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How we're handling toddler behavior

How we handle toddler behavior | RISING*SHINING

Oh, toddlers. In the span of an hour Dashiell can sweetly offer to take my empty plate to the sink when he sees that I am finished eating and also melt into a screaming tantrum. It tests our patience for sure but we try to respond consistently and respectfully.

Sometimes I feel that we are doing a great job. Other times it's hard to know what the best response to a behavior is (usually after we have redirected or corrected but Dashiell is still acting out). I wanted to share some of the practices we are using with Dashiell (and soon Cedric!) but please don't think we have it all figured out.

+ Honor my words, please.

Example: Dashiell is kicking me while we're reading books. I ask him to stop kicking me and he continues. I say, "Dashiell I asked you not to kick me, honor mama's words please."

This is a phrase adopted from our daycare that I love. Instead of insisting that a rule or request is followed "because I say so," we emphasize that what is important is respecting the person making the request. Don't we all want our words to be heard and to be honored whether we are 2 or 32?

It's a phrase that I won't mind hearing back from Dashiell one day. I'd much rather hear him say, "Honor my words, please mama," when he wants something from me than hearing him say, "because I said so!" 

+ Two minutes. 

Examples: "Dashiell we need to leave the park in two minutes," or "Cedric would like to play with that toy, would you like to give it to him now or in two minutes?" or, "Dashiell it's time to turn off the water," and if Dash protests we'll say, "Would you like two more minutes?"

This is another genius approached adopted from our daycare. If I was reading a book and Chris came up to me and said, "You have to stop reading that right now we are leaving," and then took my book away I'd be angry, and rightfully so! But so often we expect children to comply with requests like this. The concept of two minutes honors the fact that you don't always want to stop an activity right away or give up the toy you are playing with. We now frequently hear Dash ask for "Two minutes?" and I love that he is empowered to ask for this. 

The concept of two minutes also helps with taking turns. If Dashiell wants something we can tell him that he needs to give his friend or brother two minutes and Dash understands that this means he has to wait but within reason. And when Dash has a toy that another friend wants we can ask him if he'll take turns in two minutes. We have frequently seen him volunteer to give his toy up before two minutes are over.

+ Kind hands (or feet). 

Example: Dashiell hits or takes a toy away from a friend. We tell Dash that we don't hit/take toys and ask him to show kind hands, which is a gentle pat accompanied with a "sorry."

Again, from our daycare (I just love their approach to behavior). Similar to "honor my words" I love that "kind hands" places emphasis on being a respectful person instead of just on following a rule, such as "no hitting." 

+ Use your words please/can you show me what you want and I can't understand you when you use that tone (for whining).

Example: Dashiell is pointing and whining or whining that he wants something. We say, "Dashiell please use your words to tell me what you want," or "I can't understand you, please use your words." Or we offer to pick him up and have him show us what he wants (usually this is the case when he wants a specific snack from the pantry.)

It's understandable that Dashiell will get frustrated when he can't communicate about something that he wants. But whining should not be an alternative to trying to explain himself or trying to show us what he wants. We try to help him by taking him to show us what he wants or offering words or phrases that he might not know such as, "Do you feel frustrated?" Recently he has told me, "I feel frustrated!" on more than one occasion instead of melting down or "I feel sad," instead of launching into a full blown tantrum which I think is great emotional awareness for a two year old.

+ Give the opportunity to make a choice.

Example: "Do you want to turn off the water or should mama do it?" "Do you want grapes or strawberries?" "Do you want me to tuck you into bed now or read a book first?"

Toddlers want to be independent and make their own choices. So as much as possible we try to give Dashiell the opportunity to choose between two acceptable things. I've found that if I were to just ask, "Please turn off the water," that Dashiell would likely not water to turn off the water and tell me, "No!" but if the alternative is me turning off the water then he usually is happy to turn it off himself.

+ Creating opportunities for independence. 

Erica wrote a great guest post on encouraging independence in young children that I've been looking back on lately. I do feel the more that we enable Dashiell in his own environment the more tantrums we are heading off before they even start. This includes basic things such as having his toys and books easily accessible to him and letting him try to put on his own shirt and shoes. We love our Learning Tower because Dashiell can be at counter height with us and see what we are doing when we're in the kitchen.

Whenever possible we try to include Dashiell in the tasks around the house that we are doing. He loves to bake with me, use his broom to help clean (even though he scatters instead of gathers crumbs on the floor) and use the hand-held vacuum. 

+ Remembering the toddler perspective.

Sometimes when we've had a really rough day of meltdowns it just takes a short conversation with Chris, reflecting on Dashiell's perspective and how frustrating life can be for him, to calm our nerves. We remind ourselves that Dashiell has such specific ideas about things he wants or doesn't, just as we do!, but he can't always communicate those ideas. Or when he can, like wanting to go outside when it's blazing hot or eating cookies, we can't always do what he wants.

And even though we try to give him independence in his environment the entire house is not built from his perspective: he can't see things on the counter or reach to open drawers. How frustrating that would be! These conversations help us remember that Dash isn't throwing tantrums just to make our life difficult, he is expressing his very real frustrations. It doesn't mean that his behavior is OK but it does help us to be sympathetic.

I'd love to know your tips for toddler behavior!