As our babies approach toddlerhood, we all start to think about the dreaded ‘terrible twos’ and much-talked of toddler taming. No sooner have we tackled the tantrums, meltdowns and mood swings, than we realise we have a ‘threenager’ on our hands.
Don’t despair! Yes, toddlers are a minefield of emotions on the best of days, but any parent of a giant baby who can walk and talk and scream until their cheeks turn blue on command will empathise with you – you are not alone!
Certified mum of a threenager, Amanda Nicholls shares some of her favourite toddler taming tips!
1. Check if they are hungry!
Many a momentous meltdown in our house could have been completely avoided if we had remembered to feed the toddler. You know what I’m talking about… one minute they’re happily playing, the next they’ve lost control. The first instinct is to try and fix the situation by asking what’s wrong. Why isn’t this working? Because your toddy is HANGRY. A lovely mixture of hungry meets angry. It always helps to have a cupboard full of small treats your little one likes. It’s also wise to remember this when you’re out and about. Your littlie loves popcorn? Put a packet in the nappy bag. You never know when a snack might just save your life.
2. Try time out
You know when you feel overwhelmed or at boiling point and you just want to walk away and get some space to cool your jets? Guess what… works a treat for toddlers too.
Toddlers need boundaries and they need us to tell them what’s right from wrong. Just like every other toddler though, they hate being told ‘no’. A typical response would be for them to open their mouth and start wailing. Maybe they’ll go the full hog and get down on the floor with arms and legs flailing. Either way, it’s a great time to sit them down and explain why you told them to do what it is you needed them to do and tell them they are having a time out.
A good guideline is to keep them in time out for a minute for every year they’ve lived. So you have a two year old? It’s a two minute time out. When you return they will be upset but calmer than before and you can explain again the importance of why they needed to listen to you and then ask for a kiss and a cuddle and tell them ‘let’s have a nice day’.
3. Could they be tired?
Little people are best equipped at keeping their emotions in check when they’ve had a good amount of rest. If your tot has had a rough night, expect that the following day is going to be fuelled with mood swings. If you can afford it, a low key day with lots of rest could alleviate bad toddler behaviour. It also helps to notice the tired signs before you reach tantrum stage. There’s the typical signs of eye rubbing and yawning, but if you notice your little one getting irritable, check the time and see if it’s time for a nap. If they’re escalating and tired you might even like to try this mum’s strategy which she called ‘Heart Hugs’.
4. Toddler taming with praise…
Toddlers respond much better to positive reinforcement than negative feedback. They crave attention from us, and to them, it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative, so long as our focus is on them. Rather than getting irritated, and raising your voice constantly to try and stop your toddler from behaving badly, try instead telling them very descriptively exactly what they have done to please you. For instance, if your toddler hasn’t had an episode when you say you have to leave the park, tell them you have noticed and how excellent it was that he left the park without a tantrum. Telling them in detail what they did that was good gives them a clear model for good behaviour in the future. This tool is one that you should try and incorporate into your daily activities until it becomes second nature. You will notice the benefits immediately.
5. Try a rewards system
Rewards work wonders, but make sure your toddler understands how to achieve the goals you are setting. A rewards chart could include things such as brushing your teeth, toilet training goals, sharing, listening to you, being polite and going to bed on time. Agree on a prize if your toddler achieves their tasks by the end of the week. Treats could be special foods, a visit to the park or a new book. You could even have a craft session with your toddler to create the rewards chart together so they feel included in the process.
6. See things from their perspective
There are many times when toddler behaviour just makes you want to explode. For example, my three year old has a fit if anyone but mummy tries to help her do anything.
Her tantrums have been making other family members feel unloved and unwanted, and frustrating me as she is making my life ten times harder when there’s a second pair of hands there who could undo her seatbelt. So one day I asked her why she only wants Mummy. She told me it’s because she loves me and she doesn’t want me to think she loves someone else more than me. So this display of toddler anger was her way of saying she loved me.
Now when she does it, I am armed with that information and I can say to her, ‘Mummy loves you so much, and I know you love me too. But what Mummy would really love is if you let Daddy help you this time.’ Try to see things from their perspective rather from an adult point of view. It really helps to keep your frustration at bay.
7. Pick your battles when toddler taming
I had to learn this trick, because as the adult – I know I’m right. But does it really matter? Not when it comes to toddler taming! Would anyone care if she showed up to daycare in a polka dot dress with striped tracksuit pants and crocs on the wrong feet? The answer is no. If you find yourself butting heads with your babe, step back and think, who will notice? Does it matter right now if he wants to use the loo in the dark? Uh uh. Let them have a little freedom and know when to let them have their way.
8. Remind yourself, this is typical toddler behaviour
When all else fails, think to yourself, is this typical toddler behaviour? We sometimes think it’s just our little cherub who squawks if you walk through the front door before them or turn the TV off for dinner time. It’s not. And it helps to remember you have a normal, healthy, happy little toddler who is giving you grief just like mine is. Let go of your mum guilt, draw another deep breath and good luck!