The sound of my son’s anguished screaming fills my house. The sun has not even risen. I’m still in my pyjamas, trying to wash my face in the bathroom. The next minute I hear uncontrollable laughing. What on earth, you may ask?
One word, my friends. Toddlers.
Before I was a mom, I spent close to 15 years with other people’s toddlers.
I’ve learned a few things by studying early childhood development, to teaching in the classroom and from daily life with my own toddler.
By no means do I have parenting perfected. Heck, half the time I’m winging it! But I wanted to share some things I’ve learned along the way.
So let me ask you FIRST, do you have a toddler you find yourself extremely frustrated with on a daily basis? Do you feel like you’ve tried all the things yet still resort to bribery, yelling, and general threats?
I want to help you help your toddler by sharing 4 common mistakes that I have made.
1) Not Understanding Developmental Immaturity. Young children do not have the developmental maturity to control themselves. Impulse is difficult for them to control. It’s something they learn as their brain matures. Impulse control is also something that we teach them as they grow.
My 16 month old loves to scream for fun. He loves to throw things. He hits me in the face when I ask for a kiss. I don’t like it and I don’t want him to do those things. I say things like, “OUCH! That hurts my ears.” “Hands are for clapping or praying but they are not for hitting.” (thanks sis!) I’ll redirect him by taking his hands and showing him what they can be used for.
I also try to validate how he might be feeling. “I see that you are angry because I’m not letting you throw cat litter everywhere.” (real example!) Validating emotions does not validate bad behaviour. Validating emotions are important in helping children recognize what they are feeling. We do this so that as they grow, they learn to communicate to us what is going on inside of them and for overall emotional health.
The Wonder Weeks book and app are great tools for better understanding child development!
2) Not Creating A Toddler Friendly (SAFE) Environment. When you walk into a toddler/preschool classroom what do you see? Everything is setup for small children, right? One of my course requirements in college was to set up a daycare/preschool classroom and subsequently be graded on it. It goes to show how important physical environment can be as it pertains to a child’s development.
It’s time to rearrange things if you find yourself constantly battling your toddler over what they can/can’t touch in your home.
Use baby gates and child safe locks. Arrange their room so that it’s safe (and inviting) for them to play in there without you hovering over them. Close doors to rooms that they don’t need to be in. Rearrange the contents of drawers and cupboards that they have access to. Be ok with them taking all your Tupperware out. They can’t break it, right? It might seem like a lot of work in the beginning but it’s more work every day to battle with a toddler over the contents of your china cabinet.
3) Being Too Controlling. This is my #1 mistake! I am a control freak by nature. Trying to control everything a toddler does will guarantee tantrums. Their strong willed desire to do everything on their own is completely normal.
It’s important developmentally to give children the freedom to make age appropriate choices. It teaches independence, self sufficiency and responsibility as well as the value of consequences. Not to mention giving you a break once they learn to do certain things for themselves.
Involve your child in cleaning up messes. I give my son the dust pan and hand broom when I’m vacuuming. While he doesn’t clean much giving him this task has redirected his obsession with pulling our stick vacuum off the wall. Set out a few pairs of pants and shirts for them to choose from and help them get dressed. Present a few food choices at mealtimes. I talk more about diffusing food battles with toddlers, here. A little independence can go a long way in shifting the emotions of your child thus diverting a meltdown!
4) Not Keeping Things Simple.
Have you ever walked into a messy room filled with stuff and felt overwhelmed? Research shows the links between mess and stress. You will find article after article about how too much stuff increases sensory overload. Imagine the developing brain of a young child and how sensory overload affects them! If you have a room (or two) overflowing with toys, chances are you’ve got an overwhelmed toddler.
I’ve seen many times during my career as an ECE and as a mom too many toys lead to some major meltdowns.
Get rid of the excess and simplify the amount of toys your child has. You could also try organizing toys into boxes and rotate them throughout the week. I’ve had great success with my toddler by rotating toys. He plays longer with his toys and it’s less mess to clean up. Great tips on toy rotation here!
You aren’t alone if you feel like your toddler is hard work! Because we are their parents, it’s our responsibility to help them develop. I do not have these things perfected. I have many parenting moments I am not proud of. My son still has tantrums. We are working on decreasing the amount of tantrums he has by practicing the things I’ve shared here.
It’s SO MUCH WORK to help a child grow and mature. It takes time and dedication. I think the most valuable payoff is giving a child important tools for successfully navigating the many challenges of life. The sooner we can give them those tools, the better!
Don’t be discouraged if it’s not all coming together. Everything takes time. You are the best person for the job!
What are some ways you effectively avoid tantrums in your home? What has or has not worked for you? I’d love to hear from you!