Raising a toddler can be one of the most challenging stages of parenthood. Toddlers aren’t being stubborn or defiant to spite us – even though it may well feel that way. Clinical psychologist Candice Cowen explains that they’re simply trying to be heard, and as their communication skills are still developing, they may not be going about it effectively. Fortunately, there is a way to win toddler tantrums.
Cindy Glass, owner and co-founder of Step Up Education Centres, explains that while you may experience bedtime as longed-for tranquillity, it’s a minefield for your child as she views those hours apart as a separation, rather than a bodily function, which triggers separation anxiety. Throw in a few memories of nightmares and the stage is set for war. This is even before you factor in practical issues, like whether your child is overtired (and, therefore, unable to choose appropriate behaviours) or reeling from a sugary bedtime snack.
How to handle it:
Setting boundaries goes a long way in addressing many behavioural issues, Cindy continues. If you’ve made it clear that there are always consequences to bad behaviour, your child is more likely to cooperate. Routine can also help – especially if you’ve entrenched rituals that introduce a calm mood at the end of the day. “Help your child wind down by reading a story, cuddling on the couch or listening to soothing music before bedtime. A warm, relaxing bath is also a good idea,” she advises. From a practical perspective, keep sugary foods to a minimum before bedtime and monitor daytime naps. It’s simple – a child who’s not tired won’t sleep.
We’ve all experienced the nagging that steadily escalates until the volume of your child’s cries suggest they are in severe pain. Cindy Glass explains that a little empathy should be spared for the child . She’s only crying because she’s trying to deal with an emotion (probably boredom or over-stimulation) that she doesn’t have words for, so can’t express. Again, there could be physical factors at play. If your child is overtired, she’s more likely to act out, and your attempt to silence her with a chocolate could backfire as her blood sugar spikes, then plummets, leaving her grumpy and unplayable.
How to handle it:
The solution is simple – if you can see that tiredness or hunger is making your child snippy, go grocery shopping solo or schedule the trip for another time. Candice suggests preparing your child for upcoming excursions so there are no nasty surprises. She gives the following example of a constructive conversation: “You and I are going to go to a toy shop to get Johnny a present for his party. I know how much you like toys and you are very good at playing with them. That’s why you can help me choose a present for Johnny, and we can even look at all the toys until we find something you think he will like. We are only getting a present for Johnny, because it is his birthday – just like you get toys when it’s your birthday. Once we find the present, we are going to pay for it, wrap it and come back home so that we can get ready for the party.”
Psychologist Sharon Melrose says it’s always a good idea to model the behaviour you would like your child to emulate – keep calm, and eventually she will, too. Don’t try to reason with her while she’s in the middle of a tantrum, but once she’s settled, explain that certain behaviours are not appropriate.
You’re most likely to hear these dreaded words around your child’s second birthday. Cindy Arenstein, school counsellor at Breaking the Barriers Counselling and Training Centre, explains this is the time your child starts to realise she’s a separate person to you, which drives her to assert her likes, dislikes, wants and needs, so she can establish her burgeoning independence. She’s also starting to acquire the language skills that make it possible for her to vocalise these wants and needs.
How to handle it:
Your natural reaction will be to establish control with an automatic shutdown, Cindy adds. It’s probably not going to work for you, though, because it doesn’t help you understand what she’s going through and it doesn’t address her needs. This is why it’s important to help toddlers understand and label their emotions, she explains. The “I want…” stage is actually a positive one if you consider the fact that, as Sharon observes, experiencing disappointment is an important part of emotional development. “Your job isn’t to make sure your child is always happy, but to make sure she is confident and secure – this means saying no at times, and allowing your child to sit with the disappointment and sadness that results.”