Teething, weaning, sleeping, potty training, talking, and now talking back?
Your toddler has now begun one of the most important journeys into the concept of self and self-expression. He’s going to want to experiment a little with the reactions his new vocabulary can warrant. This is also a time to experiment with his personality and how he fits into the social structure. How you get through this will influence your child’s independence and choice making abilities as they age. You want your child to be independent to make his own choices, and to be secure with the choices he makes. Here are some tips to keeping your cool and making this learning time part of a sturdy foundation you can build your parent-child relationship on in the years to come.
1. Expect them to change their mind. Often. Your toddler has no concept of foresight, planning ahead, or of time. Most children this age are just starting to communicate verbally, and so some still do not fully understand the concrete meanings of “yes” and “no” and are relying on our interactions with them to solidify these concepts. You may even witness your child shaking their head back and forth for a non-verbal “no” response, all while saying the word “yes.” The same way once they learn “doggie,” they may feel any animal on four legs is called “doggie” now. Or, your daughter may have been excited for her playdate yesterday, but today she doesn’t feel like socializing. Be okay with this. Yes, it can be annoying, but you’re teaching your child you respect their choices as their own to make.
2. Exercise and play. Children’s bodies were designed to move. They need to move to learn and to think. They need to play to burn off that extra energy so they have a creative outlet and so they don’t have extra energy for “getting into trouble”. Pent-up energy can lead to hyperactivity and an inability to pay attention. It can also increase the amount of negative attention they receive and lock you into a cycle of constant power struggles. Play is also the ideal situation for children to work out what they are learning and feeling and provides opportunity for role playing, a vital step in learning how to socialize. Children this age are still perfecting their motor skills. Give them sturdy objects to climb, pegs to fit and hammer, or balls to throw, catch, or dunk.
3. Offer choices. Encourage independence by offering choices. They don’t have to be epic decisions like what to make for dinner or what color to paint the living room, or what to name the new baby. They can be some quite simple questions that really all have the same outcome. If you have two loads of laundry to do, separate them out and ask him to choose which one is first. Pick two outfits and ask him which one he wants to wear. Ask him if he’d like to sit on the other side of the car when you go out next. Offer age-appropriate chores or tasks to help you and be sure to thank them for their efforts, and don’t expect their efforts to be above their age level. Children want to be involved. They want to be a contributing member of the house, physically and socially. Engage their elective choices by limiting what they have to choose from to within your comfort zone so both parties get what they want.
4. Watch your words. Avoid using words that label, such as “brat,” “pest,” or “trouble maker”. Keep your cool to keep negative reactions to a minimum. Instead of giving orders, ask it in the form of a question instead. “Can you go sit on the couch with that? I don’t want you to choke,” is much more respectful than, “Go sit on the couch with that. If I tell you again, I’m taking it away.” Instead of shouting “Don’t yell!” try saying, “Please speak quieter.” Instead of “No, we can’t have that for dinner tonight,” try, “Yes, we can have that for dinner, but it will have to be tomorrow night instead.” Thank your child for what they are doing right, even when it’s expected of them. Avoid pointing out what they didn’t get perfect and instead focus on what they did accomplish. Children may hear far more negative remarks made toward them in a day than they hear positive feedback. This can be discouraging to a child, causing them to have a lower self-esteem. Children put a lot of effort into everything they do and they want to be acknowledged. They need a lot of positive reinforcement and encouragement so they know for sure what they are doing is the right thing, even if it doesn’t turn out like you had hoped.
5. They really aren’t trying to make your life harder. Go with the flow. Choose your battles. Will it take more time, stress, and energy to fight about it, or just let it go? I’ll offer a personal example of this. My 23-month old son was stuck indoors on a hot, triple-digit afternoon. Getting bored, he opened a closet and took out our bulk paper towel pack from the local membership warehouse. There were eight rolls of paper towels left, and our son began to pull them all out on the floor. My husband’s first instinct was to tell him “No! Put them back!” fearing he would open each individual pack and string out paper towels across the house, wasting them. But you know a meltdown would have occurred! We instead decided to let him play with them. Was it really worth the battle over paper towels? He spent hours playing with those, stacking and knocking them down, and then doing it all over again. He only split the packing open a little through the course of normal playing. He got more enjoyment out of those than any toy he’s had in a while. But, we almost just assumed he couldn’t play with them without ruining them, costing a huge tantrum and hours of finding something to keep him entertained, likely forcing us to resort to the TV.
Your child is becoming a person with their own thoughts and feelings and a desire to express their individuality. Encourage them to blossom into a strong, independent, confident decision maker by working with them instead of against them. You are their first coach. Be on their team!
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