Got toddlers? If so, you can proudly feel introduced to the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Up until toddler hood, with the exception of colic and sleepless nights – you have to admit you had it pretty easy. Not only was your little bundle of joy, your munchkin, the fruit of your loins - nothing but cute squared, but he or she was also pretty easy to deal with. You held him or her when she cried. He or she was easily confined to a swing or playpen. And they drank their milk and ate their peas with little to no complaints. Life was good, huh?
Then suddenly your child hit all of those developmental milestones where they learned to talk and walk, and complain, and whine and throw tantrums. Suddenly, where a pudgy little baby who smiled all the time used to be, stands a toddler with enough will power and narcissism to give any adult on the planet a run for their money.
When it comes to toddlers, they seem to be either terrible or terrific. There is little grey area, also known as ‘reasoning’ with a toddler. The outcome of their behaviors however is largely a condition of their parenting. (So yes, it’s your fault!) What many parents tend to forget as their children get older is that you have to parent. You have to set limits and boundaries and teach this essentially raw creature the rules of the world. As babies and young toddlers, children naturally feel like they are the epicenter of the entire universe. And rightfully so, to a certain point – most parents treat them as such. But as they start to develop their personalities and engage in undesirable traits, it is up to YOU to be their mentor.
When a toddler has a meltdown in the grocery store, is it because they are a ‘bad’ child? Is there even such a thing as a ‘bad’ toddler? More than likely, the meltdown is caused because they do not understand and feel they don’t have control over something. So when a parent reacts badly to the outburst, whether out of embarrassment or anger – the toddler can only react to those emotions. On the flip side, when a limit or boundary is firmly set – and the toddler understands the limits and boundaries, the behavior won’t work for the toddler and won’t be useful. Therefore, even toddlers – or should we say, especially toddlers – will find a new way to indulge their narcissism to get what they want.
Toddlers should be likened to people operating with only half the information. Consider your toddler an adult, who heard a rumor – but only heard one side of the story. And then that adult, without having the necessary other side of the story begins to make judgments, take actions and develop emotions about the situation. This is exactly how toddlers operate. Because their brains don’t quite operate on the cognitive level of older children or adults, they tend to be easily upset and easily set off kilter when they only receive a little information. If your toddler is prone to being terrible rather than terrific, you may want to find alternate ways to provide them with the information they need so that the product of their behavior is desirable.
The good news about toddler is that they largely want to please others, especially their parents. Toddlers work their best magic when they feel praised and appreciated and gently loved. It can be extremely difficult to face off with a 3 year old who continuously says, NO when you tell them to brush his or her teeth – and only feel love and appreciation. But this is where you have to figure out the best parenting style for your toddler. Does it help to explain to them that the germs in their mouths will grow into big germs that will require a dentist to pull their teeth? Does it work better to explain that they have to brush their teeth, and that if they don’t they will not be allowed to have dessert or watch television for 1 day? Each and every toddler reacts differently to the information and it is up to you, as the parent – to figure out the best way to deliver it.
If your toddler is terrible and you feel a sense of dread every morning knowing that you have to deal with him or her, you must change the way you parent and deliver information. If you will look back to moments when your toddler is terrific to see what was going on in that moment, how you were feeling – you will be given valuable clues as to the best way to deal with him or her throughout the day. And the single most important piece of advice when it comes to toddler is to be persistent. If you are persistent, and follow through, and set boundaries with the same rules day in and day out (even when you are too exhausted to care) you WILL get the results you seek. Which is a happy, well-adjusted, and sweet toddler.
Luckily, toddlers are still cute enough to get away with being slightly terrible. The toddler years pack a ton of learning and development into a short period of your child’s life. Many child educators and psychologists believe that by the time your child graduates from toddlerhood at the age of 5, their personality traits and views of the world are set in concrete. This seems to speak volumes for just how important it is to start parenting, disciplining, correcting, encouraging and developing your child’s self esteem at a very young age.
So how is your toddler, terrible or terrific? Or a mixture of the two? And how do you feel the way YOU parent affects your toddler’s behavior?