I think my twins were about 15 months when I experienced my first Tantrum. Well, to be quite honest, it wasn't my first - I've got 6 younger siblings, so tantrums were something I'd seen many a time, but for me as a first time mom, it was my initiation into Toddlerhood.
Yes, with a capital T - because toddlers can be a pretty formidable bunch. Even if you have only one at a time, it's worth knowing some great tips to taming your toddler, whether he or she is one, two or three.
Why do toddlers have a reputation of being so difficult? What is going on inside their brains - and it happens to just about every single one of them, though in varying levels of intensity - that makes them so difficult to deal with?
Some time between the first and second year of age is when children start to develop a sense of self. They begin to see themselves as a separate entity from their parents.
With this newfound discovery comes a lot more questions, a lot more wondering, and a lot more boundary pushing. It all stems from the same place: "How does this work?" As your toddler explores the world and explores her relationships and her own power, she'll wonder what she can do - and what she can make YOU do.
And that's when the fun begins.
The three biggest things you can do to keep your toddler in check are: Consistency, Calmness and Choices.
I know this is something I've discussed before, but with toddlers, it's especially important to remain 100% consistent 100% of the time. And here's why.
Toddlers live in a black and white little bubble. It's either all or nothing for them. The many explanations and variations that we adults are used to and that run around our heads constantly are completely out of a toddler's line of vision and comprehension level.
So if your toddler wants a cookie (to use a classic example), and he whines and moans and 9 times out of 10 you don't give it to him, but 1 time out of ten you do, you think: "I'm just having a hard day today; I have a headache and I can't deal with his whining. Tomorrow I'll get back on track."
And he thinks: "Ohhhhh I just have to whine ENOUGH for Mommy to give me that cookie. Hm. OK. I'll just keep that in mind for next time."
For the toddler, there are no calculations, it's either "whining gets me a cookie" or "whining does not get me a cookie." And whatever the most successful tactic is, he'll use it again next time.
Any rules you have in your house, whether implicit or explicit, have to stay as hard and fast rules with that toddler.
Any time you're enforcing a rule or consequencing a child, it needs to be without any negative emotion. If you want your child to see you as being in control, you have to actually be in control!
Injecting a situation with emotion will only make your toddler respond in kind, and make the situation even more difficult. From a toddler's perspective, seeing that she can "make you" turn red, yell, make that funny voice, etc. is a result too - and she may find it funny and want a repeat performance.
By remaining calm and matter-of-fact when enforcing rules/consequences, you remain in control of the situation, are able to react properly, and your toddler is able to see that the consistency is sensible and not just coming from your anger/upset/hurt etc.
(Postscript on this: After I finished the blog, and went looking for a picture, I found that many pictures showed an adult with a mad/stern face, often pointing a finger, and almost every single child was in a classic defensive pose: arms crossed across his chest, shoulders up, head down and face sullen. The ones that weren't defensive were yelling right back. When we feel attacked, we will respond by going on the defensive - or returning fire with offense! Remaining calm and matter-of-fact takes the attack out of the equation, transforming what your child sees, and therefore how he will respond.)
This has been one of the biggest things that helps my clients with toddlers and pre-schoolers turn the power struggle off. Look, I'll be honest: we all want to be in control. You do, I do, and your toddler does too. Kids, though, don't really get to make very many decisions - and it's for a good reason!
Obviously, our children are not yet ready to make major life choices - and they know it full well! Our children feel safest when we, their parents, give them structure and consistency, letting them know that we are in charge and taking care of them.
But your toddler, and older child too, needs to have a healthy outlet to make those choices, and get their fill of control. This is where small choices come in.
Anything in their day that it does not matter to YOU what they choose (and is within the house rules/guidelines) can be a choice for your child. Green shirt or yellow shirt? Oatmeal or eggs? Walk fast or walk slow? Park or play date? Left hand in the coat first or right hand in the coat first? Bedtime now or in 2 minutes?
Most things that we usually demand of our children can be converted into choices, giving them the opportunity to make small choices (and even make mistakes sometimes!) that are harmless, and also letting them get their daily dose of control without any power struggles.
Get creative with this!
So those are my top 3 tips to Taming your Toddler. Now, will it make all the tantrums magically disappear? No. But it will help reduce the number of tantrums, make you feel more secure about your parenting, and also make them a lot less stressful.
What did you find helpful in reducing tantrums?
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