by Dr. Ginny Trierweiler, BCC, Born 4 Brilliance Coach
I can’t put my 14 month old down at all without him crying and throwing a fit. I need a break! What can I do??
I feel like I am constantly cleaning up—diapers, toys all over. It’s as if nothing stays clean and orderly for more than a few minutes. I want to enjoy my toddler, but I find I resent her because of the constant mess in my home.
My almost 3 year old will not stop hurting people. He hits, throws toys, pulls hair, kicks pushes, and bites. I have tried everything I can think of to help him stop. He can state the rule “we don’t hit,” but he doesn’t seem to care! NOTHING SEEMS TO WORK. I’m so discouraged, and it’s really straining on my relationship with my son.
Toddlers and young children can be so cuddly and funny and adorable but they can also really shatter our calm! Can we ever have a peaceful, calm, happy home again??
Below are 7 tips for living a calm and happy life with one or more toddlers or young children.
- First, give yourself a break! There is far too much pressure on parents these days to do too much, give too much, make it all about the child, and never let them misbehave or be noisy in public. It’s ridiculous. Parents are giving much more time and stuff to their children these days and still feeling like they’re not doing enough. You don’t need that pressure!
- Realize that babies are born with the right stuff to develop empathy and care about other people. Although, when they’re going through the hitting and biting stage, it may not seem like it! They need time and experience to develop those skills. Focus on helping their development and giving them constructive limits rather than controlling their behavior.
- Model empathy and talk about feelings, a lot. When you’re reading, pose questions like “What do you think the girl is feeling? Why do you think the boy did that?” Label their feelings, without judging or trying to control their feelings. When we have words that capture what we’re feeling, it doesn’t make us feel out of control. This will also help them develop their empathy skills.
- Separate feelings from behavior. In stressful situations, try to separate feelings from behaviors in your own mind. All feelings can be understood, but not all behaviors are okay. Let them know there are boundaries. Boundaries help children feel safe. Denying their feelings, or trying to distract them out of their feelings, may interfere with their learning and development and it may come across as uncaring or disrespectful. Even angry and frustrated feelings are okay, and it can help to name them. “You really wanted that, and it’s so frustrating to have to wait your turn.” This can really start to help them calm down. Name their feelings without judging them. However, that does not mean you allow discourteous or destructive behavior.
- Set limits. Young children are counting on us to take charge and keep everyone safe. Set rules that are reasonable in our community, such as “we don’t hit,” “food is for eating and we eat sitting at the table,” and “we throw the ball outside, not in the house.” Once they have found the boundaries, they can proactively learn and develop without anxiety. You want them to practice managing themselves, but do not let them hit. DO take charge of their little bodies if they are harming themselves, others or objects in the environment. “I won’t let you hit. I am taking you away from that situation now.” This is not about punishment; it’s about setting and reinforcing a boundary and it’s about your child’s learning.
- Focus on the long-range, the child’s learning and development, more than on changing their behavior in the moment. As a child psychologist, I often encouraged parents to distract their children from whatever they were focused on that the parents didn’t like. I now see that that can be a helpful get-through-this-moment trick, but it is not always best for helping the child’s development. It’s not so important that your child is instantly appeased and you can stop their upset in under 10 seconds. It’s more important that they are building always-greater social and emotional intelligence skills.
- It’s not about what other people think or say! Try to keep any worry about other people’s judgments out of it all. People expect way too much containment and quiet with young children. It’s not fair and it’s not helpful! There’s a big difference between A) a child behaving in an entitled and discourteous manner when they are old enough to know better and B) a young child who is barely starting to develop the social and emotional skills to handle a trip to the grocery store at the end of the day.
Parents of teens and young adults often tell me they wish they had set clear general boundaries and stayed firm with them, rather than letting the child win through whining. They wish they hadn’t jumped in to help so much because their children are not very resilient or able to tolerate difficulties. If you can put yourself in the shoes of you, 20 years from now, that may give you the perspective to do what’s most helpful now.
Next week, I will share more on one specific, super-valuable tip for minimizing stress in a household with a young child. Hint: it will also help you save money on birthday and Christmas presents!
For more on how to give your child more opportunity to develop their social and emotional intelligence, check out the book “Let Me Do It Myself! Secrets to Raising a Capable, Confident & Considerate Toddler,” available on Amazon.
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