Life is tough for a toddler. Imagine you have just begun to realise your sense of self. You have preferences and are starting to realise that your actions have an effect on the world. This is an exciting development, but it's also a frustrating one. Barely an hour goes by without someone trying to make you sleep when you aren't tired, to stop you pulling put the interesting wires in the wall, to put you in a pushchair when you haven't finished playing or to feed you unknown substances without giving you a chance to look at them closely.
Imagine you are living in a world where people communicate through an unfamiliar language, and although you are beginning to understand, there is a lot of confusion. Your own words are few and frequently misunderstood by those around you. You are beset by emotions that are too big for you to deal with yet, and sometimes the strength of them is scary.
It is all too easy to view toddlers' tantrums and shouting as mere defiance. To think that their sole purpose in life is to thwart whatever you have planned for them. It is easy to become frustrated and wish that they would just do as they were told. Taking a step out of your own needs and feelings for a moment, and seeing the world as it is to them can help us to remain calmer and more tolerant. Allowing some freedom to choose, to consider whether what we are asking is too much and to devise compromises wherever possible can go a long way to smoothing their path through a tricky time, and allowing ourselves to feel calmer.
1. See it from their point of view. A child who screams when having their coat put on may just be too hot. They don't know that the temperature will change when they get outside. Maybe try going outside first before putting it on, or playing a hide and seek game with their fingers.
2. Leave lots of time for potentially contentious tasks. Walking to the shops may take four times as long if you stop to look at every leaf and stone on the way, but it will be a lot less stressful.
3. Allow some degree of choice. Sometimes choices overwhelm children, but allowing some control over their day will make them feel a little less powerless. It makes no difference to you which shoe goes on first, but it might to them.
4. Distraction often works like magic. Breaking into song or playing pat-a-cake might be all that's needed to halt a stand-off.
5. Be aware of danger times. Tiredness and hunger makes us all grumpy, but is especially hard when you are small. Try to arrange jobs that must be done just after nap times or meals when your toddler is at their most amenable.
6. Talk to them. Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. They may not understand every word, but they are starting to get the gist of most of what you say. If you're going to leave the park soon, tell them. To be whisked away from a task you were enjoying would annoy anybody, but some advance warning may help.
7. Listen to them. Even if they don't seem to be saying proper words, they are trying to communicate and it is only polite to listen to them. You might be surprised at how much they can convey. Even if you don't understand, they will at least feel you are taking notice.
8.When tantrums hit, stay close. Turning your back or ignoring the tantrum isn't showing your child that their behaviour isn't acceptable, it is telling them that they are unacceptable. Although a hitting, kicking, screaming child might seem defiant, they are just out of control. You wouldn't leave them if they were crying in sadness or pain, why leave them when they are overwhelmed with anger and frustration? Sometimes a hand laid on their chest, or just sitting by is all that's needed to let them know you are there to help. Naming their feelings is another useful way to show you understand and to help them recognise what is happening to them.
9. Enjoy your toddler. When you've had a particularly trying time, make sure you find some time to reconnect with your child. Taking a nap together while you stroke their hair, or playing a favourite game reminds you both that your relationship is based on love not opposition.
10. Take time for yourself. If you are exhausted and at your wits' end, you can't give anything back to your toddler. I know you've heard this advice before, and it's easy to scoff and say you've no time for it, but make time. It takes far less time than you'd think to recuperate. 5 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes for a cup of tea and a biscuit or 20 minutes for a hot bath. Try and fit time for yourself in to the day and your whole family will benefit.