Parenting a toddler is challenging. And, when you’re parenting from a place of authority and hierarchy, you’ll find there are constant power struggles when trying to discipline toddlers. Toddlers—children ages one through three—are driven by their ego. This means their brains are not developed enough to process or understand anyone’s needs but their own. Many times, when toddlers exhibit a behavior parents may label as misbehaving or acting like ‘little *ssholes,’ the truth is they are acting entirely appropriate for their age. Does knowing this make it any easier for parents? Not directly because, while as parents we may wish our kids simply behaved as we would want them to, the truth is their behavior cannot change until their brain develops to process thoughts and emotions in a way that takes other people’s feelings and emotions into consideration. What does help, however, is using this knowledge about your children’s development to adjust your parenting strategy.
So, the next time your kid is ‘behaving like an ‘*sshole’ consider, instead, that as the parent you can better manage and guide his behavior by exhibiting compassion and understanding. Get on their level instead of expecting them to get on yours. Avoid engaging in useless power struggles they are simply not equipped to understand.
Here are a few helpful strategies I have implemented into my parenting that have worked to mitigate massive tantrums and often prevent me from losing my mind:
Calm yourself first. If you find yourself getting irritated easier than usual, consider that there may be something triggering you. Are you taking care of yourself? The saying you cannot pour from an empty cup is particularly true when it comes to parenting. If your needs are met, you will respond better to the needs of others and, in turn, parent from a place of compassion. This is the foundation of conscious parenting.
Avoid saying no all the time: if you are constantly focusing on what your toddler can’t and shouldn’t do, then you are probably spending most of your time lecturing him instead of allowing him to safely explore the world around him—which is crucial to proper emotional development. To be sure, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t say no at all. Saying no is necessary in instances where kids are in danger themselves or putting others in danger. What this simply means is trying to be more observant of how often you are saying no and instead resort to other techniques (some listed below) which work equally well in disciplining.
Distraction: toddlers get distracted by pretty much anything new you can think of. Next time your toddler starts doing something you don’t want him to do or starts acting up, try shifting his attention in a different direction.
Negotiate: one of the biggest sources of conflict with toddlers happens when you need to do something they are not ready to do—like leave the house on time—or during getting them to eat food they don’t love during mealtimes so the best thing you can do avoid these common struggles is negotiate. You can leave toys they like in the car so they are excited about going to the car which will help you get out the door faster. You can also offer them one food they really like which they usually ask more of and tell them they will get more as long as they finish the other foods they don’t love. Another great negotiating strategy is to give them options: whenever its bedtime, bath time, or dinner time, and they don’t seem ready to do what you want, offer them options—stick to two options maximum since too many options can also backfire and become overwhelming. For example: ‘do you want to go take a bath or go straight to bed?’
Spend more time outside: nature calms children so much. Getting connected to the outdoors not only tires them out but stimulates different areas of their brain and allows them to reset. The more time your children can spend outside, the better.
Organize your toddler’s schedule; toddlers thrive with set routines. Offering predictability helps their mood because toddlers like knowing what to expect. This, in turn, decreases tantrums.
Include them in household responsibilities; toddlers love to feel useful and, given that they understand basic instructions, they are actually pretty useful around the house. When you include toddlers in home responsibilities, they don’t get distracted with doing things you don’t want them to do and they are learning a lot while helping you out—it’s a win-win. When all else fails break out the dance moves and put some music on. Just like adults, many times all kids need to get out of bad mood is to move their bodies. Not only will it help them, it will also help you.
Quiet time/Meditation: while it is very difficult to get a toddler to stay still, it is never too early to try and teach them to breathe and be okay with quiet time. If you see your toddler is easily upset first, close your eyes and take a deep breath so he can see how you do it. Then ask him to sit next to you and show you how he takes a deep breath in and out. Then add closing his eyes. Over time you will see some improvement and, hopefully, begin to see him practice this on his own.
Time-outs: while I am not an advocate of punishment, particularly as the norm, I do believe certain behaviors are unacceptable and should be treated as such. If you have a pet, being aggressive towards their pet is a big no-no. Behaviors like slapping, hitting, or biting after attempting to educate them against it must result in a time-out. Time-outs should be in neutral locations of the home and last 1-minute per year of age. After, calmly ask them if they understand why they were on time-out and tell them you love them and give them a big hug and kiss. To be honest, time-outs are harder on the parents than the kids because kids get over things very quickly while the energetic exchange of time-outs is very taxiing on parents.
When all else fails go back to the first point. If you find yourself being triggered more often than usual, consider there may be something you need to do to improve your own outlook before putting it all on your children. When our patience is dwindling, it is usually a reflection of being burnt out. Ask for help. Give yourself time. Go on a walk. Tame yourself and then try again. Many label toddler years as the terrible two’s and three’s but the truth is that while they can be difficult, they are fascinating and incredibly rewarding years if you approach them the right way and enjoy your kids’ development instead of fight it.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Dani Quattrone. Follow her on Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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