Your toddler isn’t GIVING you a hard time, your toddler is HAVING a hard time…
As a parent, you will be familiar with the monikers “terrible two’s” or “threenager” or “toddler temper tantrum”… they are all very familiar words! This week I was hit with a timely reminder as I struggled with a “terrible two toddler temper tantrum” one night on my own while Hubby was at work that (majority of the time) your toddler isn’t intentionally making your life difficult or intentionally giving you a hard time… they are having a hard time themselves and the way we as parents (and the people they learn off the most) react to this will have further effect on them.
This is one of the most important ages for emotional development.
We’ve all been there haven’t we Mumma! Your toddler is testing your patience until you don’t have any more grace in your responses. We have all been there! Hand on heart I don’t know anyone who can say they have 100% always responded with grace and understanding. So… don’t feel bad! But think back to this time and look at the way they then responded back to you. Did they respond well? Or did it escalate the situation further? More often than not it will escalate the situation further.
Toddler temper tantrums are normal. Toddlers often haven’t learnt or are in the process of learning to name and identify and handle big emotions like frustration, anger, sadness, embarrassment, being scared, guilt, shame, happiness…. Toddlers are still at such an early stage of cognitive development and they think so fundamentally differently from adults and even children of other ages.
At this age, everything is taken as black and white, and everything they hear they can take in the most literal sense, unless they are actively playing imaginary make believe. Can you imagine what something as simple as hearing “My goodness you’re eating a lot tonight! If you eat much more, you will explode!” would do to their thoughts? If they are not aware that you are joking, this would send them into panic stations!
As a toddler, anything that happens in their world they automatically think that it is because of them or something they have done, because this is how their brains are wired at this age. How much pressure and confusion would this create for a little human who is still learning to identify and handle extreme emotions? They may not even understand what they have done wrong because the empathy response is possibly still developing. So taking a toy off another child because they want to play with it for example is a valid action to them at that point. There are ways to help develop this empathy though, showing them the way and providing them the opportunity to practice. They will learn the most from watching you.
In our household we are currently going through teaching Tatum to identify and name his emotions. Along with this we sit down and talk through these things with him in the way he can comprehend at his age and how to handle these big emotions. I have to say, I almost cried with pride the first time Tatum realised he was grumpy, identified and named this emotion, and instead of going into “toddler temper tantrum” mode he walked up to me and said “Mumma, I’m just feeling a little bit grumpy! I need a cuddle!”
… OMG, my heart just about burst! …
We had no idea if what we were doing with him was helping or making a difference to him up until this point, but clearly we were teaching him to handle his emotions in a new and different way that enabled us to work together to find out what was making him grumpy and help resolve the situation with no tears! Amazing!
Now I know what you will say… fluke! But I am telling you now, this was not a fluke. It doesn’t happen every time, and we still have “toddler temper tantrums” in our house, but we have found a way to help him start to understand and work through these emotions. He will even come running up to us out of nowhere and say “Mumma, i’m just happy!” and cuddle my legs then run back to whatever it was that he was playing with at the time. He is now recognising his emotions and telling us what they are a lot easier.
Reasoning with the unreasonable… It is always a futile mission! But if we can have the patience to model the right responses and help them learn to identify and handle these emotions, they will start to feel a sense of pride and all toddlers want to experience pride of accomplishment! Helping toddlers start to think outside themselves and learn that other people have needs will start to change their thinking, moving away from being solely focused on themselves and their needs (because this is all they have had to think about their whole lives up until now) to realising other peoples needs also. Providing lots of practice for them to think of others will only help. Tatum is currently getting a lot of practice in by learning to think of our family dog Bruno, that he has needs like food and water and hair brushing and the all important treats. By helping us to help meet Bruno’s needs he is starting to learn in a fun way to think of others.
Until next time friends,