Terrible twos. Threenagers. Meltdowns. Temper tantrums. Potty training.
We all know the toddler years are hard on parents. But, guess what? They are also hard on our little ones. Yes, these years may give us more grey hairs, cause us to drink a little more wine than usual, and leave us periodically wondering – is my child a sociopath? Instead of playing the “poor pitiful me” card, I’m here to suggest we show our little ones a little more empathy and to offer some tips on surviving these tough but oh-so-fun years.
Developmentally, there are SO many things that happen to a child between 18 months and three-and-a-half years. Add to that, the fact that all children develop at different rates. And, even within the same child, their developmental skills may develop at different stages. A child may be very advanced physically but struggle with speech. Or, maybe they can recite their alphabet and spell their name but physical things like jumping and skipping are challenging. Your child’s brain is changing and developing like crazy during this time. If you are a mom of a child in these age ranges, you can probably attest to the daily changes you see in your child. They are literally changing right before your eyes.
Toddler and tantrums often go hand-in-hand. But, I would suggest that at least 90 percent of the time, tantrums start because the expectations we have of our children are simply too high. We put them in situations they are not equipped to handle and then guess what happens . . . they explode.
Now, you may ask, what makes me knowledgeable enough to be sharing this here? I’m not a psychologist or a pediatrician. I have no official medical background, but friends and family often joke that I have an unofficial degree in medicine and childhood development because of my daughter’s history.
You see, Avery is developmentally delayed. She’s almost four years old, but her development is all over the place. Physical ability — 18 months. Fine motor skills — one year. Speech — two and a half. Cognitive brain development — on track, possibly even a little advanced. This has led me to do tons of research and consult with many developmental professionals in order to educate myself and gain advice and insight into how to handle the behavior challenges we experience.
So, I’m here to save you some time and money and offer some insight into what I’ve learned. This applies to ANY child, not just those with special needs or who are developmentally delayed.
Tips to Avoiding and/or Managing a Meltdown
Identify triggers (i.e. what is causing your child to meltdown?). This may take some time to spot patterns, but I guarantee you’ll find some. Are they hungry? Did they not get enough sleep the night before? Have they been sick and therefore have less energy? Have we forced them to run one too many errands? Kids are just like adults in that our moods change and our behavior is affected by many different variables. Once you can identify a trigger, you can typically avoid a tantrum before it happens. Not always, but this is definitely a helpful strategy.
Manage your expectations of your child’s behavior. Ask yourself if the expectations you are setting for your child are realistic. As with the trigger discussion above, consider what your toddler has experienced that day and then compare that to the activities you have planned for the rest of the day. Just an example . . . If your child didn’t sleep well the night before and/or skipped their nap that day, it may not be realistic for you to expect them to sit through a late dinner with family at a restaurant.
Educate yourself on developmental milestones. Then, compare those developmental milestones to where your child is. Then, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect from your child. In fact, did you know that many child abuse situations occur because of a parent’s unreal expectations of their child? The next time you get really upset at your child, I beg you, show them some grace and empathy. Please.
Now, it’s not always possible to avoid a meltdown, so here are a few strategies I’ve picked up for weathering the storm.
Redirect and/or distract. Do something to take their mind off of whatever it is they are upset about. Up until age three or so, toddlers are pretty distractible.
Appeal to their non-emotional side. Ask them to count. Play “I spy.” Point out shapes. Anything to take the emotion out of the situation.
Offer choices. If your child is throwing a tantrum about wanting something they can’t have at the moment, identify two other attractive choices for a toy and/or activity and offer those up.
DO NOT discipline during this time, instead, offer empathy. Discipline will just send them down a further downward spiral. Get down on their level and hold them tightly. The firm pressure can be calming to a child.
STAY CALM. Yes, I put this one in all caps because it’s so important. I also understand that it’s not easy. Remember this, they are the child and we are the adults. It’s our job to be a positive role model and to show them how to act in emotional situations. Getting angry will only make things worse, both for you and your child.
Pick your battles. Last but certainly not least. While you certainly don’t want to allow your child to manipulate you by throwing a tantrum and then always giving them what they want, there are certain situations when it’s okay to give in. After all, we are raising humans, not robots.
So, there you have it. I hope these tips are helpful for you. The toddler years are hard, but I’ve never smiled or laughed more in my life.
Raising a child is a huge responsibility and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s not easy but I think, it’s the most important and impactful thing you can do. We owe our children 100 percent love, understanding, and empathy. We owe it not just to them but to the world that they will live in after we’re gone. After all, we’re not just raising children, we’re raising adults.