When my daughter was a toddler, she would sit and play with her toys. She would scribble on paper with crayons. She would hug and kiss my husband and me with wild abandon. She had the occasional tantrum when told “no”, but they rarely lasted longer than a few short minutes. By my “first-time mom” account, she was a happy toddler.
Then I had my son…
I’m not sure if it’s just that boys are different than girls. If it’s a second child thing. Or if it’s just a “him” thing, but my son is definitely NOT like his sister was as a toddler.
We have already had more than a few bruises, split lips, and even a few trips to urgent care for some skin glue (not stitches, yet…). If there were a punch card/rewards program for urgent care, I think we had better sign up.
My son has no fear of danger. He throws things when he gets mad at them, even his favorite toys. And boy can he scream at his sister when she looks funny at one of his prized possessions.
It is definitely a learning curve this time around with the toddler stage. There is no owner’s manual that comes with these beautiful little loves, so when the road gets rocky, it’s important to help support each other.
So, with my background in child development and communication disorders I have found a few things that are important to remember two things about How To Manage The Toddler Years: Communication and Autonomy.
A toddler’s language is advancing rapidly. Every day, in my work as a speech pathologist, I hear from parents that their toddler can understand everything but they aren’t yet saying very much. This is because in terms of language development, comprehension or understanding of language comes in faster than verbal expression or talking.
Think about it this way. Have you ever tried to learn another language? Most language learners will tell you that they can understand more than they are able to speak. This same concept is true for toddlers as well. As they are learning language, they are able to understand what is being said to them, but they are not able to clearly express what it is that they want or need. This leads to frustration and ultimately crying and/or tantrums.
As children enter the toddler phase, they enter into the “autonomy versus dependence” stage of development. The toddler has now learned that he is his own being, separate from mommy. He is also learning that he has his own opinions, will and voice. Enter the tantrums as a way to express that toddler will and those opinions.
Disclaimer: I am not claiming to be a parenting expert. I do have training in speech and language development, as well as, child development, but I am no expert. I’m just a mom hoping to band together with other parents as we navigate this journey through toddlerhood together.
Here’s what I’ve come up with (so far) on this trip down the Toddler Brick Road. I don’t claim to always get it right and the wicked witch does show her face from time to time. But give these tips a try and your toddler might reveal that you really are the wizard.
- Talk, talk, talk. The more you talk with your child, the stronger his language skills will become. Keep your words short and simple. A few baby signs go a long way for helping to ease communication frustrations as well. Check out my post about baby sign language.
- Offer choices. Toddlers are beginning to assert their autonomy and independence, so offering choices can be a win-win. GOAL: Get Dressed. Instead of wrestling him into his clothes, ask him if he wants the red or blue shirt (or in my case, the blue Mickey shirt or the red Mickey shirt). He is still getting dressed, but now he is with less of a fuss.
- Get down to their level. Our toddlers are little and we tower over them as adults. This can be intimidating and overwhelming to our little ones. Try kneeling or bending down to look them in the eye on their level. This helps gain their attention and giving them direct eye contact shows them that you are working to communicate with them to understand their needs.
- Repeat back what you’ve heard. It’s not always easy to translate “toddler speak”, but try your best to repeat back what you think they are trying to say. If you get it right, that’s great; if not, keep making attempts. Show him a few examples of what you think he’s trying to say. Eventually you’ll stumble on the right answer or distract him with something that is better than the current tantrum.
- Assess needs. This is an important component of meltdown management but not always easy to do when in the middle of a tantrum. Assess his physical needs. Is he hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Overstimulated? Go through a quick mental checklist to determine when the last time he ate, drank and had a nap. Offer a snack, drink, cuddle or a favorite toy/stuffed animal.
- Choose your battles and stand your ground. Not every battle can be won with a toddler, but choose, in advance, what you will not budge on. Physical safety is a non-negotiable in my house. No matter how loudly he screams, I will stand my ground. Other things, like which snack to choose, are more flexible in nature. Try not to give in during the heat of the moment. Distract if you must. Offer alternatives as needed, but stand strong in your “no”. Toddlers crave boundaries and limits. They will crash into them hard 9 times out of 10, but set your limits and hold firm!
- Praise, praise, praise. Toddlers, and for that matter, children, crave attention. In the absence of positive attention they may act out which also bring about attention. If you think about it, negative attention is still attention. What I have found effective is to praise my toddler and shower him with affirming words throughout the day.
- Create a diversion. Distraction can be your best friend when trying to diffuse a toddler meltdown. When he wants the dangerous, fragile, expensive, sharp item that is placed out of his reach on purpose, distract him with something even more enticing. In my house, the diversion often comes in the form of a kitchen utensil. It’s amazing what a spatula and a mixing bowl can do to elevate the mood of a toddler.
Like I said earlier, I am no parenting expert. And I’m pretty sure that I’m getting it wrong at least half of the time, but this is what I’ve found so far on my bumpy second trip through the Toddler Years.
Besides…When all else fails there is always ALL THE WINE!