I absolutely love how magical and exciting and fun it is to have toddlers in my home. Both my boys bring me so much joy and light. I love watching them grow and learn, but the weight of teaching a tiny human to be a good human is definitely overwhelming. There are so many great books and tips and so much advice out there, but I do not always feel I have the time to read all the different great books.
Below are some of the things I have come across in books or just great advice that seem to work every time and have changed the way I communicate with my kids.
1. It is all about CONTROL.
The book Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting From Birth to Six Years (you can find it here) is one of the best books I have read on parenting toddlers. It has given me so many tools to use with both my boys. One of my favorite things is the idea of giving Boston the control. It is well known that people need a feeling of control to feel happy. Toddlers get told what to do all day long. So, give your little one the control on everything you can. You can do this by giving them choices.
Give them a choice in every situation that you remember to. (Do you want to leave the park now or in five minutes? Do you want to wear these pants or those ones? Would you like to brush your teeth in the bath tub or standing on mama’s bed? Do you want to go up to nap time like a cheetah or like a ballerina? ) Often times when I use this trick in a situation that would normally involve a lot of nagging or crying it changes the whole dynamic and Boston is happy to do the task simply because he felt in control.
Another reason it is such an amazing tool is because it helps them to understand that you need control, too. One of our biggest fights used to be when I had to do his hair in the morning. Now we take turns choosing. So, if he chose to not do his hair Monday and Tuesday and starts to throw a fit when I say, “Time do to your hair,” on Wednesday, I can say, “Boston you got to choose yesterday, so it is Mommy’s turn to choose today.” Or when you are leaving the park and they begin to cry you can say, “Honey, I know it can be hard to leave the park, but Mommy has given you lots of choices today, and now it is my turn to choose.”
My favorite reason this is such a great tool is because it puts the blame on them when there is a consequence, not on me. Instead of telling Boston I have to put him in time out because he hit, I say, “Oh no, it is so sad that you chose to hit because I can see you were having so much fun playing. When you choose to hit, you choose time out. This is so sad because I loved watching you have fun.” I LOVE how it makes me not that bad guy. They can see that their own choices lead to consequences, and it is not mommy being mean.
2. The importance of NATURAL consequences and sticking with them
The same book (Love and Logic) will teach you all about how important consequences are. I love the idea of natural consequences because they teach your child about choices. When your child does something naughty you think of a consequence that seems natural for the bad choice. For example, Boston did not want to wear his coat on a walk the other day and I explained that it would be freezing. He threw a big fit, so I told him it was his choice. On the walk he got so cold and started crying. I explained, that it was his choice to not wear a coat and asked him what he had learned. He said, “To wear a coat like mama says.” Needless to say, I made him sign a contract saying he would believe everything I said from now on without question. 😉
(pictured is how he felt about the contract…)
Part of natural consequences is letting them learn by themselves. So, afterwards do not give them a huge lecture on why you were right and they were wrong ( I am bad at this part). Instead, just ask them if they learned something. Love and Logic is BIG on key words (always saying the same thing when they mess up. “oh, this is so sad” or “Oh, bummer”) and questions (What did you learn? How can you fix this?) and NO lectures. Who listens to lectures anyway?
Make sure to stick with the consequences. Consistency with toddlers is SO important. The less I give warnings (If you do that one more time, then…) the more Boston is shocked by the consequence and remembers for the future. You don’t need to warn, the real world doesn’t and that is what we are preparing them for (this is also hard for me but I have found it very true).
3. Validate feelings
Another book I LOVE is How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 (you can find it here). I actually have not finished yet, so I may need to update you on other nuggets of gold I find. I am a real believer in treating my littles how I like to be treated, and I am BIG on people understanding my feelings (just ask my husband..haha).
