they are not. They are simply trying to get their needs met in the best way they know how.
All behavior is communication. When children act out they are trying to tell us something. They may be trying to say they are anxious, or scared. Or perhaps they need teaching or a boundary to feel secure. And of course we all know they need love. The only thing is they ask for it in the most unloving ways!
I do not claim to be a parenting expert, but I have have a passion to share what I have learned through books (lots of them!) and through my eight kids experience, even though I am still learning. So my goal here tonight, is to share my favorite responses to common toddler misbehaviors. If you have questions, or if I left out the behavior you are struggling with please comment and let me know!
Obedience: Or rather disobedience, right? Toddlers love power. They love to test how much power they have, and how much you have. So they run from you instead of come when you say. Or just say “No!”. They are wanting to see how you will help them obey. When they see us stand red-faced, angry, and helpless they feel powerful, maybe too powerful. They know they are misbehaving. They essentially don’t feel good about themselves and need our help to feel better. They know we are mad and even if they are laughing, they are scared. They need us to stay calm, cool, and collected while we handle them.
My children will usually cry even if I gently pick them up and bring them back to the place I was when I called them, but that is okay. I usually gently talk to them and say they need to come when mom calls. I can even say I am scared when they don’t come, or take the opportunity to teach that Heavenly Father wants them to learn to be obedient. Then I take time to train the response I want. After they are done crying, and they are ready to try again I set them up for success by telling them they need to go back to where they were and come this time when I call their name. So they return and I call “Alyssa, come!” This short command is easy to hear and follow. If they come I am overjoyed and openly show them they were successful. A quick celebration with lots of hugs and “high fives” and then I ask then to run back and do it again. We repeat five or seven times.
If they do not come they may need a hand to hold while they walk to where you called them again. And another try. If they obviously know what you want it can be a signal that they need something besides knowledge. They need motivation. The only motivation that really lasts is attached relationships. So as soon as possible find five minutes to hold them and read a book. Or play a quick little tug of war over a blanket or pillow. Then as you settle back down, or close the book, ask if they are ready to try coming again. Soon they will come every time on the first call. I can still call my ten year old’s and they come right away.
Attention: It is so frustrating to be ignored. At first I didn’t know how to respond when my child ignored me. Now it is still frustrating, but I go to them, place my hand on them, and say “I need you to look at me when I call your name. Let’s try that again. Alyssa! Oh good job you looked at me. Look over there. Alyssa! Great you remembered!” We repeat in a fun way, looking at different areas about ten times.
Tantrums: These are the times when it can be hard to keep calm while our child melts down, -sometimes even in public!- And we feel a range of emotions ourselves including helplessness. We cannot make that child stop crying. The thing is that their little brains are overwhelmed with feelings of loss and disapointment. If we are honest with ourselves we have these moments too (sometimes right as our child is disolving into sobs!) and it takes all our efforts to hold ourselves together too. Realizing this in the moment can be helpful, as thinking helps get our brains in a more relaxed state, instead of in a reactionary one. Think, what do you wish someone would say or do when you feel this way? I would probably like to hear something like “Its okay. I love you. I know you are dissapointed. I know you wanted to stay and play more. Its so hard to leave when we need to. Do you want to say goodbye? Don’t worry, I will help you out to the car.” And then either carry them or lead them out, while they tell you (through sobbing) exactly how they feel.
Cleaning up after themselves: It is important that Toddlers learn to pick up the toys they use, and the clothes they take off. It helps them feel capable. And when kids feel capable, they behave better. (Just like when we parents feel capable and successful as parents, we find it easier to behave well too!) Teaching this skill can be as easy as showing them where their dirty clothes go. But with some kids, it takes more practice. More success. So do it over and over until they feel succesful at it!
Most other behaviors can be taught with the same idea of setting them up for success and repeating. I base my ideas off the methods put forth by Jane Nelson.
If you want more ideas here is two of her books targeting toddlers and preschoolers. Good luck with your toddlers in your daily life!