Communicating Positively With Toddlers
It can feel like the only thing toddlers are good for is a big old headache. Learn about why they do the things they do, and how to reduce some of the stress the toddler years can bring.
How many times have any of these phrases (on the left) ever come out of your mouth? How does it make you feel? How does your little react?
Once the girls were completely mobile (10 months), our days started to fill up with more ACTIVE play and I knew that things were going to change. (And boy was I ever in for a surprise!) I remember saying things like “Since I take the time to explain things NOW (at 12 mo), I hope I won’t have to worry about “The Terrible Two’s.” (Uhhh, ya ok!) This is the first of many posts that are going discuss/evaluate life with toddlers. Today I am going to get a little more personal with you, and share with you how I came into the gentle parenting life and why it's the best fit for us....
I started learning what it REALLY means to have patience, while feeling out my new “Toddler Mom” title. I was faced with yet another one of those popular/typical mommy dilemmas: "HOW DO I DEAL WITH THIS NEW ‘PHASE’? What’s going to be the most effective way for me to get my message/point across that will be the MOST BENEFICIAL for them?”
When first entering the toddler world, I did my best to “go with the flow” and keep in mind what I have already learned from past experiences AND research. Of course I start getting the earful about “spankings” and “timeouts" from the peanut gallery, and that being the norm back in my childhood, that was naturally one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind (NOT MY ACTIONS!). But as I began to encounter more and more situations like, “The girls keep doing X, and it’s about to make me scream,” I KNEW I would be better off with a game plan of some sort, because redirecting wasn’t cutting it as much as it used to.
What to do, what to do? Well, for the life of me I have NEVER been able to come to terms with knowing that I CAUSED my kids to cry. (This was one of the main reasons I did NOT sleep train the girls. And go figure they started sleeping through the night at 13 months on their OWN!) Being a first generation child myself, I know what it’s like to be told something is “because that’s the way it is” or “Because I said so.” Nothing too wrong with that from the surface. Except for when we take into account what is going on with our toddlers when it comes to their developmental milestones and how our lack of “accountability” (ie: “we don’t do this because…”) can impact them later in life.
Just from watching the girls grow, learn, and change everyday, I've realized how much babies/infants/toddlers are just MINI HUMAN BEINGS trying to learn the ropes! With what little knowledge (and common sense) I had going into the parenting world, I was able to realize WITHOUT doing any research that my toddlers goals were only to learn how to master all of the new emotions and freedoms they have been acquiring over their short lives. From being COMPLETELY dependant on me, and the whole concept of the “Fourth Trimester," to being able to feed themselves, walk, and “tell me” what they need in less than TWO years?? I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be for THEM.
NOW, let’s take into account the fact that they have practically NO IDEA how to regulate any of these emotions. And that they are still learning the boundaries of this new found freedom. It's important to keep in mind that they haven’t yet developed the verbal skills to FULLY express themselves and they are often times forced to conforming to the adult world more times than we conform to theirs.
Since one of my responsibilities as a parent includes being the "voice" for my children that they don’t yet have, of course one the main question at hand is always “How would I expect someone else to treat me in these given situations?” So to paint a picture for you, let’s use a very common EXAMPLE that we all come across daily with children, whether we are dealing with 1 or 4 of them, and hopefully I can show you WHY I got to where we are today!
EX: GIRLS WON’T STOP OPENING THE CABINETS in the kitchen!
A- put them in TIME OUT for not listening
B-SPANK them for not listening
C-YELL at them for not listening
D- SHOW THEM the behaviors I expect from them and EXPLAIN to them why I am asking them to follow these instructions.
(Now, please realize as I say this, I am NOT PERFECT, and there are times when I slip up and openly express my frustrations, but those moments only push me to keep on going BACK DOWN the road that I initially chose for us. They are lessons that allow me to learn about myself and how I deal with my own anger. I always own up to my human flaws by apologizing to my girls and explaining to them what happened and how we can handle it better in the future. They may not “get it” right away, but that doesn’t mean that they are not listening!)
When the cabinets started becoming a “chronic” problem (I only did a "child proof" cabinet lock under the sink), I considered ALL of those options, (A-D), but I always ended up finding myself explaining “Ok, we don’t open the cabinets because mommy doesn’t need that stuff right now.” My thought process being: “If I was doing something and someone told me NOT to do 'that', I would probably be more inclined to keep doing 'that'. If I UNDERSTOOD what was expected of me, and WHY, instead of just being PUNISHED for not following ‘the directions,' I'd probably try harder not to do 'that'.”
I tried to redirect the girls by putting ABC magnets on the fridge, and giving them a few kitchen toys to play with, and this helped for a few minutes, but then they were back at it. After taking the few extra seconds to pay attention to what the girls were doing (instead of immediately jumping on them every time for doing something “wrong,”) I came to realize that all the girls wanted to do was help me cook. (We have always spent a lot of time in the kitchen together cooking.) So instead of yelling, spanking, or punishing the girls, I took the few extra seconds to explain to them why I do not want them to open the doors (ie: “The cabinets should stay closed so that nothing gets in or out of them”). THEN I even took it a step further and was able implement a game and some UNSCHOOLING fun! (Unschooling post coming soon!) Whenever they would open a cabinet door, we would "hi-ya karate chop kick" the door closed. As a result of this approach, I was able to teach the girls “OPEN/CLOSE” and “IN/OUT” when they did touch the cabinets, because let’s face it.... them messing with the cabinets at that age was basically inevitable. Eventually, the only times the would mess with/open the cabinets was when they were wanting to play the game.
You see, it’s all about taking into account matters of perspective! It’s not so much about HOW you send your message, it's about WHAT message you send. Next time your little “tests” you, take a moment to step back and evaluate the situation.Kids aren't just blank slates who are trying to do everything they can to push your buttons. Figure out WHAT is going on and try to UNDERSTAND WHY your little is reacting the way they are! It’s often much easier than we think it is to deal with the “emotions” that our toddlers express through “tantrums” and “fits” if we try to for one second put OURSELVES in THEIR shoes. (It may seem backwards to most, but don't children deserve that much? "Treat people how you want to be treated," etc etc.)
(Even when I ACTIVELY try to not say it, it often slips out.) Try starting from catching how many times a day (and when) you use the "N" word (NO) and seeing where the wind blows you all….. and just keep this in mind:
It always helps to have a leg up in knowing what to expect and why it's happening when it comes to children! Learn more about the changes and adventures to expect in toddlerhood HERE! (more info coming soon!)