The toddler years are both fun and challenging for children as well as parents. Being easily frustrated, throwing tantrums, yelling and stomping, crying and being demanding are difficult behaviors for parents to handle but completely normal for toddlers and in fact, a necessary part of their growth and development. Just as adults learn from unpleasant situations and being faced with issues to resolve, your child is also learning problem solving, social skills and acceptable behavior.
As a result, these years can also be especially stressful or frustrating for parents. It can be difficult to know how to react or respond and most importantly, just how to keep your cool on really tough days.
This is also a time when discipline and setting boundaries comes more in to play. It can be hard to figure out how much a young child can really understand, what kind of limits to set or how to start disciplining at all. Trying to explain to a child why something they did not was ok and dealing with crying and tantrums can get exhausting but toddlers and young children need fair and simple guidance.
We have all seen the results of the alternative, not disciplining at all, and it’s not a pretty sight. Although misbehavior can be frustrating to manage, not dealing with these situations do children no favors. Not only do they miss out on important learning lessons about safety, appropriate behavior and kindness, setting boundaries and limitations allow children to feel secure and loved.
“When we guide our children with loving discipline, we show them that they are important, that we want to keep them safe, that their actions matter to us, and that they are worthy enough for us to expect the very best of them.” – From The Must-Have Mom Manual by Sara Ellington and Stephanie Triplett.
Picking your battles is good to remember during this time. I’m a firm believer in providing rules and structure but giving some options or choices to your child can also make them feel empowered and diffuse a possible meltdown.
Praising the good and not reward the bad behavior can be challenging if you’re really stressed out but extremely worth it. Even more than just giving a “good job”, stop and talk for a minute about why what your child did was good and how it made you or they feel. “You did a great job taking turns at the park today, your friend was really happy to play with you. I know it’s hard to share sometimes but I’m so proud of how nice you were!”
One of the toughest things to master (but really important) is just controlling your own reactions to a child’s behavior. Here are a few helpful tips, also from The Must-Have Mom Manual, on this subject:
- Remain Calm. Sounds easy but in practice and depending on the situation, not always so. However, this is a way you can model the behavior you would like to see from your child as well as not making the situation worse by reacting to a temper tantrum by having one yourself.
- Condemn the Behavior, Not the Child. Telling a child “you’re a very bad girl” applies a negative label to the child overall and doesn’t help them understand what they did and why you are unhappy with it. Try to make sure you are letting your child know the behavior is what was wrong or inappropriate and not the child as a person.
- Set Realistic Expectations. Young children are messy; sometimes they spill things or trip. Children also need time and opportunities to run, yell and just be kids. It is a balance of providing those opportunities while teaching appropriate behaviors for different situations. For example, “If you want to yell and kick the ball, you have to go outside.”
- Listen to Your Child. All children will sometimes act out for attention, even if it’s negative attention. They may just be trying to tell you they need your attention and time. Play together, take a walk, talk to them and let them know you are listening.
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