Toddler Taming – Tips from a Mom Who's Been Through It Three Times
A funny thing happened to me about three years and nine months ago. I had a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old (they are 20 months apart). The 6-year-old started kindergarten, the 4-year-old started pre-kindergarten, and I had gone back to teaching a few mornings a week at my youngest's preschool. I felt like I wasn't climbing the motherhood mountain anymore. I had reached a beautiful plateau. One where I could catch my breath and rest my weary legs. Not that I didn't have more steep parts to come, but I wasn't huffing and puffing my way through my days anymore. Then, I had to go all the way back to base camp. I was pregnant! I had the baby and kept on climbing my new mountain. This time the climb was steeper and rockier but I had at least been on the path before. My baby is now a 3-year-old, and I am in the thick of taming another toddler. All three of my kids are very different with different personalities and different ways of being motivated and taught. I have my degree in early childhood education and have read a TON of books, but the best educator is lots of trial and error. It helps to have a lot of tools in your tool bag, because different tools will work on different children and situations. Just trying to get through your day with a toddler requires a lot of creative effort. Sometimes just getting out of the house with clothes on the both of you can turn your sweet, tame toddler into a screaming, drooling monster. These are different tricks I have used to get that monster to turn back into my sweet, loving child.
The Calm Down Blanket/Space
Create a place where you lay out a small blanket with a cup of water, some books, soft pillows, and some other calming toys or "lovies" on it. When you have a toddler who needs to calm down, put her on the blanket and let her know that she is to use that space to calm down. It's OK for your child to be upset. She can take the time she needs to feel and express her feelings. I have her stay on the blanket and look at books, use a lovie to comfort herself, or just lay down and take a break. When she has calmed down, you can talk with her about her feelings and how they escalated. Sometimes a toddler fit is used to try to persuade. Sometimes it's a result of not knowing how to handle strong, powerful feelings. Just allowing her the ability and space to have emotions makes them easier to handle.
Validate Her Feelings
Vocalize why she is mad or upset. Give words to her frustration and validate that her feelings are real and powerful. However, she doesn't get to rule the situation. "I know it's so frustrating that you can't wear your flip-flops in the winter. They were your favorite shoes and now it's too cold to wear them. When it is warmer, we will wear them again. But for now, let's wear either your purple shoes or your pink shoes." Expressing her feelings doesn't change her situation, but at least it gives her a voice.
"One More Time, Then All Done"
This phrase becomes their motto. Toddlers are experiencing life with so many things that are new and fun! They don't naturally care about things that aren't important to them. Your time frame or comfort is not even on their radar most of the time. Riding the elevator again, or doing another big jump off the curb, or enjoying rolling down the window again is more along the lines of what is important to them. My youngest child loved the phrase, "One more time!" But "One more time!" does not have a deadline. Once we added "Then all done," a deadline was formed. The trick to making this work is that you have to stick to your guns. "All done" means simply that. Don't give in after the last time, and it will eventually work in your favor. They will understand what one more means and follow it.
Offering a Choice
Choices allow kids to feel like they are in control of some things. Make sure the choices you offer are both good for you. "Do you want to get in the bath all by yourself? Or do you want me to put you in the bath?" Either way, they are getting in the bathtub. The bath is no longer the power struggle. It is going to happen, but he has a say in how it happens. "Do you want bubbles tonight? Or do you want no bubbles?" "Do you want to get in your car seat all by yourself? Or do you want me to put you in it?" Now take a deep breath and choose patience while he struggles to climb in all by himself.
Some kids are fabulous responders to distraction. Some kids are not. Depends on your child and sometimes your quick thinking. "Look! I see an airplane! Do you see it? Here, let's get in your car seat and buckle you in. Can you see it out your window? What colors are on it?" Distraction did not work at all for my first child. My second and third responded to distraction and humor. "Uh oh! Where is your hand? Is it stuck in your jacket? I can't find it! Put your other arm in and see if your other hand gets stuck, too!"
Sometimes this is a tactic you didn't plan on using until you realize a tantrum might ensue if you give a dreaded "no." You may not think that opening the gate by herself is that big of a deal to a toddler, but once you witness the passion behind her request you realize you're doomed. A "no" might send your toddler into a tailspin. Make it a win-win situation. Let her know what you need in return for giving her what she needs. "You may open the gate, but because we need to get to the doctor appointment on time, I will shut the gate." Believe me, I don't want to negotiate every time I sense a tantrum on the horizon, but it is important that children learn that their requests are heard too.
Most days involve the use of all of these tools, requiring a lot of effort and creativity. Which is why I am back huffing and puffing my way through my day!
Carrie G. is a full-time mom of three, part-time chauffer, underpaid chef and amazing cheerleader in Dallas.