If you’ve ever seen a programme like “Supernanny” on the television you could be forgiven for thinking that parenting a toddler is a battle of wills between parent and child. The phrase, “the terrible twos”, can strike fear into the heart of a parent, and for many families the toddler years can be a slog, with not much help and support on offer.
In this article, we suggest some gentle and easy ways to cope with toddler tantrums and difficult behaviour.
Parenting a toddler is hard – particularly when they tantrum in public, on a shopping trip, at a family party, in front of your friend and her perfect, non-tantrumming children and worst of all in the presence of a judgmental relative.
How do you cope with your toddler’s tantrums? Do you use behavioural techniques such as naughty steps, time out, stickers and rewards or perhaps you just ignore your toddler when they misbehave? Do you wish you knew more ways of coping with the ‘terrible twos’ (and ones and threes and fours!)?
Isn’t it funny – when we’re pregnant we go to antenatal classes and learn everything we can about labour and birth, we educate ourselves with breastfeeding workshops and postnatal classes such as baby massage – but then when we need help during the toddler years – the classes all stop, save for the activity classes such as gym classes, music, art, sport and the like – what if there were classes that could help you to understand your toddler? The reasons for the behaviour, the science behind it and most importantly of all – a place to learn coping techniques that really work and are beneficial to the whole family?
Well guess what? Suffolk Babies does just that with our Understanding Your Toddler workshops! Here’s a snippet of the sorts of things we cover:
5 Ways to Cope with Toddler Tantrums:
1. Understand what normal toddler behaviour is. The chances are your toddler is behaving perfectly normally for their age yet knowing something is normal makes it a lot easier to deal with. I believe it is important to understand how a toddler’s brain develops and what they are physically capable of doing and understanding. For instance, did you know that toddlers are incapable of understanding other’s feelings? Or why sharing is important? They just don’t have the brain capacity! Similarly, toddlers do not have the ability to regulate their emotions and behaviour as we do, they literally ‘flip out’ during a tantrum and even if they wanted to control their feelings and calm down, they can’t. They need our help for that.
2. Try to see things from your toddler’s point of view. How might they be feeling? How were they feeling before the tantrum? During? After? Empathy for your toddler can be eye opening! Understand that your toddler is absolutely not doing this to manipulate you or wind you up – granted it feels like that sometimes but they really aren’t, they are going through such a tricky time, their behaviour is their way of expressing it – it is absolutely never plotted and planned to embarrass you.
3. Instead of ignoring your toddler during a tantrum try to support them. A tantrum is scary – they can’t control their emotions like we can and have literally “lost it”. A big hug is often much more effective and positive in the long term than the usual ‘ignore it’ advice. Communicate at your toddler’s level – literally, bend down so you are at eye level with them and use simple words and short sentences. Don’t forget a hug is communication too – you are saying “it’s OK, I’m here for you, I love you”.
4. Describe the behaviour you want from your toddler. Say what you want, e.g. “we use gentle hands”, rather than what you don’t want e.g: “don’t hit people”. Your toddler’s brain processing works differently from yours, if you keep repeating “don’t do this” followed by the undesirable behaviour you may as well be telling your toddler to do it! Also give names to your toddler’s feelings: “I can see you are angry”, “that really made you sad when he took your toy didn’t it?” It will help your toddler to understand what they are feeling and later, when they are more vocal, they will be able to tell you how they are feeling, rather than having to rely on crying, whining, biting or hitting as a way to express their feelings.
5. Give your toddler choices as often as you can, e.g: lay out 3 different outfits in the morning and let them choose, it’s amazing how a bit of control can improve a toddler’s behaviour, after all they don’t have much control over any other aspect of their lives. Play can be wonderfully helpful at helping your toddler to feel in control of their world and also as a way to help them release scary emotions. Try to never direct their play, as frustrating as it is when they are painting a tree pink when you know of course it should be green, or when they put the puzzle piece in the wrong way round for the 20th time – it is important they do things themselves, their way.
There’s no quick fix for difficult toddler behaviour, but treating them with the love and respect they need and deserve will help you navigate the toddler years. It can seem like the tantrums and difficult behaviour go on forever, but your toddler is still very young and has a very immature brain. They don’t mean to be difficult! Before you know it you’ll be out the other side, I promise!
In the meantime, why not come along to one of our Understanding Your Toddler workshops? These run once a term at Suffolk Babies in Kesgrave, and we promise you will feel happier and better about your toddler afterwards!