Yes, parenting toddlers is definitely a busy time! However, it is also a time of great opportunity and development. Toddlerhood is when a child is learning that they are independent of their parents and can assert their individuality. This often first appears in the form of the child saying “no” to a parent's requests. The child is also becoming independent in other ways, such as learning to dress themselves, feed themselves, toilet themselves. There are so many tasks of toddlerhood, a few temper tantrums and meltdowns are to be expected, as they are still learning emotional control of themselves at this age.
Key parenting strategies at this age:
- consistency: if the rules of the house are mostly consistent, they will be easier for the child to learn and follow.
- building routines: at this age children tend to like routines and patterns. Using routines will help keep them on track with complex tasks such as going to bed. A regular routine at a regular time will help with this, eg clean teeth, pyjamas, into bed for last song or story with lights out at 7:30pm.
- encouraging them to be independent: this is the major task of toddlerhood. Even though it is usually a lot slower to let the child do it, they need to learn by doing. Helping them become independent in putting on shoes and things they can do gives them a sense of accomplishment and encourages them to try new tasks.
- modelling the behaviour you want: if you want a child to say “please” and “thank you” the best way to get there is to do it yourself. If you want to teach the child to clean up after an activity, build the routine of doing it together. If you spill something, clean it up and point out to your child that even adults spill things and make mistakes - that's OK, you just need to clean it up.
- building resilience: help your child to learn that sometimes things go wrong, something gets spilled or broken and even adults make mistakes. Apologizing to your child is teaching them to make it right after something has gone wrong. Pointing out your mistakes or spills teaches them that life goes on after their favourite toy is lost or they fall off the monkey bars.
- helping them to take control of their emotions: toddlerhood is a time of strong feelings and emotions which the child is only just learning to control. Helping them to identify and name the emotions they are experiencing is the first step to helping them control their impulses and behaviour.
Moving into partnership with your child: when your child was a baby the parents were the secure base which is both stable and authoritative. A securely attached toddler needs to start becoming independent with the knowledge that the parents will still be there as loving and unconditionally affirming support. (It is especially important if doing behaviour modification with rewards that the parents also give unconditional affection and rewards which are not connected with the behaviour modification program.) The child wants to have input into the decisions of their daily life and helping them to do so lets them grow into an independent person.
Bottom line: toddlerhood is a lot of work, but it is an amazing journey to watch a child unfold into the person they are going to be!
- The Emotional Life of the Toddler by Alicia Lieberman. This is not a parenting book as such, but describes very well the goals and tasks of toddlerhood and how these interface with the personality of your child.
- Every Parent by Matt Sanders (author of the Positive Parenting Program). Matt is an Australian psychologist and this book is focussed on managing behaviour from toddlerhood through teenage years. Contains example reward charts and practical exercises.
- 1-2-3-Magic by Dr Thomas Phelan. This is a book by an American child psychologist which is very short (only about 100 pages) and focuses on practical steps for managing child discipline.
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