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Positive Parenting with Toddlers

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Good parenting involves a great deal of consistency and routine, which gives children a sense of control. It focuses on developing independence, discipline and resilience in children. We all want to mould our children into effective and happy individuals who have lived their life to the fullest but this is where we would need to take another step further to understand our generation today and how we can guide them into making right choices in their future… And it all starts from the tender age of two years old.

The notion of parenting a toddler can frighten even the most tough-minded among us. This probably isn’t helped by terms such as ‘terrible two’s,’ and jokes like “Having a two-year-old is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have a top for it” (quoted by Jerry Seinfeld).

Sure, toddlers and preschoolers get a bad rap; but they do sometimes seem like tiny drunken creatures who topple everything in their path. Not to mention their tremendous noise and energy, mood swings, and growing need for independence.

While their lack of coordination and communication skills can be quite engaging and often hilarious; they are also quite capable of leaving their parents in a frenzied state of frustration. For example, let’s consider the situation below.

The Super-Market Blow-out

In this relatable example, a dad and his cranky 3-year-old find themselves in a long line at a grocery store. The child decides she’s had enough shopping and proceeds to throw each item out of the cart while screaming in a high pitched voice.

The father, who may really need to get the shopping done, is likely to try to reason with her, by asking her politely to please stop.

When this doesn’t’ work, he might switch his method to commanding, pleading, threatening, negotiating, or anything else he can think of in his desperation. But she is out of control and beyond reason. The father wants an immediate end to the humiliation; but he may not realize that some quick fixes intended to pacify his child, will only make his life worse in the long run. So, what is he to do?

I wonder how many of us have been in compromising situations like this one?

It is essential that parents understand this developmental stage. There are reasons for the child’s aggravating behaviors; reasons that are biologically programmed to ensure survival.

For example, kids aged two-to-three are beginning to understand that there are a lot of things that seem scary in the world. As such, they may become anxious about a variety of situations; like strangers, bad dreams, visit to the doctors, extreme weather, creepy images, etc. While these childhood fears make life more difficult for parents (i.e., when a child won’t stay in his/her room at night due to monsters and darkness, or when a child makes an enormous fuss when left with a babysitter or care taker or just feels terribly upset when the parents leave them for an hour or two), they are actually an indicator of maturity.

Recent research tells us the importance of respecting a child’s fears and not punishing her/him for them, as well as talking to the child in a way that shows empathy and helps him/her to verbalize feelings.

The Super-Market Blow-out Solutions

Now that you have understood why your child is behaving the way she is, you would better be able to tackle the situation. It’s important to understand that there are two sides to every situation, the dad can either look at it using a long term goal where the child’s bad behavior is expected to stop or improve the next time she visits the supermarket or if f the dad only thinks about the short-term goal of making his daughter’s behavior stop embarrassing him at the store, he might decide to tell her she can have a candy bar if she is quiet and stops throwing items from the cart.

This way, he might reason, he can finish his shopping quickly and without humiliation. Sure, this might work as far as getting the child to behave on that day— at that moment; BUT here are some likely consequences:

  • Next time they go shopping, she will do this again in order to receive the candy reward.
  • Pretty much every time they go shopping, she will do the same thing; and the value of the reward is likely to escalate as she gets tired of the candy.
  • She will learn that this behavior can get her rewards in all sorts of places beyond the supermarket, thus making her exhausted parents afraid to take her anywhere.

Therefore, the father might instead deal with this situation by calmly telling her that she needs to stop or she will get a time-out. The time-out can take place somewhere in the store that is not reinforcing for her, such as a quiet corner with no people around (e.g., no audience). Or they can go sit in the car. If she calms down or settled by then, the father could take her to the store and reward her with praise for her good behavior, by politely saying “You were a very good girl at the supermarket today. You really helped Daddy and I enjoyed spending time with you”

As parents, we often misinterpret what our children are trying to communicate and it not anyone’s fault, its just the way the human brain is wired. Your toddler is not always trying to torture you! There are always underlying reasons for their behavior. With a little knowledge and perseverance, we are on our way towards better positive parenting with long term goals. Just remember that your adorable little monster will only be this age for a brief time, that reminder, helped me get through the day!

By Zahedi Samsudeen

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