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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