How To Communicate Effectively With Toddlers
Many adults wish they could be understood better by those around them. Toddlers feel the same way, but they have much more limited communication skills! Sometimes, toddlers get so frustrated that they “melt down” in a temper tantrum.
Communicating with Your Toddler
Learning how to communicate with your toddler can go a long way toward enhancing your relationship and helping your toddler feel loved and understood.
But how can we communicate with these young children? There are a few exceptions, but most toddlers – children under the age of three have a pretty limited vocabulary.
Learning to understand what your toddler is trying to say is only part of the challenge. It would be best if you also learned how to help your toddler understand you. Here are some tips for helping make this happen.
All of us have unique ways of communicating, and learning another’s language is an important aspect of interpersonal relationships. The same is true for your toddler. Watch your toddler’s gestures and body language. Try to see if he is pointing to or reaching for something.
Listen to his sounds do they have inflections that sound like a question? Maybe it sounds more like a frustrated yell or angry sound. Is it close to mealtime? Maybe a snack might help stave off a meltdown.
The idea is to use your observational powers to learn what your toddler’s needs are so that you can meet those needs before frustration sets in.
Crying Is Communicating
Most people view crying as “bad,” and some even believe it’s punishable. But for toddlers with few words at their disposal, crying is a form of communication just as it is for small babies.
A crying toddler is trying to tell you something; this is why many experts recommend finding the source of the problem and addressing it, whether it’s hunger, tiredness, a need for physical touch, or something else – rather than refusing to respond to the crying because it’s “bad” behavior.
Many child development experts agree that you should speak to your toddler in a normal voice rather than “baby talk.” Of course, toddlers tend to enjoy cheerful, energetic, and upbeat tones; but it’s a good idea to apply those tones to normal words and speech. This model how speech is supposed to be.
Narrate Your Day
Go ahead and verbalize lots of things during the day with your toddler. She will hear you describe what you’re doing, using lots of interesting words and engaging her in the day’s activities.
In the grocery store, talk about colors and flavors and where food comes from; at home, talk about the chores you’re doing, like laundry or dishes, and let her help when it’s appropriate. This helps combine hands-on experience with words.
Beyond Survival: How to Enjoy the Toddler Years
Parents get a lot of warning about the toddler phase as their baby approaches the one-year mark.
You may have heard stories about the “terrible twos” or three-year-olds having tantrums in the grocery store, or perhaps you’ve witnessed what looks like an awful struggle between a parent and their toddler.
Like the teen years, the toddler years have a reputation for being difficult. But many believe that it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. The toddler years can be some of the most joyful, fun, and exciting times in parenting, especially if you take a positive approach.
Here are some tips on how you can get past just surviving to enjoy some aspects of the toddler years.
Don’t Dread It
It may become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you are so sure your baby will be a difficult toddler. In other words, you may encourage difficult behavior if that is all you expect from the beginning.
Get some books from your local library and read up on toddlers. Talk to other parents whose style of parenting their toddler you admire and respect.
A little knowledge to prepare you for how toddlers tend to think and act, and learning what is normal for the age, can go a long way in helping you keep calm and allowing you to enjoy your toddler.
Being informed takes some of the worries out of parenting a toddler – you will be less likely to be left wondering what their behavior is all about or relying on stereotypes about toddler behavior.
Toddler-Proof Your Home
Try to think like a toddler. This is also were hearing from other parents is important. Look at your house and remove or put away any small objects within a toddler’s reach.
Consider moving or removing tables or other furniture with sharp corners (at least from their bedroom or play area). Lock cabinet doors and trashcan lids. All pens, pencils, or pointy objects should be put away.
Delicate decorative items should be removed (you can always get them back out again when your child is older.)
Once this is done, it may help you relax and enjoy your toddler’s curious exploration rather than inducing worry that he will hurt himself or destroy something.
Toddlers can be a real blast. It’s so rewarding to watch them learn new things and have experienced them for the first time. Enjoy this aspect of their development, and take them into the woods, the park or museum, and any other (safe) place of interest.
Read the books, give them art supplies, play music, and dance. Enjoy teaching them all these “new” things and have fun in the process.
