Toddlers are a handful. Between the ages of 1-3 is typically the time children begin to realise that they can act independently of adults, and begin a series of tests to find out exactly how independent they can be.
The good news is that the ‘catch them young’ phrase is very much in your favour, and you can rein in their behaviour.
Also, at this age, you can instill healthy behaviours that toddlers can use their whole lives, making them happier, better-functioning adults.
Here’s how to go about it:
1. Introduce A Handful Of Simple Rules.
Toddlers will not be able to adhere to many complicated rules.
So, when you do, set a few simple, safety-related rules instead, and have reasonable expectations.
Your child is really still a baby, hence, not the best time to set serious rules like making the bed or keeping neat at mealtime.
Instead, try to focus on introducing concepts like putting toys away or treating items with care.
2. Know When To Redirect
Toddlers possess the ability to move very quickly from one feeling to the next.
This means that as long as you can distract them long enough for them to forget what they’re upset about, you’ll be in the clear.
This is concept is called redirection.
Now, the goal is not to distract them so that they never learn, but rather to help them move on from one thing to the next without getting caught in an emotional loop.
However, there are some situations where redirecting will not cut it. For instance, in a situation where your child has done something really bad, a strong scolding may be what’s required.
3. Explain Things Out
Normalize explaining when and why your toddler shouldn’t do something. When they do something wrong, they need to know that it’s wrong so they can learn not to do it again. However, try not to make it too dramatic, as this can make it more difficult to redirect them. Simply point it out and help them move on.
4. Redirect Their Line Of Thinking
If they are throwing a tantrum and it is related to something that they think or feel, it may be possible to redirect them by guiding them to think about something else.
Manually guide their thought process by asking them questions and slowly move the questions away from what they were upset about until eventually, they forget what the original problem was.
For example, do not adopt the style in Nigeria where parents ask everyone to look away when a child falls.
That is not a good way of handling the situation.
If you see your child fall, hit their elbow, and you perceive a meltdown is on the way, ask if they hurt their toe, their ankle, their hand and their back.
Also, you can move from body part to body part that you know is not hurt, forcing them to think about the “not in pain” sensations in other parts of their body.
Likewise, you can move your child’s attention to a new activity if they’re upset about not doing what they want.
Bring up the activity you want them to do, while also demonstrating it to them.
You can also get their attention and train critical thinking by asking them questions about the activity, such as “What do you think?” win-win.
6. Create Boundaries By Expressing Simple Rules
The fact is: a 2-year-old might not recognize the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate behavior unless you spell it out for them in their language.
It will help to keep the rules straightforward and essential, focusing on safety and respect for others. Say things like:
“You have to stay buckled in your car seat so you can be safe in the car.
“You can’t take a toy from someone without asking because it will make them feel sad.
“We don’t smack when we’re upset because it hurts the other person.”
6. Always Ask Them To Repeat A Rule Or Limit Out Loud
This will not only emphasize the rule, but it will also help them understand and remember it.
Whenever it’s time to introduce a new rule or remind them of an existing one, you could say something like “I’m going to tell you our rule about sharing your toys and I want you to say it back to me.”
You may also find this article: How To Prepare Your Toddler For First Time In School; helpful
Depending on his/her communication skills, it’s fine to help them through repeating the rule. You can even turn this into something that’s fun, as opposed to a boring chore.
7. Strive To Be Consistent With The Rules
If you are not willing or able to stick to a rule in nearly every instance, it’s usually better not to make the rule at all.
A toddler won’t get how a rule can be important if it isn’t enforced all the time. For example, they won’t understand the point of “no screen time past 8 pm” if you let them get away with it once in a while.
If a rule needs to be changed or dropped, explain why in simple terms: “Now that you’re older, you can watch TV for extra 30 minutes before bedtime.”
Also, it will help to provide consistent routines that the rules fit into. Consistency reduces the feelings of “what’s happening now?” and “why are we doing this?” that can instigate resistance from toddlers.
For example, if you create a bedtime routine that starts at the same time and follows the same process every night, there will be less reason for your baby to argue about it.
8. Praise Them Whenever You Catch Them Following The Rules
Make it a point to never miss an opportunity to praise them for good behavior.
If you catch them sharing a toy, you could say “Great job sharing, Nancy!”
If they stop playing without a tantrum when you tell them it’s lunchtime, say: “Thanks for putting your toys down so quickly and coming to lunch.”
For their age, positive reinforcement—praising good behavior—is more effective than negative reinforcement—punishing bad behavior.
They crave your attention and approval; capitalize on this opportunity to teach them to act accordingly in order to get it.
9. Explain The Natural Consequence
For instance, after they throw their cup on the floor in a tantrum, your toddler will undoubtedly ask for their juice.
Point out that since they non-accidentally threw the juice, there is no more for them.
You could say: “I’m sorry, Yvonne, but your cup is empty now because you threw it on the floor. There’s no more juice for you.”
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