It seems like time is flying by, and you may be adding another pencil line to the wall or door frame as your little guy is growing up! And when a child is becoming a toddler (approximately ages 1 – 3½), many parents start to enter what some informally call the “terrible twos” stage, and let’s be honest: it can be an absolute nightmare sometimes.
When children start entering into their toddler years, they typically are starting to walk on their own, learning more words and gestures, and are expressing an interest in being more independent from their parents. They are also figuring out their emotions and what it feels like to be happy, sad, angry, and frustrated. And for these unhappy feelings, toddlers like to show their parents and sometimes other people how they are feeling by having a tantrum.
We can hardly believe the dramatic flair some of these loud fits come with, but we should be used to it by now – those peanuts are just exaggerated versions of ourselves! And, just like us, there are things we can do to ease our negative emotions and foster healthy communication with the people we love.
This is a key developmental stage that can be a struggle for parents, but knowing how to communicate properly with your toddler can make a world of difference. Communication is important for people at any age, but especially for youngsters. Here are some basics to communicating with your toddler in order to avoid those unwanted tantrums:
7 Provide Choices
Did your toddler just learn to say “no”, and now that is his/her new favourite response to absolutely everything? It’s normal at the toddler stage for children to start saying this more and refusing their parents’ requests, but there is a way to turn those simple “yes” versus “no” battles with your toddler into positive communication.
Providing toddlers with choices makes them feel the power and independence that they want, but at the same time gives parents the outcome they want in order to move forward. Instead of saying “do you want macaroni and cheese for dinner?”, you could say, “do you want macaroni and cheese or lasagna for dinner?” Your toddler will be more likely to think about making a choice for dinner instead of automatically saying “no” just because they can.
6 Play Games to Reduce Separation Anxiety
Even though your toddler is trying to be more independent, they will still be fearful when you need to leave them with another caregiver. Children learn a lot through playing games, and communicating through playing simple games such as hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo will help your toddler understand something called object permanence: things still existing even when they can’t be seen.
It takes some time for toddlers to understand this concept, and it can be stressful for parents and their child when it comes time to drop them off at daycare or with a different caregiver than themselves. As an adult, you’ve learned to internalize this stress, and you also understand object permanence, but for toddlers, it’s all about external expression, and sometimes this can mean having a good old kicking and screaming tantrum.
By playing these games, though, you will be able to communicate to your toddler that even though they won’t see you for a while, you aren’t leaving them forever, and they will start to feel more comfortable having some separation from you.
5 Get Down to Their Level
When parents are talking with their toddler, what they are trying to say to their child or what their toddler is trying to tell them will be communicated more effectively if the parent physically gets down to their child’s level. This is especially important if the parent is teaching the toddler that what they have done is bad behaviour.
Regardless of the circumstance, though, your toddler will focus and listen better to you when you are seeing them eye to eye, instead of standing over them. And, if your toddler is trying to tell you something, you’ll be making them feel that what they are saying is important by getting down to their level.
Overall, this will create more positive communication between you and your toddler so that they are less likely to throw a tantrum when feeling misunderstood. So, squat down and have a conversation with your toddler and see the difference it makes!
4 Refrain From Embarrassing Them
When you’re out in public and your toddler is getting into mischief, sometimes the first response to correct their wrongful actions is to put them on the spot in front of others, so that they won’t repeat it again because they’ll feel embarrassed. This form of communication can be more hurtful than helpful, though, when it comes to disciplining your toddler, and can create more negative responses from them in the future.
Children of any age who are subject to embarrassment in this way through a parent’s scolding are more likely to feel resentment and, in turn, will lash out more. Similarly for a toddler, they will start to feel resentment and will be more likely to throw a tantrum in the future.
We don’t like being embarrassed – children don’t either.
Think about you and your partner; you respect and consider what he has to say significantly more if he calmly addresses you in private. Contrary, you only want to strangle him if he calls you out in front of your friends, family, or even strangers.
Instead of putting them on the spot, experts suggest being proactive about communicating rules and expectations for children, and giving timeouts when appropriate.
3 Let Them in on the Plan
Some toddlers really don’t like surprises, and when they don’t know what is happening next, their expectations will wander and next thing you know, they are upset. A lot of parents know that sticking to a routine is very important for toddlers, but it is equally as important to communicate what is involved in the routine and what activities are planned during the day – don’t underestimate their ability to understand what you are saying.
Communicating the day’s plan with your toddler will limit their apprehension when faced with having to get into the car or having to stop at the grocery store. If they know what to expect, they will be less likely to have a tantrum.
For any part of the day that is unplanned, let your toddler help with ideas! “Mommy has to go to the bank this morning and then to the Doctor’s office – what should we do after that?” Your toddler will be excited that you are letting them help plan the day with you, and it will open up the communication channels so that they feel empowered.
2 Ask “What Happened” Before Asking “Why”
Many situations will arise for parents of toddlers where they will be thinking “why did they do this?” But, before asking your toddler why they did something (good or bad), experts suggest asking “what happened?” first. This will help your toddler to explain him/herself better instead of becoming defensive about their actions, and in return, you will better understand where they are coming from and how to react.
This way of communicating with your toddler can be especially beneficial for those situations when you get that phone call from daycare finding out that your child has upset another child. You want to get to the bottom of it to ensure your child isn’t making it a pattern, but you also don’t want to make them feel under attack right away.
Toddlers are still figuring out how to express themselves properly at this stage in their life, so getting them to explain their actions before answering “why” they did something will help them understand their emotions better, and also why, as their parent, you are telling them it is good or bad behaviour.
1 Acknowledge Their Feelings
Sometimes, the natural response from a parent when their toddler is sad or angry is to distract them with something else in order for them to feel happy again. While this may be a short-term solution for toddlers at the younger end of the spectrum (ages 1 – 2), when they get a bit older, this distraction method will not work as well, and a pent-up tantrum can ensue.
You don’t want to encourage your toddler to wallow in their sadness or stay angry, but it is better to let them know that it is normal to feel these emotions so that, later on, their feelings aren’t pent-up.
Encourage them to tell you how they are feeling and acknowledge why they are feeling this way. Communicating to your toddler that you can see why they are feeling a certain way will strengthen your bond with them, and will also help them feel more calm in the future when unhappy feelings arise.
Keeping the communication channel open and honest with your toddler can help them figure out their feelings and why certain things are happening, which will allow them to feel more comfortable when things don’t always go the way they want them to.
Talking to Your New Best Friend
You’ve given life to your child, your mini-me, and your new best friend. Just like all of your other relationships, this one thrives on respect, understanding, compassion, and communication. Ironically, talking openly about dark emotions helps us to experience more light ones, like companionship and love.
Somehow, our human minds are relieved when we speak about what troubles us – as if that solved whatever issue is weighing on us. The same holds for the little versions of ourselves; children can better – and less loudly – overcome negative emotions, like nervousness, uneasiness, jealousy, and anger, when they can properly relieve them through healthy communication.
Beyond avoiding tantrums, you might enjoy this deepened communication with your bouncing toddler. By now, he is forming his own little personality that is undoubtedly adorable and hilarious. Really take it in. This little human is flourishing before you, and you have the unique and special opportunity to be her best friend, parent, and confidante.