raising a toddler- magic beans (or) cheatsheet
There's going to be no preamble here, no waxing lyrical on parenting because while I love being a mother, and think I'm a half decent mom, I am winging it like the rest of us. I am also not a fan of blogging the parenting experience because I write supernatural fantasy fiction and might scare the bejesus out of you, and also there are people far more suited, and better at it, than I.
But ...lately, I have been seeing a number of requests for tips on how to get through the terrible twos, the turbulent threes, and whatnot and I remember my particular experience being mostly wonderful barring a couple of tantrums- one took place in the middle of the road, me and her arguing while she sat down crosslegged on tar while ten cars honked behind her - she has no fear that child of mine, and the other had her rolling on the ground like she was doing the angapradharshanam. But there were only two, and I chalk it down to a two-hour workshop I attended right after my daughter's second birthday. I think it might have saved my life, or at least my sanity because I followed it to the T- I am a give-me-a- book to life kind of person when it comes to parenting and have not a shred of mother's instinct. I follow parenting instructions like I would a mother care cot assembly manual- that's not saying much because our mother care cot is not sturdiest of things but you get the drift- I like books to tell me what to do.
Anyway, I digress, post the workshop I wrote up my notes and like all good ex-investment bankers, sent my family my 'takeaways' from the event. So here it is. I hope it helps you, because it helped me.
Here's the rulebook-
Limits : Set very few Limits but be consistent about the limits you set. These limits have to be Iron Clad- no throwing, no pushing, or no biting. And let the household know. Even something like no shoes on the bed means you take them off every single time. Bending them even once sends the wrong signal. These limits have to be followed by everyone else in the family, at least when the toddler is looking. Eating in front of the TV for instance is a big NO NO unless you want your child to want the same. Side note: I found making sure everyone wears a seatbelt made Kiddo more comfortable about sitting still in the car.
Role Modeling: You have to role model behaviour and this includes anger and raising your voice. This does not mean 'not being firm'. In fact if anything, toddlers listen more when you lower your voice because the change in tone alerts them to the fact they have done something wrong. It throws them off a little. No throwing means no throwing at all, by you or anyone else in the family. With Kiddo I have noticed this has worked brilliantly. She used to throw things and I realised we were doing the same- we throw the towel on the bed, errant toys into the toy box, banana peels into the bin. How do they know our intent is different? Once we stopped, and we started using the word ‘gently’, she hardly threw anymore.
If you smack, they will smack.
Role model good behaviour. If you smack your child because they are doing something you don’t want them to do, they will smack another child because they are not getting their way. They don’t understand the difference in intentions; they are only toddlers, they are all of TWO. You are forty, well I am anyway. All they see is that crossing limits results in aggressive behaviour, which means that someone else crossing their limits should mean aggressive behaviour for them.
Urge Vs Will: Toddlers are still in the stage of ‘formation of will’. Urge is us wanting that Belgian chocolate, ‘Will’ stops us from eating it. A toddler's will is still being formed. To bite, to push, to want are urges and because they don’t have the will, they are unable to stop themselves. Will forms between 3-4. Children who get disciplined through anger often become angry adults who have short tempers. Their ‘will' takes that much longer to form. Toddlers also do not understand degrees of anger. Urges are different across toddlers - some may push more, bite more, but this does not make them problem children. One way to counter an urge is to snap them out of that ‘moment’. Shouting ‘Stop’ is a great way, and something you can use across disciplining, especially even when they run away from you. Most often children will freeze at the moment you shout the word ‘Stop,’ only because it snaps them out of the moment.
The power of choice and empowerment: (THIS WORKED LIKE A MAGIC TRICK FOR ME) Always give kiddo a choice between two things, both of which result in the same action - sleeping, having a bath, eating, etc. State the rule and give them a choice. (With Kiddo I saw a massive change in three weeks- in the way she ate, dressed etc. She began to choose what she wanted to eat at both breakfast and dinner, and both become a breeze. She chose to eat on her own, or to be fed. She chose to sit on the chair or in the room; eventually she stopped needing a book even.
Waiting your turn: Much more patient when she get’s the choice to either stay or go. Like in the park or at a queue in a shop.
Creating interest and developing concentration- Even if it’s just dal, talk about how the dal smells or tastes. Talk about the brilliant yellow and the red of the carrots. Talk about how you made it and how wonderful it is. Your interest piques their interest. The other day I called my vegetable pasta sauce filled with mushroom and carrots, fairy sauce. She loves the word- it's better than pasta sauce. Also do not interrupt concentration either during a meal or any other activity. For instance if she’s building a tower, don’t interrupt her and say - ‘oh my god that’s amazing.’ She doesn’t need your praise at the time. She needs to be left alone to concentrate. Shower the praise when she’s done or when her concentration breaks on it’s own. CRITICAL!
Sharing- Toddlers do not understand sharing. Sharing happens between 3.5 and four. They are learning about self at the moment. But do use the words - ‘your turn’ ‘his/her turn.’
Saying Sorry - Toddlers are only saying sorry because you are asking them to. They don’t mean it because they don’t think they have done anything wrong. So you undermine the word in the long run. Instead Role model empathy. Make them feel like they have done something wrong. So if your child bites, show them the bite they have caused. Take about how red it is and console the victim- focus on the victim. Your empathy will develop their empathy. Focus the attention on the one who got bitten or pushed and they will understand they caused them distress.
Language: Be careful about the language you use in front of your toddler including the words bad girl, bad boy, gender preconceptions. They listen to everything you’re saying and understand a lot more than you think. Instead of saying ‘don’t do this,’ say ‘people are not for biting. An apple is for biting.’ Books are not for stepping on. You step on the ground but not on books. This will be internalised and they will parrot it eventually.
Don’t say - ‘I will not talk to you’ because you are essentially the centre of their existence. (I did this once and I saw her heart break; I never did it again.)They do not have the will to stop themselves and they don’t know you don’t mean it. You are also disciplining them by withholding love instead of telling them what they are doing wrong. And since they take everything literally, they honestly think you are never going to talk to them again.
Distracting - giving children chores is a great way to distract them. For instance, getting them interested in the process of laying the table will get them interested in eating. Making the bed gets them interested in sleeping. Create a routine that eventually leads to an action. Do not move from routine at this young age. (I wrote this when she was 2- she is now 3.5 and I still stand by it. DO NOT MOVE FROM ROUTINE.)
What happens when there are no choices: The choice is not in the action, but in the execution of the action. If they don’t want either choice and it HAS to be done, prepare for a tantrum.
Dealing with Tantrums: When a child is in throes of tantrum, it’s pretty useless to get them to do anything else, they are frustrated and unable to contain an urge. So live through the tantrum with them. Some helpful steps: If in a crowded place, move them out of harms way and also away from the situation. Always get down to their level when you are trying to calm them down. Try not to hold them because they will hit you or pull your hair. But stay with them and live through the tantrum, so they know that even though they are not getting their way, you are still not leaving them. Remember they are as petrified as you are at the time, and we are pretty damn petrified. Look them in the eye and tell them you are not going anywhere. When you see them taking a break, you can use a crow or a plane to distract them. (I don't do this anymore, I talk it through with her now because distracting feels like a cop out and very short term solution. Besides distracting is apparently not encouraged after three, but what do I know) Do not get angry and try not to lose your patience. Count to twenty. Do not smile.
Finally....my own rule- everything else is from the Wonder Woman workshop.
The following poem from Shel Silverstein is the only overarching rule that guides my parenting style. Be goofy, be fun, and let them believe in unicorns and magic and that all things are possible because I don't know any better myself.
BEST OF LUCK! I hope this helped.