Monday, November 25, 2013

5 Tips To Help Avoid A Battle Of the Wills

Does anyone ever feel like you are micromanaging your toddler?

^ Not a fan...
We try really hard to maintain a positive atmosphere for Ayden.  Telling him what to do instead of what not to do, saying, "No thank you" instead of , "NO!" when we do tell him to stop doing something, validating and labeling his feelings etc.  But we aren't perfect.  We have days where we are tired and even though we know that just a little bit of effort will make things easier a few minutes down the road it is hard to constantly maintain that level of positivity and intentionality.  

On these days we find we get caught in a cyclical pattern of Ayden engaging in an undesired behavior, us telling him not to, him looking us right in the eye as he does it again, us telling him again that he's not supposed to, etc.  It turns into a battle of the wills and Ayden usually ends up crying while we end up feeling like terrible parents.  Not terrible because we disciplined him (because all children most certainly need limitations and consequences) but because we didn't take that time and effort to use the tools we have that work with preventing the cycle to begin with.  

Toddlers are POEPLE.  This is something that is easy for us to forget sometimes.  Just because a child is a child does not mean they do not respond to interactions the same way adults do.  There isn't some magical age that makes us sensitive to being micromanaged, or "put in our place."  It is simply human nature to feel deflated when under such circumstances for adults and children alike.  When a toddler tests limits, whether accidentally or on purpose, they are just doing their job.  Finding and confirming EXACTLY where those limits are.  Sometimes during the process of learning, their behaviors can even get worse before they get better.  This can be extremely frustrating for us as parents, especially after a long day.  

Here are a few tools that we try to help each other remember when one (or both!) of us is grasping for that little bit of extra energy that it takes to help our toddler feel like he has a sense of control over his life (because that is all they really want):

1) Saying "You may have one more turn/bite/slide/etc. and then we'll be all done." instead of just taking something away without warning.  As Ayden is enjoying that one last whatever, he is given the time to process that it will be gone after that.  When we just take it, he cries or whines to have it back.  When we give him a warning like this he usually hands it over no problem. (It took a few times before he understood the concept of "one more" but once he learned it this became a very useful tool for us!)

2) Validation.  When Ayden is crying we say things like, "I know you really wanted to play with Mommy's keys.  It made you mad when I took them away, didn't it?" and just like that he says, "uh-huh" and stops crying.  The tantrum is not reinforced since he did not get the keys back, yet his emotions are settled because he realized he was understood.   We also try really hard not to say, "There's no reason to be crying" or "Stop crying" or anything of the like.  How would you handle it if you were feeling very strongly about something and someone told you it was silly? Or if someone said to simply stop feeling that way?  Wouldn't work out very well for me, that's for sure. In my experience children actually cry harder when told these things and for good reason.

3) What can your child do??  We find that if Ayden gets into a throwing mood he'll throw everything he's not supposed to.  Instead of saying, "Don't throw your fork! Don't throw your food!  Don't throw that car! Don't, don't, don't!!!"  We try to say things like, "Oh Ayden, a fork is for eating, you can throw a ball though!" and then proceed to give him a ball.  He throws the ball and we can all celebrate together because he did something he was allowed and supposed to do.  The next time we see him using that fork the right way we celebrate then too.  Catch them doing something right and put as much energy as you can into that.  When they do something wrong, acknowledge and redirect without a whole lot of ceremony.  Pretty soon, your child will be seeking that celebration and making better choices.

4) 15 minutes of undivided attention is worth more than an entire day's worth of half of your attention.  In other words, at some point during the day give yourself entirely to your child.  Let him/her choose the activity, get down on their level, touch them, make eye contact with them, talk to them, laugh with them.  Show them that they are important and just as deserving of your attention as your phone calls, emails, housework, TV show, etc.  If you fill up their tank early, they are more likely to be content when you are ready to get all of that stuff done.

