By Sharon Silver.
Toddlers. They’re a mix of hugs, kisses, love, screams, messes, resisting, and fun, fun, fun!
They are something else, too. Developmentally, toddlers think, and act, much more like babies than kids.
Many parents think toddlers are capable of Stopping. It. Right. This. Minute. They aren’t. And when a toddler doesn’t respond the way a parent wants them to, the parent reacts, and the toddler reveals just how young (s)he really is by falling into puddle of tears on the floor.
Toddlers are also a walking bundle of conflicts, contradictions, and frustrations. Let me explain.
Your toddler sees his favorite toy across the room and begins walking toward it. Then he looks up and sees you, his beloved parent.
He wants his toy, and he wants his parent.
Since toddlers live in the moment, and see life through literal eyes, he believes he must choose between his beloved toy or his beloved parent. He’s conflicted.
He wonders, “Should I pick up my toy, or get a hug from my parent?” His mind races between both options, parent or toy, toy or parent? Since he doesn’t know how to decide, he plops down and begins to tantrum or cry.
A version of this happens all day long, in situation after situation. It’s frustrating for the toddler, and can cause a parent to react and demand that a child stop the fuss Right. This. Minute.
All parents want to stop reacting and parent more mindfully. Here are four steps to mindfully address emotional toddlers.
Step 1- Triggers
Since reactions are motivated by triggers, then the first thing wise parents do is ask themselves, “Why am I reacting the way I am?” “What belief do I hold that is motivating my reaction?” Where did I learn to believe that?” Most often you’ll find the answers to those questions in the way your parents handled your intense emotions as a child.
Step 2- Feelings
Most parents hold the belief that the best way to stop emotional toddlers is to stop the feelings or control the situation. Since newly-verbal toddlers can’t fully reveal what’s upsetting them, trying to control or shut down the feelings only makes things worse.
A more mindful approach is to let your child experience whatever they’re feeling. Do not abandon your child. Stand or sit near them or pull them on your lap, if they’ll let you, as long as they don’t hurt you or themselves. Do not try and talk to them when they’re fully emotional. If you have a child who needs to hear your voice, simple repeat, “You’re okay,” over and over again, until the child begins to calm down.
Doing this teaches a toddler that feelings don’t stay this intense forever, they do subside. It also models for a child that my parents can remain calm, even when I can’t, so that must be the way to handle big emotions, calmly.
Step 3- Connecting
As soon as your child has released their rage, then anger, then mad, and moved on to sadness, it’s time to connect. Toddlers are a bit too young to grasp the full concept of deep breathing, however, you can, as they get older, teach them to take a few deep breaths to calm down.
This is also the time when you want to be empathetic and supportive by mirroring and putting into words what they’ve just experienced. You might say, “You wanted the toy, and you wanted me to hug you. You didn’t know what to choose first. That was hard, so you cried. I understand. You’re okay now. Would you like a hug?”
Step 4- Using a Mindful Teaching Authority™
You might be wondering, “When do I teach her not to do that again?” First, let me say, this will happen again, it’s age appropriate. Toddlers are just learning about life and need repeated experiences in order to learn all the details about situations. Parents need to accept the fact that teaching something once is not realistic.
Using a mindful teaching authority means using age appropriate ways to teach kids what you want them to do next time.
Since toddlers live in the now, they need to be taught what to do instead as soon as they calm down, so the details about what happened, and how to do it differently next time, can be connected in their mind.
You do that by asking them to repeat the situation that frustrated them in the first place. You might say, “Sweetie, are you ready to try getting the toy again? Go pick up your teddy and bring him with you as you come get a hug from mom.” This shows him/her that you can have both things at the same time.
Looking for more mindful concepts to help you with the toddler years? Check out When Development is Dressed as Misbehavior. This audio/video shares little known insights into the rapid, often intense, development that occurs between 18 months to age 5.
Sharon Silver is a mom, parent educator and public speaker and founder of Proactive Parenting. She is also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Transform behavior into Learning Moments