To all of us. Most importantly, though, they happen to our precious, amazing, creative, intelligent little toddlers.
They happen often.
They happen loudly.
There are so many books about raising toddlers and blogs about parenting them. I thought I would take a moment to sum up some of what I’ve read and my experiences. Perhaps you’ll read something new and try a different technique to connect with your little one. Or maybe you’ll just commiserate with me and some of my more troubling situations!
It seems like when we deal with toddlers, we are dealing with these little monsters. Yes, they aren’t as capable of handling emotions as we are, but they are still people. Allowing them to have feelings and letting them know we hear their feelings is respectful, if nothing else.
Here’s an example:
While driving to the store, my toddler yells from the backseat, “I’m going to take my shoes off!” My initial response? “No! We’re going to the store and you need your shoes!” The result: a back and forth power struggle.
Toddler yells, “I’m going to take my shoes off!”
I respond, “You really want those shoes off, don’t you?”
She whines, “Yeah, I do.”
I explain, “We are almost to the store and you will not be allowed to walk in the store if you are not wearing shoes. Why do you want them off?”
She says, “I want them off!” [Insert a big growl and whine here.]
I say, “I know you do! Why?”
Eventually, my little one tells me that she’s getting hot. Interesting. It’s winter. I have the heater running full blast in the car and it is getting warm. I tell her I’ll turn on some cool air and we are almost to the store.
Done. Shoes were on when we got there. No more whining.
2. Say, “Yes!”
I got some pretty negative feedback once, when I asked on Facebook how I could better create a “yes” environment for my child (who, at the time, was a very curious, walking 10-month-old). People responded that “no” is healthy. They told me I shouldn’t be afraid to say, “no.” I was lectured about the benefits of setting boundaries. I kind of felt attacked. Maybe I should have explained further! I wasn’t trying to say that I didn’t want to say “no” to my child and thus spoil her forever and ever until she turned into a tyrant who got everything she wanted. I was simply asking for some ideas to make my home more baby-friendly now that she was mobile. I didn’t want to spend my day yelling, “No!” to this little person who was curious and exploring everything around her.
So, please don’t get me wrong when I say, “Say, Yes!”.
“Yes” is empowering. It’s affirming. It encourages further conversation.
Lately, I’ve practiced this during the especially frustrating times, filled with whining and situations where I need to say no. Here’s an example:
Toddler: I want a cookie.
Me: Yes, I know you do.
Toddler: Can I have one?
Me: Not right now, Honey. Daddy is on his way home and we’re going to eat dinner. We can have one after dinner.
Toddler: I want one right now!
Me: Yes, I know you do. You want one right now!
Don’t get me wrong, whining still happened. There may have been tears, but I wasn’t spending the whole time saying, “No! No, you can’t! No! I said no! Why don’t you hear me saying, no!”
Maybe this one is for the parent, but saying “yes” just feels better. It also goes along with acknowledging feelings, too.
“Yes, you can have one, after dinner.”
“Yes, I know you want that. I do, too!”
“Yes, I can see that you’re upset.”
I want my Yes to be heard as much as my No, if not more. I want my children to see that I want to say Yes to them, even when I have to say No.
3. Teach empathy by acknowledging YOUR feelings
It happens a lot that people discount the words toddlers say by saying things like, “They don’t know what they’re saying” or “He didn’t mean that.” I feel differently about this subject. I think my children benefit from knowing how their words and actions effect others.
When my child says, “I don’t love you” (which she has – ouch), my logical mind says, “She doesn’t mean that. She’s just trying to get a rise out of you.” My heart says, “Ouch.” I’ve tried many tactics with this one, because for a while it was really a “thing” in our home. I speculated that she was empowering herself by saying something so powerful, but she didn’t know what effect she was actually having.
One day, during a “time in” (more below on this), I said, “I love you” and she said, “I don’t love you.”
