Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Toddler Rules

The toddler rules of possession have been published on many social media sites in various forms (see above, left column).   They have me thinking: why do toddlers do what they do, and how can parents use that reasoning to help parent?

I firmly believe that young kids don't misbehave on purpose in most instances. They are exploring limitations, learning new things, and learning to work with others.  They don't have the coordination to avoid all spills and falls. They lack the understanding of natural consequences.  Rules of life haven't all been explained to them yet... and even if they have been explained, they are hard to understand!

If you've ever read any of the Junie B. Jones books, you will see that although the adults in her life are frustrated with her actions, Junie B. has a very innocent and well-intentioned reason behind every wrongdoing.  Parents just don't see it that way.  So how do we find the reasons behind the actions?  Kids can't express the "why" of their actions. They are often confused when they get in trouble, then act out even more in anger or frustration.

Toddlers are experiencing a rapid growth, both physically and emotionally. They learn new skills, become better coordinated, and are able to experience many new things.  They say "No!" often and can be very independent. This independence causes rifts between them and their parents, much like the growing independence of teenagers.  Teens and toddlers are very similar. Learning to break away from parents is natural at both of these life stages, and it is difficult for many at both times.

Some important points: 
  • New environment or toys encourage exploration, so give clear directions and set limits.
  • Tantrums can be from frustration. Try to figure out your child's intent and use that to help modify the tantrum. Sometimes a time out helps all involved calm down!
  • Tired, sick, and hungry trigger us all to be more irritable, impatient, and confused. Avoid these at all costs!
  • Change to routine throws toddlers off. Try to keep the same routine daily, and if it will vary, give kids a head's up in advance.
  • Kids crave atttention. Even negative attention (such as yelling at them) is attention. They will do what they need to get your attention, so try to fill them will praise and attention when being good and avoid attention when they are misbehaving (without allowing safety to suffer). Time Out is the perfect time to avoid talking to kids and physical contact with them.  
  • Fill them with confidence and praise when they're being good! It's sometimes hard to remember, but praise quiet voices, independent play, saying kind words, or other "good" behaviors.  You can praise with words, a hug, and more.
Even many adults have yet to learn about anger management, patience, sharing, and manners, so we must expect that toddlers and young kids have not mastered those skills.  You don't want your child to be one of those adults who never masters those skills, so model good behaviors and encourage/reward them in your kids!

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