How to Handle Toddler Temper Tantrums
Toddler temper tantrums are dreaded by parents and caregivers alike.
What are you supposed to do when they meltdown? How do you handle a tantrum? Can you prevent one from happening? Parents often ask these questions, and sometimes they don’t get the answers they need.
Here are some tips on handling that lovely aspect of toddlers: the tantrum.
What Causes Toddlers to Have Tantrums?
There are all kinds of things that can cause toddler tantrums, and what results in a meltdown in one toddler might not even affect another. Sometimes toddlers have tantrums because they are just tired and hungry.
Other times they may be frustrated that adults don’t understand their limited language. Still, other times, toddlers may find themselves conflicted over wanting to be independent and needing Mom and Dad near.
It’s quite individualized, so it pays for a parent to watch their toddler’s behavior and look for cues as to underlying causes.
Chances are you’ve heard this one. But how do you stay calm? What does a parent do when a tantrum begins, and you want to have a tantrum yourself? If you are prepared ahead of time, that will help. But tantrums often come out of nowhere.
It might help if you count to ten before intervening or saying anything. Take a deep breath and remember not to take the tantrum personally. So what if people around you give you judgmental looks?
Try to remember that the tantrum will fade in time, and you will hardly remember it years or even months from now. Keeping a realistic perspective can help parents handle tantrums calmly.
Show Them the Tantrum
Some parents have had amazing success in taking a video of their toddler having a tantrum, then showing the toddler the video.
In this day and age, when nearly everyone has a digital device that takes movies, this can be done fairly easily. Interestingly, some toddlers respond when they see how dreadful their behavior looks when they are having a tantrum.
Teach Them a Better Way
Giving your toddler alternatives to tantrums can help stave off meltdowns. Teach them to do something harmless, like using the words they know for expressing feelings, doing an angry dance with their arms and legs, or drawing or painting a picture.
Redirecting their attention to something else may work for a bit, but not always. In the end, it helps toddlers cope when they have an alternative to resorting to besides a tantrum.
Know Your Toddler
If you observe your toddler and pay attention to their body language and sounds, you will probably be able to detect situations that could induce a tantrum.
You can then avoid such situations or get ready with an alternative. You could even practice situations that cause a tantrum to set your toddler up for success the next time that situation is encountered.
Big Feelings and How to Handle Them: Advice for Parents of Toddlers
There are all kinds of reasons why toddlers experience such big feelings. For one thing, they don’t have the coping mechanisms and life experience to put feelings into perspective.
“It’s just a ball” may make sense to a savvy adult, but to a toddler, that ball could mean absolutely everything at that moment!
For another thing, toddlers are starting to experience a sense of independence. This can be scary for them. Their urges may be strong to do things independently, but they are afraid to try or feel insecure about going ahead with something.
Toddlers feel the need to have Mom and Dad nearby, but they want to explore everything on their own at the same time.
Yet another reason why toddlers emote on such a grand scale is that they have trouble communicating effectively. They may have needs and wants that they can’t express, and adults’ puzzlement sends them over the edge in frustration.
So how do you handle all these big feelings? Now that you know a little bit about why toddlers have these emotions, here are some tips that may help.
Identify the Cause
It can make all the difference in the world if you can identify the underlying cause of the big feelings. It may be physical, such as tiredness or hunger (experienced parents can tell it’s time for lunch without a clock by observing their toddler’s irritable behavior!).
Try to anticipate the need so that you can prevent emotions from running away with your toddler.
When a Meltdown Does Happen…
Most sources will tell you to remain calm. But it might help to be proactive, to let your toddler know you’re there for him, but that a tantrum is not acceptable behavior.
Tell him you understand his big feelings and that you will help him to handle them, and that you will try to understand him better. Give the feelings names so that he feels less overwhelmed by them.
If the tantrum was set off because your toddler wanted something (such as a toy, not a legitimate need), experts recommend that you do not reward the tantrum by giving your toddler the item.
As a parent, you may experience frustration with your toddler’s big feelings, too. It’s a good idea to model the right response to big feelings, so your toddler begins to learn the right way to deal with emotions.
