Does your head ever spin from all the suggestions you get about how to manage your young child’s temper tantrums or out-of-control behavior? Your in-laws tell you you’re spoiling your child, your best friend thinks you’re being too strict, and the other parents you know all seem to follow a different playbook.
Knowing how to effectively handle your young child or toddler can feel overwhelming at times. There’s so much advice about what we should do that it’s easy to start feeling confused and unsure of your own parenting skills. The truth is, there is no “magic,” one-size-fits-all way to parent your toddler. The true expert of your child is you. To be the most effective parent you can develop parenting skills that combine your intuition, strengths and the values most important to you.
Part of finding your way is learning what not to do when parenting your child who is having a tantrum. The truth is, figuring out what pitfalls to avoid is just as important as knowing the right things to do:
1. Don’t be inflexible
Toddlerhood may represent the most stubborn, inflexible time in the life of a child. Too often parents do not recognize this as a normal part of their child’s development and are frustrated as their child increasingly seems irrational and out of control. In response some parents tend to clamp down on their child, hoping that by being a stronger disciplinarian their child will become less willful. Unfortunately, when you do this, you are creating a battle of wills, a tug-of-war between you and your child in which no one wins. The key instead is to be more flexible, giving the strong-willed child more choices, not fewer.
Giving your child a sense of control on issues that are not that important in the long run allows your child a sense of autonomy in a world that is very structured and rule-oriented. Simple choices on a daily basis make it less likely that your child will want to fight you on the big stuff.
2. Don’t be too flexible
Just as it’s important to give your strong-willed child choices, this can backfire if you become so flexible that your child doesn’t know what to do. For example, if your child is having difficulty staying in her big-girl bed at night, allowing too much flexibility can become overwhelming. If she gets to read with you at 3:00 a.m., then asks for juice and you get it, then wants to sleep with you in your bed only to 20 minutes later want to go back to her bed, you are letting her dictate all the terms of her bedtime and sleep schedule instead of helping her gain more control over it. Setting guidelines before bedtime would be a better option. Saying something like, “Tonight we’ll read two stories, have one song, then it’s time for bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night, I will walk you back to bed so you can go back to sleep.” After you enlist your child’s help in making her room as comfortable and cozy as possible, she will know what is e!xpected of her for future bedtimes.
Toddlers need someone to be in charge, and that’s you. While you can benefit from giving your child choices, you will also benefit from setting loving boundaries so your child can feel safe and satisfied in the choices she has made.
3. Don’t reason with a defiant toddler
Toddlers can be irrational by nature, and as a parent it’s important to simply accept this fact. Too often parents work under the faulty assumption that if they can simply explain things to a tantruming child, the child will fall in line and stop misbehaving. As a result, many parents talk over the developmental level of their toddler. The outcome is simply more screaming and misbehaving by the child—and more frustration on the part of the parent! A rule of thumb is to try using approximately as many words as the age of your child. For example, if your two-year-old bites, you say, “No biting,” and remove her from the situation. If your 5-year-old starts having a tantrum in the middle of the store,! you say, “We don’t cry over toys,” and you leave. The point is, a long, drawn-out speech by you solves nothing—and your young child or toddler will just tune out. The best way to deal with a defiant toddler is to take swift, immediate action that involves the smallest number of words possible. Brevity and calmness are a parent’s best friends at this stage.
4. Don’t scream back
Toddlers between the ages of two and six are notorious for losing their tempers and screaming at the nearest human. The main reasons for this are a lack of maturity, an inability to express themselves verbally, and frustration over not! being able to process the situation in front of them. Let’s take the example of a child that becomes frustrated over trying to build something with Legos. He becomes so upset that he picks up the Legos and throws them at his sister’s head, screaming at his mother all the while. His mother, while horrified and angry in that moment, stays calm. She takes the angry brother by the hand saying, “We don’t scream or throw toys,” and leads him to his room for a cooling- off time. Besides handling the situation calmly and effectively, this little boy’s mom modeled for him how he can react in the future when he becomes frustrated and angry. Toddlers don’t know what to do when faced with a rush of emotion, so they do what comes naturally. They have a fit! This type of behavior is perfectly normal for all toddlers, but it is imperative that they learn early that while it’s normal, it won’t be tolerated in your house. Your job is to show y!our child the right way to react; staying calm and consistent is the best way to teach them.
Toddlers are filled with passion, humor, curiosity and willfulness. They are just beginning to understand the bigger world around them, to navigate the daily routines of their home and school life, and to test boundaries to see what the outcome may be. As your child leaves babyhood and enters the independent stage of their development, it’s important for you too to grow as a parent and to recognize that your parenting style needs to change along with your toddler. It’s really important at this age for you to take an inventory of what works and what isn’t working when dealing with your young child or toddler. By trusting your instincts and implementing rules that you are comfortable with, you will be doing all the right things to help not just your child, but your entire family.
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(Information adapted from an article by Dr. Joan Simeo Munson.)