5) How can you involve your child?  I find that the times I am most frustrated with Ayden are when I am trying to complete a task and he starts hanging on my legs wanting me to hold him or come play with him.  It puts me in a tough spot because then I have to either tell him no or I have to drop what I am doing and go with him.  The former makes me feel terrible because nothing is more important than my time with him.  The latter makes me feel bad because at the end of the day I need to have completed some sort of non-Ayden related task to feel accomplished.  The only way out of this lose, lose situation is prevention.  I need to get Ayden involved in what I am doing somehow so that he doesn't crave my attention elsewhere. It may make things take a little longer than necessary but if you give your child his/her own spray bottle of water and a rag while you clean or his/her own little dust buster while you vacuum, you can be the queen (or king!) of multi-tasking.  Your work will get done, you'll teach your child some life skills and independence at a very young age and your child will get that extra time with you that he/she so craves.  

We do not do these things because we don't think Ayden can handle the word "no" or because we think children should get what they want whenever they want it.  We do it because it works.  It achieves our desired outcome while keeping the atmosphere in our home positive.  When we fall into those "easier," more negative methods, we find that he engages in those undesirable behaviors more instead of less.  Even though it may be easier in the moment, the fact that you have to do it over and over again eventually makes it more taxing.  When we go to reflect on our day we feel bad for not giving Ayden that extra effort to prevent the behaviors and keep things positive.  

Like I said before, we are not perfect at this.  It is a very intentional way to parent and sometimes we are just too tired to pull it off.  When we do, though, it really makes life with a toddler more simple.  When our children are misbehaving is when they need us the most.  They need us to guide them through it, to patiently show them those limits (no matter how many times they test you) and to model how to handle ourselves when we are frustrated. It isn't easy but who ever said parenting is?  

Are you having will battles with your toddler in your household right now?  Give these tools a try and come back to let me know if they work for you too!!


Click here for more tips from the "Make Your Life Simple" series!

Flashback!  Here's what we were up to one year ago today: "Happy Things"

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  1. Wow, wow, wow! Can i just say amazing parent you are. I couldn't be more impressed. My six month old has been testing her limits with me. She cries non stop if i dont hold her or constantly entertain her. Today i was making food in the kitchen and she just kept crying for me to pick her up. I became overwhelmed because i havent had much time for myself these days. I yelled for her to "shut up" i think i lost it finally. I felt so guilty for yelling at her and using those negative words. Somedays i do find myself so frustrated. Any tips on how to handle a crying baby who always wants to be held nonstop? This is a tough situation.

    1. Whitney has some great advice! Baby wearing is definitely the best way to get things done when your baby doesn't want to be put down. Also give yourself some grace! It is okay to be frustrated and human nature to lose your cool once you've exceeded your limit. Just do your best to make it right afterward. Once things have calmed down hold her and tell her you are sorry. Maybe talk to the other adults in your life to see if you can schedule some predictable "you" time? Every other week see if one of them can watch her for you while you grab a coffee and browse a bookstore for an hour or just go to the grocery alone. If you take the time to take care of yourself, you'll be recharged and ready for the though days that we ALL have! Know you are not alone. Good luck!

  2. Hey girlygirl! You might try wearing her. It's a great way to keep her close, but you would still be able to get work done around the house. Or maybe switch up her independent toys to see if that might help her be entertained. Most of all, though, I suggest validating your own feelings. Even right after my daughter was born I was talking to her about how how we both felt. Talking about your own feelings in a given moment can help you keep them in check. My conversations sound like this: "I hear that you're crying. I know you feel like you don't want a nap. You need one though and you'll feel so much better after you wake up! Mama is feeling frustrated too because I know you'll feel better after a nap. It's not so good to feel frustrated!" It sounds hokie, but it can really make you feel a lot better!

  3. All great tips, Sarah. I actually implement these with my two and have to say I totally agree that taking a more intentional approach is worth the additional effort required in the moment. I've had days when I felt drained and failed to pull out the energy to use these techniques and In those moments I feel my worst. The alternative really does demand more energy in the day and ultimately leaves parents feeling defeated. I've had those days, but I reflect and strive to be and do better the next. It's a good example for our children when we get right back on the horse rather than throwing in the towel when we don't meet the goal.

  4. What great advice! I hate when I feel like I'm saying "no" all day! I know my toddler gets tired of hearing it too! You all are doing a great job as parents!