Your toddler’s favorite words are probably, ‘No!’ ‘Mine!’ and ‘Me do it!’ And, when he can’t, he’ll probably break down into kicks and screams. They don’t call it the Terrible Twos for nothing.
But your toddler isn’t doing this to annoy you. He is learning independence, testing skills and hopefully gaining confidence as he realizes that he can do things on his own. Our role, as parents, is to build his confidence while setting clear limits. Saying no too often, or discouraging his attempts, will derail his noble (though clumsy) efforts to succeed. Here are some tips.
Set them up for success
There’s only so much those little hands can do. We shouldn’t rush in to do the job for them (how will they learn?) but we can simplify things to their skill level. For example, you can teach your toddler to put on his own shoes, but pick those with Velcro so he doesn’t have to fumble with shoelaces yet. You can encourage him to put away his toys, but pick big containers and place within his reach.
Help them understand
Experts say that toddlers’ tantrums are often fueled by frustration they want to express something but don’t know the words. Adults have the language and self-awareness to say, ‘Man, this meeting is boring the heck out of me. Well, I’ll patiently sit this one out and then reward myself with a good cup of coffee later.’
Toddlers can’t. They just feel restless, annoyed, and completely powerless, and they don’t even know it—they just feel the rage, and let it out. You can’t always make them feel better right away, but you can help them understand what’s happening. ‘You don’t like sitting. You want to go outside.’ Then, give them a sense of control. ‘We will go outside when the big hand is on ten and the small hand is on twelve.’ Or, if your child can’t recognize numbers, speak in rituals. ‘Snack, then book, then go outside.’
Don’t praise too much
Praise is a good thing, but self-esteem is about your own self-perception as opposed to winning other people’s regard. For example, instead of ‘I’m so proud of you!’ say, ‘You must be feeling very proud of yourself.’
Resist also the temptation to praise every little thing; praise loses its meaning when it is given too much, for too little. Just be emotionally available and responsive. You can be there for your child, and enjoy his company, without gushing every five minutes. Your child needs a loving parent, not a fan club. For example, instead of saying, ‘What a beautiful drawing! You are the best artist in the world!’ you can say, ‘I really had fun painting with you today,’ or, ‘It was so sweet of you to make a card for me!’ This is part of positive parenting.
Or, simply make an enthusiastic observation. Specific praise is far more honest and meaningful than superlatives. ‘You picked such bright colors!’ or ‘Your cat has such a happy smiling face! Hmm, I wonder why he’s smiling?’ This shows your child that you are paying attention, and even opens the paths for deeper interaction. ‘Is he smiling because he ate something yummy? Or he likes what he sees outside that window? Hmm… what does he see?’
Let him take the lead
Self-esteem is ultimately about being able to have an impact on the world around you. For toddlers, this means being able to take the lead once in a while: choosing a story book, or deciding what to do (given acceptable choices). For example, it may be disastrous for your toddler to be able to dictate what to have for lunch, but you can give him a sense of power by asking: ‘Do you want to use your blue cup or red cup?’
And, while toddlers need routine, a very regimented schedule is near-impossible and exhausting for both you and your child. Set a predictable order to things, but do leave blocks of ‘free play’ where he can decide whether he wants to paint or play with blocks, etc.
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