Nicholeen, Your peaceful parenting methods obviously work so well with older children and troubled teenagers. But, I have a house full of little children. Each day I face terrible twos, three year old tantrums, and four year old tantrums. Can children this young learn to govern themselves too?
Answer: How To Stop Tantrums
This article is NOT just for toddlers.
Parenting toddlers is difficult. Many parents wonder if they must forever keep practicing reactive parenting. They know there must be some way to teach toddlers and small children to learn self-government.
The funny thing is, I think I get asked this question equally as often as I get asked, “Nicholeen, learning self-government is obviously easy for small children, and your methods are perfect for that. But, what about big kids and teens?”
So, my question for you is, why do we doubt the new skills and communication methods will do any good for our children; no matter the age? Simple. We have put years of time and energy into trying to respond to bad behaviors in a way that will stop the teenage attitude problems and disrespect, the 2 year old tantrums, and the toddler hitting, biting, etc. But, try as we might, all the ways we react don't seem to stop the behavior from occurring again. Naturally, we are skeptical that any change we make can really make a difference. We start telling ourselves that the behavior can't be fixed. Without optimism, no parenting change can help. Desire and trust are the first steps to making a positive parenting change.
A New Way
Instead of practicing reactive parenting, parents need to focus the majority of their parenting efforts on proactive parenting. This means, that instead of waiting for the next behavior problem to happen, and hoping you have the energy to deal with it, you would choose to teach and practice appropriate behaviors every day so that a problem isn't started.
The more times a person does something the 'right way,' the less likely they are to do something the 'wrong way' when the decision making time arrives. This is the principle behind teaching children skills, and pre-teaching what to do instead of always focusing on what not to do.
Toddlers who role play what to do with Mommy and Daddy on a regular basis have an edge on toddlers who only wait to get caught doing something which displeases their parents. The toddler has common behavior vocabulary to discuss with Mom and Dad, they have the assurance that they are able to make the right choice, they know what praise and connection with parents feels like, and they have experience doing it right.
Teaching toddlers the Four Basic Skills of happy family relationships, which are “following instructions, accepting No answers, accepting consequences, and disagreeing appropriately,” also prepare a child with vocabulary and focus so that a bad behavior is less likely to occur.
When Problems Arise
So, what do self-government minded parents do when toddler temper tantrums occur? In the book, Parenting A House United: Changing Children's Hearts And Behaviors By Teaching Self-Government, there are some parenting skills which need to be focused on to help toddlers during tantrums or out of control moments.
First, describe what is happening. “Susan, you are yelling and hitting...”
Second, say what they should do. “...you need to get calm so Mommy can talk to you about it...”
Third, go to the calm down spot. “...you need to go to time-out until you are calm (or 'happy' for little children) and ready to talk...”
Fourth, describe the future. “...When you choose to be happy, Mommy will come back and give you a big hug and a high five. Then we will talk about it...”
Fifth, after they calm down, praise them so they recognize that they controlled their own behaviors. This gives them ownership of their choices and encourages self-government.
Sixth, do a proper correction by explaining what happened, what should have happened, and what negative consequence they earned for not disagreeing appropriately.
Groundings or severe loss of privileges should not happen for toddler age children. Time is an anxious enough thing for them, hours of chores, or loss of privileges which take too much time will create more problems. They need to earn a negative consequence and have the opportunity to accept it in order to learn self-government, but the chore should be age appropriate, and not vindictive or severe.
Be sure to practice the situation again the 'right way' and follow up that part of the interaction with lots of praise. Also, make sure you don't take it personally. The behavior is not a reflection of your parenting, it is a cry for connection to you, an anxiety which needs discussing, or a skill which needs to be learned. Be excited to teach and strengthen the child.
Perfect toddlers are a myth. But, proactive (which means prepared) parents, are not.
I Hear You Saying...
...what if they don't stay on time-out. I will talk about that next week...