Parenting Strategies with Toddlers
A number of recent workshops with parents of toddlers produced the following list of ideas and key points to keep in mind when facing the challenge of parenting children whose life space is dramatically expanding but whose verbal skills and concepts of time, place, and consequences are still quite limited.
Visual aids are very helpful in establishing the sense of sequence and time for the behaviors required to start and end the day. Charts with drawings or pictures that have clock faces next to them enable the child to more quickly grasp the specific steps needed to complete the process but also begin to learn the importance of sequence and time in completing complex tasks. Parents must remember how complicated getting ready to leave the house is for a 2-year-old. There are so many steps to be mastered and so-o-o many distractions. Plus, “What’s a ‘5 minutes’?” We talk time to very young children which is one of the most abstract concepts in life.
Speaking of time, transitions are another major challenge for young children. At the end of a workshop, one mother went into the classroom to get her child and go home. The child resisted. The mother had been mentally preparing to leave. The child had not. Children need warnings, often a few of them, to begin to wind down and finish an activity. Toddlers will often need the parent to enter the activity in order to ease the child out of it. Making a game of cleaning up or creating an ending helps as does distractions that begin to shift the child’s attention to change and transition. It can be helpful to talk about what will be happening when you leave, especially if it involves the child in actively making some decision about what will happen at the next stop, e.g., what book she would like you to read that night.
More about time goals: use timers to give children a visual, concrete focus and often make a game out of it. Can you brush your teeth or get your clothes on before the bell rings? One mother had success laying out options of sets of outfits plus beating the timer for a child who was having a lot of trouble getting dressed in the morning. Parents also need to be careful of taking too much responsibility for getting the child ready in the morning. Taking a child to preschool in his or her pajamas with clothes in a bag is often a very powerful way to underscore that you cannot control your child’s behavior but you can control consequences. If you get drawn into believing that it is up to you to make sure everything is in perfect order before leaving, then your toddler is training you rather than vice-versa.
Whenever you are trying to say something important to a young child, kneel down and say it softly, eye-to-eye. Parents often attempt to give directions/orders/make requests from a distal position rather than a proximal one. But very young children cannot focus their auditory sense on a distant object when it is competing with an ongoing tactile or visual experience.
Don’t call out from the next room and expect more than about two seconds of attention. Even being next to a child but emitting words that are more than three feet from the ears, and more importantly, without the requisite visual or tactile attention, limits your effectiveness in getting attention and getting the message across. Even with older children in a classroom, a teacher walking about the room simply touching the shoulder of an inattentive child can dramatically improve being heard.
A biting 2-year-old? Eye-to-eye — a very firm “No!,” immediate but quiet removal, and consistent repetition. Don’t waste time lecturing toddlers!
A toddler being mean to a new baby? Again the eye-to-eye “No!,” but this time you should add a brief comment that it IS hard to have to share attention with a new baby, while you pick up the baby and go off, negating the toddler’s attempt to gain negative attention by having you focus on punishing him.