Fix your­self first

Tod­dlers are known for mis­be­hav­ing, but you can avoid a lot of drama if you be­come con­scious of how you trig­ger some of this be­hav­iour, says Danielle Forsyth, an ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist at Trin­i­ty­house Her­itage Hill

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

CHIL­DREN HAVE A NEED for be­long­ing and sig­nif­i­cance. It’s just the way they’re wired. Be­long­ing refers to the emo­tional connection and pos­i­tive at­ten­tion we need with one another. Sig­nif­i­cance refers to one’s sense of au­ton­omy, ca­pa­bil­ity, and the need to make con­tri­bu­tions in mean­ing­ful ways.

Think of “sig­nif­i­cance” as a form of pos­sess­ing per­sonal power. With­out both of th­ese in­nate needs be­ing met, chil­dren will mis­be­have.

With­out knowl­edge of why the chil­dren are mis­be­hav­ing and what strate­gies to use to ad­dress and cor­rect the mis­be­haviours, par­ents nat­u­rally rely on their in­stincts and some of the “pop­u­lar” par­ent­ing tech­niques they’ve read or heard about. This can lead to

an es­ca­la­tion of the mis­be­haviours and sel­dom cor­rects them per­ma­nently.


‘I need more of your time and at­ten­tion’ When a child doesn’t feel a strong sense of be­long­ing, she will act out in ways that she (mis­tak­enly) be­lieves will give her the emo­tional connection and pos­i­tive at­ten­tion she craves. For ex­am­ple, a tod­dler who isn’t get­ting enough pos­i­tive at­ten­tion from her mom and dad will act out with at­ten­tion-seek­ing be­hav­iours like whin­ing, cling­ing or act­ing help­less. So as to avoid a scene many par­ents give in to th­ese be­hav­iours, thus giv­ing their tod­dlers the re­sponse that they need and achiev­ing their end goal. Fix It: Make sure you’re giv­ing your tod­dler plenty of un­di­vided at­ten­tion when she’s be­hav­ing well. I’ve found that fo­cus­ing solely on my al­most-two-year-old for just fif­teen to twenty min­utes makes her more con­tent to play in­de­pen­dently when I need to get some­thing done. ■ ‘I see you do it’ For bet­ter or worse, imi­ta­tion is one of the key ways chil­dren learn how to be­have. So if your three-yearold hears you use a swear­word or sees you yelling at your spouse, it should come as no sur­prise when he follows suit. Fix It: De­velop a con­stant aware­ness that your tot’s eyes are on you, ab­sorb­ing ev­ery­thing you say and do.

That doesn’t mean you have to be per­fect; when you do mess up and model bad be­hav­iour, use it as an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain to your child what you did wrong and how you’re go­ing to cor­rect it (in­stead of just cross­ing your fin­gers and hop­ing you weren’t heard or seen!)

‘I need some power of my own’ A young child feels stripped of his sig­nif­i­cance when his mom and dad do things for him that he is ca­pa­ble of do­ing him­self. Or, per­haps they call all the shots and make all the de­ci­sions – rob­bing him of hav­ing some per­sonal con­trol over his life. Th­ese par­ent be­hav­iours (which are nat­u­ral and ex­tremely com­mon) then strip the child of his sense of sig­nif­i­cance or per­sonal power.

If his hard-wired need to feel ca­pa­ble, im­por­tant and to have some say over his own life isn’t met, he will fight back with power-seek­ing be­hav­iours like tantrums, talk­ing back, not lis­ten­ing, and other power strug­gles oc­ca­sion­ally lead­ing to de­fi­ance in tweens and teens. The child re­ally wants pos­i­tive power, but the neg­a­tive power-seek­ing be­hav­iours are the tod­dlers’ or tweens’ way of say­ing, “You aren’t the boss of me! I need some power of my own!” Fix it: Pro­vide more space for the child to do things in­de­pen­dently. If they re­quest your help you are wel­come to as­sist, but in most cases en­cour­age that in­de­pen­dence and pro­vide a lot of praise when he starts to do things for him­self.

‘You ex­pect too much’ If your tod­dler is con­stantly break­ing a par­tic­u­lar rule, con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that there’s a prob­lem with the rule it­self. For ex­am­ple, ex­pect­ing your two-year-old to re­main per­fectly tidy at din­ner­time is set­ting her up for fail­ure – tod­dlers are, by na­ture, messy eaters be­cause their fine mo­tor skills are still de­vel­op­ing. And let’s not for­get that chil­dren ac­tu­ally learn faster when they’re get­ting messy! Fix it: Make sure your expectations for your child are fair and de­vel­op­men­tally ap­pro­pri­ate. For me, this means not ex­pect­ing my son to sit still through­out the en­tire church ser­vice or re­main quiet dur­ing din­ner with friends. (That’s not to say I don’t hold him to a cer­tain stan­dard, it’s just a stan­dard that fits his age and abil­i­ties.) It’s kept both of us from get­ting frus­trated over and over again!


One of the strate­gies to use is that of ef­fec­tive con­se­quences. An ef­fec­tive con­se­quence is one in which the child learns to make a bet­ter choice for the fu­ture and the par­ent isn’t the bad guy! Keep the fol­low­ing in mind: • Re­spect Our goal is not to make the child suf­fer – but to have him learn to make a bet­ter choice in the fu­ture. When par­ents in­flict blame, shame or pain as part of a pun­ish­ment, the child is fo­cused on self-pro­tec­tion, not learn­ing for the fu­ture. An ef­fec­tive con­se­quence is re­spect­ful to the child. • Re­lated to the mis­be­haviour For chil­dren to learn for the fu­ture, the con­se­quence has to “make sense” to the child and should be re­lated to the mis­be­haviour. For ex­am­ple, the con­se­quence for throw­ing blocks around the room is to lose the priv­i­lege of play­ing with the blocks for the day. The con­se­quence for not turn­ing off the video game when asked is to lose gam­ing priv­i­leges for the week. Re­main rea­son­able in cal­cu­lat­ing the du­ra­tion based on the child’s age. • Re­vealed in ad­vance The con­se­quence must be re­vealed to the child in ad­vance, so he can make a choice be­tween the ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour and the con­se­quence. Un­less he knows ahead of time what the con­se­quence will be, the par­ent will al­ways be the “bad guy”. Make sure to also make eye con­tact and bend down to the child’s height level to in­stil bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and fo­cus from your child. • Re­peated back to you To en­sure that the child is per­fectly clear on what is ex­pected and the con­se­quence for not fol­low­ing your rule, ask him to re­peat it back to you. For ex­am­ple, “Just so we’re on the same page, can you re­peat back to me our rule for turn­ing off the video game when asked and the con­se­quence if you choose not to do that?” Once the child re­peats it back to you, you have a ver­bal agree­ment! For younger chil­dren, use very sim­ple lan­guage, but as long as they are ver­bal, they can re­peat back to you.


Now the onus is on your child. He knows the rule; he knows the con­se­quence for not fol­low­ing the rule. It’s up to him now to make the right choice or live with the con­se­quences.

Con­tinue to re­main calm and don’t give in! In­stead, very calmly say, “I see you choose to lose your gam­ing priv­i­leges for the day. You’ll have a chance to try again to­mor­row.”

Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing con­se­quences is then a won­der­ful way for kids to learn to make bet­ter choices in the fu­ture, and ev­ery­one can feel more pos­i­tive about the dis­ci­plin­ing process. YB


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