September 15, 2018 — By Wendy Sachs
As your baby grows into a toddler, you may find that it is time to start practicing setting limits and helping your child regulate his emotions and behavior. At this age, there are many developmental reasons that your little one will dump food on the floor or swat at you when frustrated. But it is never to early to develop some good habits that will help guide you all to a more peaceful home.
Here are a few ideas that can help.
First, when toddlers act out it is most often because they are feeling big feelings that they are ill equipped to process. It is super frustrating to be a 2 year old, wanting to do everything by yourself when you are quite able to accomplish things independently. This is the perfect teachable moment to help kids name their feelings. When she melts into a puddle because she can’t have have more Cheerios, try sitting down with her and explaining what you observe. “You are feeling sad because you want more and I said no.” “It must feel frustrating that your shoes won’t fit on your feet easily.” It’s a great idea to name your own feelings as well. Remember that toddlers are learning new words every day, so let them see you label times where you are happy, excited, frustrated, angry. Modeling is a powerful tool.
Second, kids will take their cues from you. If you start to get emotional, this only intensifies their emotions. Practice some empathy but as calm as you can stay. It is not so easy, but keeping your voice quiet and your manner soft but firm can deflate a tantrum or at least keep it from escalating. Instead of engaging in a power struggle, give a big hug and say “I know this is hard. It’s hard for me too!”
Third, create an environment of yes. Try to set up areas in your home that are fun places where your new toddler can explore and make a mess without anyone saying “no don’t touch that” or “please stay off the couch”. If you can control the environment, you can proactively avoid some of the problems. If your child is one who dumps food, stop using a plate for awhile and give them only a few pieces of food at a time.
Looking at these moments as teachable moments can really help. Toddlers are explorers and eager to learn. It is never to early to help then learn to express themselves in positive ways.