Your toddler is developing in leaps and bounds. One of the key things they are learning as they test the boundaries is learning what is OK and what is not OK. They're also learning that their actions have consequences, some of which are not nice at all.
It's important to remember as a parent that your child's brain is still developing and that area of the brain that controls their impulse is still very much "under construction".
So how can you support your child during this period of toddlerhood? Well, setting rules, and being consistent is the best way to do so. It helps your child understand what to expect, which helps them feel safe as well as manage their frustrations.
1. Set and enforce clear and consistent limits.
Every day with your toddler will give you many opportunities for you to practice appropriate behaviours. It's not uncommon for your child to behave in ways that are challenging such as hitting or throwing objects. You can see it as a way to correct their responses to things that trigger these behaviours.
Start by, helping you child understand you message. Use a low, authoritative (not angry or screaming), and calm voice. At the same time, use a “stop” or “no-no” gesture along with your words. Your toddler may not respond to you and it will take some practice before you see results.
It is also important to recognize your child’s feelings or goals. Show your child that you understand what they want to do: "You want to play with the water, but you can not spill the water from your sippy cup on the floor". Or, "I know you are really angry. You want to stay longer at the playground, but it is not okay to hit. Hitting hurts".
Re-direct your child’s attention. Help your toddler express their interests or meet their goals in an acceptable way. "It’s not okay to throw blocks. Someone might get hurt. Let’s throw these pillows instead".
2. Give your child the skills she needs to manage her emotions.
As your child gets older, you can start reflecting with them. They can tell you about what they have learned in school. You can also talk about choices they made, discuss if they were good or not-so-good and what they can do if the situation comes up again.
How do you do a discussion like that?
Start by keeping it simple. Explain what happened. Talk in a calm and neutral voice. Ask questions to make sure your child understands: Do you remember when you hit John because you wanted your doll back?
Point out the consequences of your child’s behavior: After you hit your brother, he started to cry. It hurt. He felt sad and mad.
Talk about what your child could do instead. If your brother takes the doll you’re playing with, what are some things you could do besides hit him? If your child doesn’t have any ideas (this is very normal), you can suggest some strategies: You can tell John, ‘That is my doll. Please don’t take it.’ Or you could come to get me for help.
3. Help your child learn to cope with their strong feelings.
Challenging behavior frequently reflects a child's incapacity to communicate their feelings in an acceptable manner or to meet a critical need. This means that teaching children how to control their emotions and express their needs and wants is a key component of reducing or preventing problematic behavior. This frequently happens when children improve their language abilities as they get older and gain more experience interacting with their classmates or peers, handling disappointment, and sticking to the rules.
Teaching your child how to deal with strong feelings is a key task for you as a parent. When your child is upset, suggest that they jump up and down, hit couch cushions, snuggle up in a comfortable spot for some alone time, paint an angry picture, or use any other acceptable method. It's crucial to show your child that there are numerous healthy, non-harmful ways for them to express their emotions, and to assist them in developing these techniques.
Throughout the day, it's important to think ahead for your toddler. If you visit the doctor, anticipate that there will be a long period of waiting. Come prepared with books or a sketchbook for your child to draw in. If you've got more than one child, offer your toddler something to do while you attend to them for example, offering some beads and rope for lacing. You can teach your child how to deal with feelings of boredom or frustration by giving her something to do while she waits.
If you would like to speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your child could benefit from play therapy, click here to get in touch today or want to know if Play Therapy could be right for your child take our quiz!