Often times when kids tell us how they are feeling we try to fix it. When Boston tells me he does not want to go play at the gym today, I often say, “but you love the gym!” This book helped me remember how much I would hate most of the responses I give Boston after he tells me how I am feeling. If I told my husband I didn’t want to go to they gym today and all he said was, “but you love it!” I would feel annoyed and not listened to. This book offers you two great responses:
“Even though you know mommy needs to go to the gym today, it is hard to leave the house when you don’t want to.” This gives them credit for knowing the reality, and validates their feelings. Just follow “even though you know….” with whatever the truth of the situation is or whatever NEEDS to happen and then validate whatever they are feeling.
“It can be so hard to go to the gym when you would rather play at home! The problem is, mommy needs to work out to help her body feel good today.” This helps your child to see that whatever they are feeling is validated while acknowledging that their is a problem. From here you can find a way to fix the problem together. (Bring something special with you to the gym, have mommy do a fast workout, come right home afterwards). Just state how they are feeling and then follow it with “The problem is…” and whatever is making them feel that way.
The authors also suggest art as a great way to help your children feel heard. I tried this with Boston today, and I could not believe how wonderfully it worked. He was having a tantrum day. He cried over everything. I told him I could see how sad he was and gave him a piece of paper and pen. I asked him to draw a picture to explain all the things he was sad about. I could not believe how many things he drew. He remembered things that had happened three hours earlier. He does not like coloring or drawing, but he was LOVING this. He stopped crying and just kept drawing and telling me all of the things he was drawing. It was so therapeutic for both of us. Everyone loves to feel understood, and our toddlers sometimes need that most of all.
When you validate your child’s feeling you are not saying that you will give into whatever they want, you are simply saying it is ok to have feelings and you understand where they are coming from. Try not to use the word “but” when you are validating them because we all know it cancels everything you just said you understood out. (I understand you are sad, but we have to go to the gym).
4. Give some loves
A friend told me she does this with her kids a few years ago, and it is one of my favorite ways to calm my little one and me down during a tantrum. When your child is screaming or hitting or going World War 1 on you, offer a hug. I usually grab Boston’s hands and say, “I can see you are really frustrated. When you choose to yell at me, you choose time out. Would you like a hug first?” (honestly it is not usually all said that perfectly…but a girl can dream) He ALWAYS looks so relieved when I ask him if he needs some loves and just melts into my arms. It is so sweet and helps to calm me down as well. Sometimes I continue to validate his feelings and then tell him my feelings. “I can see you feel so frustrated that I said you couldn’t have a treat. I feel really sad because you hit me.” He often will say sorry right away.
This last one was born because I never want my children to feel like just because I am the parent I get to do exactly what I want. When Boston started to talk quite a bit I taught him to say, “Talk about it” when he was really mad. It became a key phrase for us. Whenever he was feeling really frustrated and wanted his way he would say, “Talk about it mama!” and I would kneel down to his level and explain the situation to him. I do not know if this would work with all kids, but Boston is a talker. This would usually help me find out what he was so frustrated about, and we would find a way to fix it together. I loved that he knew he could always talk to me about things and solve it with me instead of me just telling him the way things had to be.
Now that he is a little older I have taught him the word compromise. I explained that a compromise is a little bit what Mommy wants, a little bit what Boston wants. I first ask him what he wants and then tell him what I want. Then we think of a way we can both get some of what each of us want. I like letting him tell me EXACTLY what he wants and having him ask me what I want. This seems like good communications skills for the long run. He is still a little young to come up with the compromise, and usually I have to help him with this part. It is cute to see how happy he gets when we have thought of something that makes us both happy.
Ex: He wants a cookie before lunch, and I want him to wait until after. I say, “Should we do a compromise?” We go through the steps….and then I help him think of a compromise: He gets to eat one bite before lunch and the rest after. A little bit what Boston wants, a little bit what Mommy wants.
**I know there are so many amazing ways to parent out there, and these are some of my favorites. I like things that seem universal to all humans, not just little people. I hope these five tips can help your week go a little smoother! Good luck fellow mamas!**