If I could give one piece of advice to parents it would be: be consistent. Staying consistent is hard, but it is worth it.

Around 7 months ago, my son was just over 2 years old and with a new baby in the house was really starting to test me. It was a regular Tuesday afternoon and he had already been at school in the morning and had his afternoon nap. It was time to get ready to go to our mommy and me class. When I told him it was time to get ready, he started resisting and saying he didn’t want to get dressed. Then he took his little snack bag and dumped it on the floor. I asked him to clean up his snack and then we would go. He said no. (Btw, it’s a total shock when you’re sweet little angel pulls moves like this. It’s called T.O.D.D.L.E.R) So now I remain calm and say, “it seems like you aren’t ready to go to class. If you can’t clean up your mess and get ready to go, I will have to go to class without you.” Now, I understand that I was able to do this move because I had another adult at home, obviously do not attempt this if there is no one to stay home with the child.

I left the house. I called my housekeeper and she said he already cleaned the mess and now is crying. I told her to stay in the area he was in but to busy herself with something else.

I stayed out a significant amount of time, not the length of the whole class but enough time that he could think I went. I made it as realistic as possible – at the class he always gets a name tag, so I put a name tag on. I came back into the house with my name tag on and he ran to me. He showed me that he cleaned up his snack and that he was ready to go. I said, “We really missed you at the class! I see you are ready now, but the class is over. Next time we’ll be sure to be ready on time.”

A few days later I was getting ready to go to synagogue and I wanted to get him dressed. His new thing was to run up the stairs when I said it was time to get dressed. Half way up I said, “I really wanted you to come with me, but if you can’t get dressed I’m going to have to go by myself.” In two seconds he was down the stairs and getting ready.

Let’s pretend the story went differently – let’s say I told him if he didn’t get ready I would go to the class myself and then I just stayed home with him and missed the class. On Saturday when I would say, “I’m going to leave without you,” that would have been the same empty threat I gave a few days ago and wouldn’t resonate.

Now, as I said it’s not always possible. If there is no adult to leave them with, let them know you will miss having this special time with them and then busy yourself with something else. The reality is our children DO want to spend time with us, and a logical consequence to refusing to get ready is to miss out on mommy and me time. {When it comes to getting ready for something that can’t be missed, like school or a doctor’s appointment – you need to meet the needs of the situation and get them there. More on that in another post} There are times that so many of us use empty threats when it is possible to do something. If you are with your child at a friends house and you say, “we’re going to have to leave if you continue doing that.” If they continue doing it, you need to get up and leave the house together. If you don’t plan on following through – don’t say it in the first place.

The same goes for saying “No.” If your child asks for something and you say no, don’t then say yes or in other words ‘give in’ just because they cry and continue asking for it. If you say no, and after 10 minutes of crying you say yes – all you are accomplishing is teaching your child that they need to put in 10 minutes of crying to get what they want.

It’s so much EASIER to just say yes to end the tantrum. However, the more times you do it the less weight your “No” holds. A good idea is to not say No unless you really will stick with it. Often I will say, “let me think about it for a minute.” This buys me the time to think about it, and then I can say, “it sounds like a really good idea to have ice cream together. Now isn’t a great time but let’s put that on our list as something we will do on X day.” Validate their request if it grants validation but then give an answer. If a tantrum gets them the ice cream they wanted, then they know they just need to throw a tantrum to get what they want.

We’ve all been there – tantrums are really not enjoyable. Remove yourself from the situation by leaving the room if you can or by busying yourself with a book so you are present but occupied. Stay firm with your answer and don’t keep repeating yourself. Once you know that they heard your answer loud and clear, don’t continue saying it.

I am always amazed how many times my son will throw a tantrum for the same thing even though I’ve been consistent with my answer. “Toddlers are not simply miniaturized versions of older kids. Their brains are much more immature, which makes their whole way of thinking more rigid and primitive and makes their behavior quite… uncivilized.” – Introduction to The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D. It is important to remember this, and Harvey goes on to explain more about Toddlers – how their brains are unbalanced, the right side dominating leading to an impulsive and easily distractible toddler. When a toddler is upset, the right side tips the scale even more and their left brains are unbalanced leading to trouble finding words for what they want to communicate. Harvey Karp writes suggestions for how to speak to toddlers and how to eliminate tantrums. I am not going to focus on that now, maybe in another post, but I do want to mention one thing that stuck with me.

Often, when children or adults are upset and tell someone about it they usually react by trying to distract. He gives the example of a daughter calling a mom and says, “Mom! I’m so stupid, I left these important papers for work at my seat in the restaurant – my boss is going to kill me!” The mother interrupts, “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m sure he’ll understand. Hey, listen to what happened to me yesterday. This will make you laugh…” The daughter doesn’t feel better and in fact doesn’t even feel that she had a listening ear. If the mother said, “Oh nooo! I can see why you’re so upset.,” and let the daughter vent about it a little, she would have felt heard and maybe relief from talking it out. Another example he gives is you e-mail your friend about something that upset you and they respond,”Hey look. New shoes!” It sounds silly, but we do this everyday with toddlers. They are upset about something and we are immediately jumping up and down, “Hey look at this.” We easily forget to acknowledge their feelings. He is not saying not to use distraction as a tool, because in fact he says it is an excellent tool. He suggests first giving them respect and hearing them out, acknowledging it, and then once that is done definitely can distract. He says, “Distraction works well with babies, so it’s natural to want to use it with toddlers. But be careful. To an upset toddler distraction may feel like a disrespectful interruption or like you’re saying, “Stop feeling your feelings.” – Page 61.

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This cartoon was right on, actually a daily occurrence between my son and my husband. Toddlers have lots of energy and can spend a lot of it testing you. However, I do see small breakthroughs when I see him stopping himself from crying or acknowledging that he cried and won’t next time (even though he most probably will). So it’s not to say that if you stay consistent they will stop testing you, because they will. But I find they try for shorter as they know the outcome.

It’s developmentally appropriate to have the tantrum and in that moment they aren’t even hearing anything you say. If you start trying to explain it rationally you are wasting time. There will always be time later to carve time out to have teaching moments. Stay consistent, if you say you are going to do something – follow through. Have your words hold weight. Stay self respectful but at the same time be respectful. Acknowledge their age. Make sure you ARE giving enough attention. See if you could say yes before immediately saying No. And lastly, you want to be careful because usually they know exactly how to push your buttons. Be clear that you are not happy with their ACTIONS but not them as a person. Remind them you love them and would love to spend time together. Your tone matters. If you need to take a breather before you open your mouth, do that.

“There are times when parenthood seems like nothing more than feeding the hand that bites you.” – Peter De Vries

BUT, “A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.” – Anonymous

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