When you’re a mom to a toddler, you’re probably wondering where else you can turn for help when it comes to disciplining your little one. Adopting a different approach to parenting takes time and it might take a while before you see the results, so patience is key. Parent educator, and co-founder of the Peaceful Parent Institute, Genevieve Simperingham explains that peaceful parenting is about being mindful and setting boundaries with empathy, and should not be confused with permissive parenting, which is characterised by low demands with high responsiveness. Peaceful parenting is empowering for both mom and child.
Parenting Coach and author of Peaceful Parent, Dr Laura Markham has the following tips to help you restore peace in your home:
Keep calm and reconnect
Toddlers need help regulating their emotions, so as the adult, try not to get caught up in the intense emotions that your little one is feeling during a tantrum. Your job is to step in and soothe her so she can regulate. Take a deep breath, calm down and connect with your little one.
Acknowledge your child’s need
Validating your child’s feelings lets her know it’s OK to feel certain emotions. Instead of making her feel wrong for being upset, which will only cause the tantrum to escalate, acknowledge her anger so she feels seen and heard before you set a limit. An example would be if your toddler is throwing a tantrum because she wants a chocolate before eating her food. You would first validate her feelings by saying “You would like to have some chocolate right? And when she nods then you lovingly set the limit, “You’ll have to eat your food first and then have some chocolate.” Move the chocolate out of sight and if she starts yelling, acknowledge her anger by saying, “You’re so angry, aren’t you? Followed by, “No yelling.” The fewer words you use, the easier it will be for your toddler to follow the instructions.
Be a step ahead of your toddler
Tantrums usually happen when your little one is either hungry or tired, so it’s a good idea to think ahead. Instead of waiting for your toddler to get cranky or agitated, offer her a snack. If you have to stop by the supermarket on your way home from picking her up from school for example, you can offer her a healthy snack while you wait in the queue. Or if she’s due for a nap, allow her to relax and minimise external stimuli like screen time or loud music so she can enjoy some quiet time before nap time.
Skip the power struggles
Your toddler is still trying to make sense of the world around her, which also means she’ll be pushing for independence. This may be frustrating for you, but there’s no need to engage in a power struggle. If she prefers to wear a different outfit to the one you’d like her to wear, letting her “win” isn’t a bad thing. Unless it’s really cold and she wants to wear a dress, you can reach a compromise by allowing her to wear the dress over tights and a long sleeved T-shirt. “Since a good number of tantrums result from feeling powerless, toddlers who feel they have some control over their lives have fewer tantrums,” says Dr Markham.
Name the underlying emotion
Anger usually points to uncomfortable feelings like fear, hurt, vulnerability or grief, so saying something like, “You’re sad because you can’t play with your friend today,” will steer your toddler back to the underlying feeling and the anger will dissipate.
Create a safe space for your child to express her emotions
Your little one feels vulnerable when she’s having an emotional meltdown, so if she will let you hold her, then do so. If not, simply stay with her and remain calm and reassuring. This will let her know you’re there for her and she’s still loved. When she feels safe enough to express her real feelings, she will feel better and recover quicker.
Reconnect and reassure your little one
When the tantrum has passed, spend some “cozy time” with your little one so she feels more connected to you. If your child usually acts up just to get your attention, you’ll notice fewer tantrums when you make “cozy time” a regular feature in your routine. Recount what happened to give your toddler a chance to reflect on her actions. “Toddlers feel so passionately about everything, and they simply don’t have enough frontal cortex capacity to control themselves when they’re upset,” says Dr Markham, so allowing your little one to comprehend and reflect will build the pre-frontal cortex.
Peaceful parenting is ultimately about establishing a secure connection with your little one so you are able to communicate effectively and set limits with empathy.
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.