This blog is written by Claire Burgess – Family Consultant from Bespoke Family. Claire is a director and family consultant and has many years experience working with families throughout the UK.
The not so ‘Terrible Twos’?
We often assume that our children have adult logic in order to understand the world that they are in. The first and most important thing we need to do is to remember that they are children – they have only been in this world for 18 months/ 2 years and are just trying to make sense of their ever-changing environment.
What are we experiencing on a day to day with our toddlers? The temper tantrum? Demanding certain clothes/colour of cups/toys, positioned in a certain way? Are they answering “no” to anything you ask them? Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Do you feel that you are continually saying “no” but with no results?
People often talk about toddlers ‘testing boundaries’ or simply refer to the ‘terrible twos’…
However toddler comes from the verb ‘to toddle’ describing when your little one has found their feet walking, and often running, around, wanting to touch anything and everything for no apparent reason (as far as you can see) and they have also found their voice!
Toddlers learn that suddenly they have an opinion which people listen to, (regardless of whether or not they agree with them!) and get a reaction which they love! Children are ‘attention needing’ (not ‘attention seeking’ which has more negative connotations) – they need to have attention from those around them and often, if they are not getting attention, they will do anything to get it – regardless of whether the response they get from the adult is positive or negative, but just as long as their need for attention is met. This can be where the battles start.
As adults we need to take a step back and be aware of how we are approaching certain behaviours from our toddlers. Are you reacting with a great deal more conversation, touch, eye contact etc when your little one is misbehaving than you do if your child is sitting quietly? If so, then this needs to be reversed – when they are sitting quietly, playing or being patient – are the times where you need to give clear messages about the behaviour which you want repeated from them, which makes everyone happy. The way to do this is by positive reinforcement and most importantly attention. If your child gets your attention by refusing to get into the shopping trolley or throwing toys across the room, this is the kind of behaviour that they will repeat over and over again!
Empathising with toddlers
We need to look at the world from our child’s perspective; having an understanding and empathy for what they are experiencing often helps us to tailor our approach depending on the situation. As grown up human beings we like to feel informed and know what is happening in our day to day lives – if we don’t know what is happening we can often feel on edge and perhaps more emotional, which means we don’t deal with situations as well as we would if we felt safe and secure about what was coming next. Let’s go back to the shopping trolley example – you know that you need to go shopping, you will have timed it for a certain day in the week at a time that works for you, you may have a list to keep you focused, you probably have your preferred supermarket as you know where things are in each aisle etc. You have used a huge number of skills and an extensive knowledge base in order to plan a simple trip to the supermarket.
Now, see it from your toddler’s perspective…
Often the supermarket trip is sprung on them (we will come to that later!) with them having to leave the house when they have just settled down with something fun to play with. When they arrive at the supermarket, they get out of the car seat, straight into a trolley which again feels restrictive – they have no idea what might be going on or what time it is (remember toddlers can’t tell the time so they are relying on the adults around them to provide that routine). You will suddenly start putting things in the trolley… possibly some really yummy things which they would like to eat now, they want to get things off the shelf (if you can, why can’t they?) and then they are experiencing different sights, smells and noises which can all be quite overwhelming. Put all of this together and it can often lead to your toddler shouting, crying and refusing to get in (or out) of the trolley.
Our job is to help them through all these new experiences; even if it is something they have done every week since they were born, it is still new, as each and every time they have developed new words, they remember something from the last visit, they want to see something they saw before. In the top tips below you will find lots of strategies which you can use for everyday events from going to the park to doing the supermarket shop. All of these tips and strategies help them to feel safe and secure and, when they do feel like this, it can mean less of the ‘meltdown moments’ that so many parents experience.
The emotional outbursts toddlers have are developmentally normal and to be expected. At this stage in life your little one is learning skills which will last a life time – supporting them in this takes time, patience and empathy! Toddlers do not have control of their emotions, they need to learn how to manage and understand the emotions they feel, so they are all encompassing and often very ‘dramatic’!
One important part to remember and keep in mind when supporting your little one and their behaviour, is that behaviour is what we outwardly see, but the actual trigger is the underlying emotion that they might be feeling at the time. Outbursts are often due to emotions such as anger, frustration, feeling insecure, excited, nervous etc. If you can identify and empathise with the emotions which your child might be experiencing it will help you to be able to support the behaviour that they are demonstrating.
Managing or Supporting?
You may have noticed that I have used the term support rather than manage. You will see the terms ‘managing behaviour’ or ‘behaviour management’ but we don’t manage behaviour we support it. We support our children through weaning, sleep, their learning etc and so we should approach behaviour in exactly the same way. We are supporting them in developing life skills!
On Friday, we will share a blog with our 10 DETAILED top tips to supporting toddler behaviours.