I didn’t make a big deal about it. I just took a deep breath, felt the tears and exhaustion well up inside of me and I just let it go. The look on her face was painful. I don’t say you should do this as a form of manipulation, but as vulnerable honesty.
She said, “Don’t cry, Mommy! I love you!”
I said, “Thank you for saying that, but Mommy’s heart hurts. It hurts a lot. Those words are very painful to Mommy.”
We went back and forth talking about feelings and it was months before she used that tactic to make a point. The next time she did, I told her the same thing, “I’m hurting. Those words hurt me so much.”
For one thing, my child knows that some words are more hurtful than others. We know that as adults, don’t we? Did we learn the hard way? By having someone hurt us? Or did we learn by having someone tell us to never say something like that again? Do we really learn about empathy by being controlled or by experiencing it?
A benefit of acknowledging your feelings with your child is that they learn to acknowledge their feelings. More than once, lately, my child has said to me, “It really hurts me when you say _____”. I can respond to this. I can tell her I care about her feelings and I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. I can ask for forgiveness.
Now I hear my older toddler say to her younger sister things like, “It hurts me when you yell at me, Sister. I love you so much. Please be kinder.”
Moments like that bring good tears to my eyes. I’m listening to my children express their feelings because they are safe doing so and because we’ve modeled it for them.
4. Time In
When my first child was a baby, I was watching SuperNanny (at least I think that’s what it was called). This woman comes in and rescues parents who are in a bad situation with their kids. I noticed her use of time outs and consistency and when my child got older, I was very diligent.
One day, I just didn’t like it anymore. Time Outs made my child more mad, more sad, more volatile and less concerned with what she had done. I had been following a blog about Peaceful Parenting and I latched on to this idea of Time In. There weren’t any rules that I had to follow and it came so much more naturally to me and to her. When a situation began to get out of control, I would grab my child, pick her up and go in her room to sit in the chair. As her cries and yells decreased, we would hug and rock and then talk about what happened. This form of “discipline” brought us closer and for us, this is what we needed.
5. Consider your child’s needs the way you’d consider a friend’s needs
This is more about perspective then communication, but it can really help prevent a situation from escalating to a breaking point. When a need is expressed by a child, instead of shooting them down, putting them down, threatening them, or ignoring them, ask yourself how you would answer that request if it were your friend.
Sometimes, I imagine my friend is visiting me from out of town and she’s in the backseat. She mentions that she’s hungry. How would I reply? I wouldn’t be short with her (You JUST ate! How can you be hungry?). I wouldn’t be rude to her (We’ll be home soon and you’ll eat there.) No, I would be sympathetic to her need and respond accordingly (You’re hungry? Do you want a snack or do you want to wait til we get home and eat some lunch?) Whether it’s hungry, sad, tired, cold, hot, angry or disappointed, the way we respond to our children’s needs is the way they will learn to respond to others.
It’s not always easy to smile when you see a giant mess on the floor, or your child staring at you at 5:23 on a Saturday morning, or when you’ve left for 5 minutes only to return to a child who’s painted not only the project in front of her but also her hands, arms, feet and legs, but try. Smile at them. When you see them, remind them and yourself that you’re happy to see them.
A phrase I use with my kids is, “I’m happy to see you.” I say it every morning, no matter how early it is. I say it after naps, no matter how short the nap is. I say it for no reason at all. And you know what’s sweet? Hearing those words echoed back to me as they get older. “I’m so happy to see you, Mommy,” says my 3-year-old. “Happy a see you,” says my 2-year-old. Oh, I love that they are learning how happy we are to be a family, how happy I will always be that they are mine.
When patience is thin and things seem rushed, it’s easy to resort to “I’m the parent. You’re the child. Period.” Widening our perspective to include love, respect and trust (for them and ourselves) can help us to be the parents we want our children to have. I share these ideas and stories because I think we are always looking, always reading, always trying to find what will help. These are the things that have helped me, helped all of us in my home.
Let’s try to be the parents we would want to have and allow our children to be the people they are.
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