Thursday, May 5, 2011

Big emotions for such little people (part 3)

So this is where the practical fun starts! These tips I have collected from a few trusted WISE mentors, like Dr Laura Markham (Aha parenting) and Dr Bill Sears, and personal experience. I've linked up their pages, and it will do you good to go have a look at their sites. There is a wealth of wisdom there.
  • Empathize, empathize, empathize! If our children receive empathy from us in their lives it will form the basis of empathy and compassion in their lives. And that is the cornerstone to successful relationships.
  • Give your child a voice, especially when they're too young to verbalise for themselves. Little people have some big emotions going around. Anyone who has a toddler know that they can go from extreme excitement to frustration and back to laughter in a matter of minutes. Like I said earlier, the world is a bright big scary place for a toddler, and they face many limitations in their day. Add to that any aggravating factors like hunger, thirst, tiredness, boredom and you're in the right place for a tantrum. They often can't verbalise their feelings and this can be very frustrating. Most moms can read their babies pretty well so what I try to do is say out loud to them what I think they are feeling. Like "Ethan really wants to stay outside and play. Ethan is sad and angry that he must come inside. But I promise we will play outside tomorrow and have lots of fun! why don't you race mommy to the bath and show mommy how fast you can run!" (I added some diversion there - another topic). This technique has almost single handily fused out most of Ethan's meltdowns. Its almost as if he thinks "mommy gets me, I don't have to argue her"
  • Remember that nobody enjoys a meltdown, even a toddler. Find out what the root of the problem is and fix it.
  • A toddler finds it hard to differentiate between a need and a want. When he was a little baby and probably up until a year, he was all needs - hunger, sleep, nappies, love etc. Now that he's a toddler he adds wants to the list (like the desire to explore and play) but can't yet tell the difference between his needs and wants. That's what makes them so demanding sometimes. Give them some Leigh-way, its developmental not behavioural.
  • If you get mad (and we do sometimes) be sure to explain that to your toddler and make right with them. Apologise to them if you need to. These have been some of my most special moments with Ethan and it teaches him a great lesson - that we also have emotions as parents but, we can apologise and its OK.
  • Point out and explain feelings in others as often as you can. Say "look, she is sad and crying. She has an eina on her knee". This gives names to emotions and opens opportunities to discuss and look at solutions.
  • STAY CALM. Our children need to see us as a safe environment, a lighthouse to help them in a storm of emotions. If we can stay calm in a turbulent situation our children will learn to soothe themselves by modelling after us.
  • Remember he is a kid. Have developmental expectations. Don't expect a 2 year old to have perfect mastery over his emotions, and get angry at him for showing anger if we ourselves are probably getting angry at his anger, lol! And we are the adults and should be the mature ones.
  • If your child defies you it is probably a relationship problem, not a behavioral one. Check your closeness. The goal is for them to WANT  to please you and listen to you our of love for you, not fear.
  • Decide what you can let by and what is non-negotiable. Life is a lot easier when you're less high strung, believe me. And if you can master this now then you will have a happy mom and happy child. Is it really that bad if he messes water on the floor because he is having so much fun with the water in the basin? You can shout and scream and get both upset, probably ending with him shouting and screaming too. Or you can just say "Are you having so much fun, my baby!", put some towels on the floor and join in on the fun.
  • Give them options. Giving them options in a reasonable manner gives them a sense of independence and makes life a lot smoother. Let him choose what he wants to wear, or have for a snack. I would always keep the options to two for this age, otherwise it might get a bit overwhelming. Even when it comes to setting boundaries you can give choices. for example you can say "we can leave to go home now, or in 10 minutes. You can decide." or "You can smear avocado all over the table but that means that you will have to help mommy clean it up later." That usually stops him a lot of the time. And you show him that you trust him to make the best decisions for himself. It adds to his self esteem and teaches him some great lessons in the process too. It also avoids situations where he's likely to oppose you.
  • See things from his point of view and get into his shoes.
  • Keep your promises. Do what you say you were going to do. They might be little but we'll be surprised how much they remember. You don't want to break that trust in the importance of your word.
  • Respect them. Treat them as how you would want to be treated. They are little people but they are complete people, with emotions and a desire for respect.
  • All behaviour comes from an attempt to meet a basic need. What is causing his behaviour problem - a need for more connection? More recognition? More sleep? Or does he just need to cry and let some big emotions out?
  • Play with your child. have lots of tickles and giggles in a day. Ethan loves chasing games, when we both act all goofy. Laughter is a great way for blowing off steam, for both of you. But especially for a little one who cant yet articulate his feelings. Laughter is a great way to destress and let out any big feelings he might have.
  • If he starts having a meltdown, what usually stops it straight away I give a genuine reaction of caring what is wrong. If he starts moaning or crying I make sure to quickly get down to his level, look in his eyes and ask him what is wrong. And then I try to articulate his feelings using words (previous point). Usually the suggestion I make which is met with a whimper is the thing that is wrong or that he wants. It really is quite amazing.
  • Don't tell your child to keep quiet or stop crying. It is important that they feel safe to show their emotions, especially with you. Making them dam down their big emotions is not healthy on any level and is not going to teach them emotional intelligence. He must know that his feeling are important to me, whatever they may be. Expressing emotions is a skill that is unfortunately often killed off, especially in boys.
  • Don't ignore the tantrum. A person who is upset needs to feel connection and empathy, not desertion.
  • Plan ahead of time. Explain to your little one what we are going to do, in that way he knows what to expect and wont be disappointed if he doesn't end up at a play park. This helps especially when you want to go grocery shopping.
I'm sure there is more but I cant think of any more right now.

Just remember that a strong will is a good thing. It means that your child has a strong inner-compass. Its the same skill that makes them persevere at building a tower of blocks after failing 5 times. And its a skill you WANT  them to have when faced with peer pressure later on! God gave us a free will after all for a good reason. Lets try not to punish it out of them.

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