The one mistake parents of toddlers make
There’s a good reason Jo Frost is known as a Global Parenting Expert. With two decades of childcare experience under her belt, the woman who garnered fame from starring in the hit show, Supernanny, is a force to be reckoned with. No sooner had I told her about my 14-month-old son than she’d described some of his latest behaviour to a tee.
“He’s probably stuffing those Vegemite sandwiches into the shape ball you’ve taught him to use, and got his tiny little hands over everything. It’s a great time for exploration,” she laughs.
Parenting troubleshooter to the rescue
Frost happily describes herself as a parenting ‘troubleshooter’ and as a relatively new mum hurtling towards the toddler stage, I am all ears.
Were they as scary as I’ve been told, I ask tentatively?
If there is one thing parents of toddlers should know it’s that these small little humans are MUCH smarter than we realise and take more from our unspoken cues than anything else, Frost tries to reassure me. “Don’t underestimate them,” she says. “And spend as much time as you can just observing their behaviour. They listen to our non-verbal cues and are just as receptive to what is not said. They live in the grey area of life”.
Frost gives this example: “A child cries when they don’t get what they want. This is normal. Two and three year olds live in a bubble, the world is about them and they want what they want, when they want it.
“When a parent says, ‘No, you can’t have it’, they cry even more. And when this ‘no’ is reiterated, they cry even more and even more, until the parent gives in and they end up getting what it was they want.”
“So what does the child learn from this? If I want something I just have to cry like THAT and I’ll get it.”
Cripes! Doesn’t that little scenario hit you straight between the eyes – been there much? But Frost is reassuring, “I will never believe a mother who says her child doesn’t do this. This is normal toddler behaviour.”
So what, if anything, can we do about it?
Frost believes that tantrums are a toddler’s way of communicating. Much like the piercing screams of a hungry newborn who needs their nappy changed, the real responsibility lies with the parent’s reaction. She explains that the first step is understanding the “three types of tantrums”: mock temper tantrums, situational temper tantrums and emotional meltdowns.
Mock temper tantrums occur as in the example above where the child wants something they can’t have. Situational tantrums occur when you are out and about or doing a particular (and loved) activity.
“Say you’re at the park on an outing and children LOVE the park. When you tell them that it’s time to leave they panic, and think they will never return. So what you need to do is start prepared and keep a speaking clock,” says Frost.
“Say, ‘We have 20 minutes left till we need to go home’ or make it a regular part of the child’s routine and go there several times a week.”
Doing this helps your child to trust you and believe that just because they are leaving the park or a friend’s house, they will eventually come back.
“Consistency is a really key part of parenting,” says Frost.
Understanding the emotional meltdown phase
Emotional meltdowns are perhaps the most serious of the three tantrum types and because of that, require the most concentrated effort on a parent’s behalf.
“More often than not, these meltdowns are emotional projection. Perhaps there has been a death, a divorce, a new baby’s arrival, or you’ve moved house or cities. Emotional meltdowns occur when something in their environment has changed and they see it affecting the adults around them,” says Frost.
While you can’t be expected to put life on hold for a child, Frost says it’s imperative that parents consider that change will impact their children in different ways, and in some cases over much longer period of time.
“Just because you are settling into a new environment, it doesn’t mean your child has as well.” Again, the solution here is routine and consistency. If you have moved, arranged regular playdates with kids in your new area. If the child has a new daycare centre, make sure you are there regularly, asking the teachers about their progress and constantly checking in.
You can’t have enough routine, positivity and compassion
Establish routine as early as possible and stick to it because routines give children comfort. Just make sure your child feels part of the routine.
“Say you’ve started at a new daycare or with a new carer, give them a scarf or something of yours and ask them to mind it for you, until you return at the end of the day,” she says. Be positive. In the face of any change of circumstances or routine, it’s vital parents are positive and happy role models.
“Positivity is an energy and children are receptive to this energy. If we are confident and our tone is confident, children will see that Mum and Dad are fine and they will follow our example. Finally, always show compassion. “Try not to be impatient, angry or embarrassed; usually a toddler is acting out in this way because of something they are feeling. Be sensitive to that,” she says.
This article was written by Lucy Kippist for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz