Toddler behavior is just one of those things that can send us over the edge. They are irrational and don't want to listen and it makes us irrational just to try to speak to them. Yesterday I wrote about older children (see HERE) and handling negative behavior and today we are talking specifically about toddlers.
Start on the right foot...
One of the things that I mentioned yesterday is the importance of positive reinforcement and it is far more critical with toddlers than older children. Really, they like to be appreciated and valued and be talked up and you need to take advantage of it. The more over the top you are in encouraging positive behavior (yes, you will feel stupid) the more they will thrive on it and crave it.
You also need to set up the expectations for what is and is not appropriate behavior. Oddly enough, when you talk about the expectations, you need to encourage them. The conversation may feel odd to you, because they have not yet earned the praise, but it gets them excited. Let me give you an example:
"Today we are going to go shopping for a gift for the baby shower. Isn't that great? The baby shower is going to be really, really fun. I know that at the store, there will be lots of toys and other things that are so much fun, but we are only there for the baby gift. Can you help me pick out a baby gift? Yes? You can? You are always so helpful and I really appreciate it. Yay!!"
Wondering what kind of rules we have for the little ones? There are a couple of things that we always tell our kids are rules for all situations.
- Use a talking voice, no whining or yelling allowed
- Use walking feet, running is not allowed
- We look with our eyes and not our hands
- We hold our hands together so we are tempted to touch things
- We always stay together (with the sibling assigned to us)
- If we get lost, we look for a mommy with children or someone who works here and we meet at...
When we enter a new place, we always show the kids an employee so they know what to look for. I also tuck my business card with my cell phone number on it into their pockets so that they have it to show an employee. We have only needed to use this system once, but boy was I glad that we did! We also try to avoid stressing the kids because a stressed kiddo means a more stressed parent or two. Skip the extra errands, and sometimes any at all, when they are fragile or already cranky. Do not tempt fate, she is mean. She bites hard.
Dealing with break downs...
Sometimes despite prepping the kids and going when they are in a great mood, they can still melt down. The first thing to try is breathing. Have you seen a woman in labor who reaches a panicked state? Sometimes she needs to be reminded to breathe slowly and to get back in control. When my toddlers get to that point, I look them in the eye and I say quietly and calmly, "Take a deep breath." And then I model it. I keep reminding them until they do it and if they get worked up again, I remind them again. Some kids need to be completely removed from the situation and reminded but all kids will learn this skill, in time. Remember, toddlers need to be told more than once per incident and will have many, many incidents. That's okay, it makes sense. If you only had to tell a child once that when they have a sense of urgency that they need to potty, that if they always treat their siblings and parents with kindness that they will be treated with kindness and to clean up after themselves completely and immediately, they would not need parents. But they do. So, you get to be the one to remind them to do these things, again and again, until they get it. It won't happen immediately, but when it does, it will be sweet.
Using time out...
This is a touchy subject for some folks, but I use it and I use it liberally. It is not just a punishment but also a way of teaching children to take the chance to calm down when they need it. Let's say that the two year old bit the three year old, which actually happened two days ago.
Firstly I checked the bitten child. Then I, with pained voice said, "Oh, Sophia, you bit your sister! Oh, no, that is terrible. Oh, no!" I did not scream, I acted shocked and disappointed in order to give her a sense of shame. Shame is not bad, it is a self corrective. I always tell the kids to do nothing that they could not be proud of if printed in the newspaper. This is a good measure for the older kids; however, toddlers need to have the sense that you are horrified by their actions.
Next, I removed the biter and told her she needed a few minutes to calm down and that I would check on her later. She was in tears and placed in her room for a couple of minutes. Once the three year old had some arnica and ice (it was a really bad bite), I returned for the two year old. Never leave them too long, just a couple of minutes. When I got back to the room, I asked if she felt better and was ready to come kiss her sister. Sometimes they aren't, so tell them that you will wait for them but do not permit them to run around, play with toys or "get out" of trouble. I have them sit with me until they are ready. If they melt down and do not respond to instructions to breathe, they go to bed. Again. It may take a few tries to get the two year old to get it but when she does, then the path is laid.
Once they understand the system, you can also use it as a chance to calm down. I tell the kids that sometimes they just need a chance to calm down. I ask them if they need some alone time. They can sometimes tell you they are really upset and need to be alone. The benefit of this is that when you need some quiet time, they will understand. There will be times when you are so angry you could spit nails; put on a movie or a book on CD or some music and tell them you will be back in five minutes. Removing a toddler from a situation helps them calm down and removing mom from the same situation can do the same for her.
Understand some kids are more emotional...
There just are some kids who by their natures are more mercurial and volatile. These are the kids who will test your patience the most but pay you back in spades. Once you get those kids under control and regain some peace, everything else is easy. But the trick is to stay calm and not encourage their excited behavior. These kids will escalate with more stomping and screaming and yelling and more negative behavior down the road and you really need to nip it in the bud. These are usually the kids who need to left alone more when they are melting down, but not always. There are some emotional kids who need to be cuddled in order to calm down. You know your child and can help them learn how to manage their volatile emotions so that they are in charge, not their thermostat. While it is a hassle now, think of it as an investment. This too shall pass.
I know have not covered all the issues that toddlers present and I would love to address any situations you have. If you have some great ideas, I would love for you to share them. This parenting gig is hard, but worth it, and if you have some tips I would hope that you would share them!