Children grow so quickly. One minute they are happily floating around in amniotic fluid, the next they are learning to walk! There seems to be gazillions of parenting styles around to manage toddler behaviour, and what is this positive parenting thing anyway?
Everything was fine when you could feed and wrap your newborn up in a fancy swaddle. You know, the days when nappy changes WEREN’T like wrestling with a crocodile. Then somehow overnight, everything you thought you knew about your child is suddenly wrong. From fourth trimester sleep deprivation where a bottle or boob could fix any problem, they are now toddling around, conducting serious scientific experiments with anything they can find in the kitchen cupboard.
“What happened to my sweet child?” you wonder. Yes, there’s a reason toddlers are super cute.
As the tension in your house escalates and it appears your child is rapidly learning to be as opinionated as Donald Trump, you lose it. After all, her requests make no sense to an adult, and because they don’t make logical sense, your only response is anger, and you scream at your toddler “stop screaming!”
And then the penny drops. You realise that you’ve just screamed at your child to get them to stop screaming. The phrase “do as I say, not as I do,” has never held so much weight.
So is there an alternative? Can we parent without losing our cool? Do you need to pop to Officeworks and stock up on reward charts and a bunch of stickers? Want to be a positive parent?
Raising children is challenging. A child’s behaviour doesn’t start with bad intentions. Toddlers find it really difficult to communicate. They struggle with these new enormous feelings, and this can frustrate everyone, including the toddler herself.
Positive parenting centres on our connection with our children and making choices that enable our children to grow into healthy, well adjusted adults.
Here are some techniques that will help you see toddler behaviour in a different light and keep connected to your child.
1. Get to the root of the behavior
Positive parenting experts worldwide can agree on this: there is always something motivating a child’s negative or disruptive behavior.
So that fight you just had about a nappy change? It wasn’t a random display of bad behaviour – it was motivated by something. There’s always a reason for their behaviour. Maybe that poor behaviour was due to your toddler wanting more time with you, and never forget toddlers need a LOT of our attention. Perhaps the behaviour was due to her developmental inability at this age to manage those giant feelings all by herself. Please don’t ask your toddler – she won’t know!
The thing to remember is the behavior itself is simply the symptom. Our challenge as parents is figuring out what’s really underneath that frustrating behavior.
Picture yourself as a detective. When a child begins to act out, ask yourself what your child is trying to accomplish through her actions.
Once you identify the root cause of the issue, you can become a proactive parent and preempt the outbursts from happening in the first place by creating a secure attachment with your child.
2. Be consistent
Life happens. Plans change, big viruses come along and change our routine and suddenly you’re spending a LOT of time at home.Try to maintain a consistent routine as much as you can. Stick to the same schedule on holidays and weekends to avoid challenges on Monday morning.
3. Say no to rewards
Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s best to keep your long-term goals in mind when it comes to positive parenting. This style of parenting involves saying a big no to rewards and sticker charts . Rewards seem like a positive thing but can lead to a sense of entitlement in our kids.
Rewarding a child for good behaviour is ok the first time it happens, but what happens the next time? Using rewards as a bargaining chip for the desired behavior is a slippery slope. Importantly, many studies have shown that kids who are rewarded actually lose interest in the activity they’re being rewarded for. It’s worth thinking about.
4. Focus on what you can control – yourself.
This is tough, especially in the heat of the moment. If you remember that there’s always a reason for the behavior then you can begin to respond appropriately.
When parents realize they can’t always control their kids behaviour, but they can control their own, it’s liberating.
Sure, some parents might be able to scare their kids into behaving properly or threaten punishment to achieve what they want in that moment. However this can do serious damage to our attachment with our kids (see more about this in our blog next month) and cause issues in the long term. There are no silver bullets in parenting.
So instead of overpowering children, or bribing, or shaming them into making good decisions, it’s a great idea to reframe your perception of your child. Instead of thinking of her as a misbehaving child, view her as a little person who simply hasn’t yet got the right tools to behave appropriately in a given situation.
5. Discipline, don’t punish
One of the biggest differences between positive parenting techniques and other parenting approaches is the focus on discipline over punishment.
Discipline means to train by instruction and exercise, while punishment means to inflict a penalty for an offense.
By showing our children the appropriate ways to behave without using blame, shame and pain as forms of punishment, we equip them to become competent and capable adults. We also maintain a positive connection with our little ones.
When you are considering a response to unwanted behaviour – just like with rewards – think long-term. What is going to help your child learn AND foster a secure, loving connection with you in the long term? I’ll give you a clue – it’s not smacking, bribery or shouting.
6.Take time-out for yourself.
As busy parents, we often forget to look after the most important person: ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you’re a full-time parent or someone who is juggling parenting with a career. We all need time for ourselves.
The way we feel is as important as the time we spend with our children because it has an impact on how we show up for our kids when we are with them.
7. Recognise that feelings are contagious.
Science has proven that emotions are contagious. Both positive and negative feelings are passed from one person to the other, often subconsciously. It’s critical we check the way we feel as parents and whether we are influencing our children’s moods.
8. Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings.
Tantrums are normal for toddlers. They usually indicate a child is having difficulty expressing their feelings in words. It is also possible that they have a need that is not being met.
When your child is misbehaving, ask them to try explaining in words rather than actions how they are feeling. Only if they have developed the verbal skills, of course. Understanding your child’s reasons for their behaviour can give you a broader perspective and help you remain calm.
When children have difficulty expressing how they feel we need to let them know that it’s okay too. Be patient and let them know they can share their feelings with you when they’re ready.
If your child is showing anger, tell them it’s okay to feel that way. Even their unpleasant emotions are valid. Emotions tell us things, and there is always a hurt underneath anger.
9. Spend quality time with your children.
Children need to feel safe, secure and valued. Spending quality time with your little ones helps to reduce their stress and promotes their development, health and wellbeing. So leave your phone in the other room, unplug and connect with your toddler.
10. Let your toddler make simple choices.
Giving toddlers the freedom to make simple choices contributes to the parent-child bond. It helps them feel some control and builds confidence. Yes, even small humans need to feel in control of their life. So, give options for clothes and let them pick. Ask, “shall we play with the teddy bear or the bunny?”. Look for small ways to help your toddler feel they have some control over their life.
Happy Minds Psychology is a Perinatal and Parenting practice which offers psychology and counselling services from the convenience of your own home. We service the whole of Australia via telehealth, or face to face appointments in Ocean Grove, Victoria. Appointment slots are available across 6 days a week including after-hours. To find out more about us click here. To book an appointment call us on 0431666050 or contact us email us at [email protected].