by Michele Borba, Ed.D.
Toddlers: they're adorable, lovable, and absolutely precious (at least most of the time -right?). They're also unpredictable, impulsive and can be absolutely exhausting. These little critters are like energizer bunnies except their batteries just never seem to run out. You can't reason with them: they don’t have the cognitive development. You can’t tell them to “calm down”: they don't have the internal regulatory system. You can't talk them through most of their issues: they don't have the vocabulary.
Here are my favorites "tamers" for this unique age group. Just a word to the wise: they do grow up all too quickly! Enjoy now. Your little one will never be this active or cuddly.
"Mad. Sam is mad" helps reduce tantrum onset. Telling a two year old to "Calm down" just won't cut it. But it sometimes helps to play "emotion coach." (Note the "sometimes" – you really have to experiment with what works – but this is worth the try). At the first moment you see your toddler’s frustrations coming on, get down eye-to-eye and in an exaggerated tone, name the feeling. "You’re soooooo angry!!! Johnny is soooooo mad!!!" Verbalizing an upset feeling to a nonverbal kid can be empowering and helps to reduce the frustration. It's almost as though you see your little one look up at you with a, "Well yep. That's how I feel! Glad you caught on!"
Save for real red flag issues. If you catch the Raising Sextuplets tape you'll hear both parents admit that saying "No" to their two year olds (all six!) is no longer effective. They overused the term and so it wore out the impact. This is the copy-cat age and toddlers are experimenting with words. "No" is one of the easiest words to say and because they hear it often (from Y.O.U.) they will pick it up. So beware! Save "NO" for those moments when safety or health is at risk, you want an immediate response, or your little one has really crossed the line. You could substitute the word, "NO!' with a clap, the word "Danger!" or "Safety!" You could also teach a hand gesture or sign language. I taught the sextuplets the sign for "Stop' (hand straight out in front) and "Gentle" (palm softly rubbing the top of the other hands). The nonverbal sextuplets started using the signs with each other and aggressive behaviors such as biting and hitting were greatly reduced.
Toddlers love variety and fear loud noises. So try using softer voice tones. A little one usually responds. (They also love you to make your voice sound like Daffy Duck or some other character. Go for it! Your toddler won't tell). Or turn your hand into an instant puppet and make your hand talk. Come on – try it! This is a magical age when you can use their imagination to your advantage.
Their little egos are forming and their little independence streak is churning, so watch out for negatives. You'll get far better responses if you turn your "don't run" into "Let's walk." Or "Don't pull the doggy's tail." Instead "Watch Mommy. Pet the doggy like this." Also SHOWING what you want a toddler to do is always better than telling. Model!!!! They are great little copy-cats.
Get to know your kid. Tune into when he is most likely to have that meltdown. And if he does have an "exorcism' ask yourself the key question: "What happened right before?" The biggest frustration triggers for a toddler are fatigue, hunger and boredom. You'll reduce many of those meltdowns by taking him shopping after the nap or eating a snack, or letting him play with something while you wait. ANTICIPATE!
Once that flail or wail or exorcism begins, forget trying to reason with your child. Doing so is like trying to reason with a goldfish. Remember that when those strong emotions kick in the "reasoning" part of the brain tunes out. Just let him wind down.