You can tell your toddler, “I feel so angry and frustrated now! I am going to punch a pillow/draw a picture/do an angry dance.” Then do it – it might help you feel better as well!
How Toddlers Communicate: Understanding Their Language
What is she trying to say? Why is he crying? What does she need? Most toddlers have asked themselves such questions, often frantically, as they try to figure out how their toddler communicates.
How can you tell what they’re trying to say? Here are some tips on understanding toddler language and how you can improve communication with your toddler.
Toddlers experience powerful emotions as they struggle between their emerging sense of independence and their strong attachment to their parents.
Understanding this can help parents know what’s going on in their toddler’s mind. It may help you understand why your toddler clings to you one minute and pushes you away from the next.
If he seems frustrated and angry when you’re dressing him, it might be because he wants to do it himself; but if you leave him alone to do it, he will get frustrated because he can’t! Try to find a balance between helping your toddler and letting him do some things on his own.
Experts recommend making eye contact with your toddler when you speak. This helps engage her and get her attention. Perhaps a simple word or phrase. “Eyes, please,” or “Look” – repeated along with a gesture would help.
You can practice this at quiet times. Use your phrase or word and raise your finger in front of your child’s face, then move your finger to point to your eyes. She should follow your finger to your eyes. Smile and let her know that’s the right response to your keywords.
You might consider sign language as well this visual means of communication has brought welcome relief to some parents and toddlers who have experienced communication frustrations.
Visual communication works both ways. As you engage your toddler with these gestures and so forth, watch his as well. His arms, eyes, hands, legs, and the whole body can communicate. Watch these gestures and harness his tendency to use his body to communicate by trying some of the above.
Toddlers are said to have limited memory, especially for consequences, which is why you may find yourself getting frustrated at correcting behavior over and over.
It might relieve you to know that this is not rebellion per se, but it is considered a simple matter of needing repeated experience. Toddlers may need many experiences for them to internalize something and change their behavior.
Experts point out that toddlers have not developed the ability to empathize yet. They don’t seem to make connections between how they feel and how others feel.
This may be why the age-old advice to do something to the toddler that you don’t want her to do (biting her for biting you, for instance) tends not to work and may negatively affect you as you model the behavior.
Hopefully, as you learn how your toddler’s thought processes work, it will help improve your communication and relationship with one another.
Potty Training Do's and Don'ts
Ah, potty training. Some parents wish they could hire someone to take care of this stage, while others take it in stride.
Some things might make the process easier, though, regardless of how you anticipate potty training. Here are some tips on what to avoid and how to be successful.
- 1. Go for the elimination of liquid waste first. For little ones, having a bowel movement on the potty is often a much bigger deal than just urinating. So you might try giving them extra liquids on a day when you are going to be hanging around the house and see about encouraging them to go.
- 2. Try using a reward system. Using candy or other food rewards for potty successes is a matter of some debate, so you might want to stick with less controversial reward systems like a sticker chart. Each time your child goes on the potty, let her put a sticker on her chart. You can make a big calendar with the days of the week so she can see how many times she’s used the potty that day or week. Or you may want to use a chart made up of blank squares.
- 3. Set your little one up for success. Pay attention to your child’s usual elimination schedule, and don’t schedule activities right in the middle of those times. Think ahead during the potty training phase – don’t get in the car for a long drive unless you know you can stop frequently and at key times, and don’t be away from a regular potty for a whole day at first. Some children fear public toilets or portable potties (such as the kind at fairs and other outdoor events), which can set things up for potty training setbacks if that’s the only thing available.
- 1. Using shame as a way to keep your toddler from having accidents is not recommended by experts. For one thing, mistakes are part of learning any new skill. For another, shaming your child may produce anxiety and fear about using the toilet.
- 2. The potty is not a place of punishment. For example, please don’t force your toddler to sit on the potty as punishment for soiling his clothes or going in his diaper.
- 3. Try not to rush into potty training because you (or someone else) think it’s time. You’ll know it’s time when your toddler shows interest in the potty, or when she tries to go herself, or other signs. If you try to push things too early, it can negatively affect if your toddler is not ready.
How to Handle Separation Anxiety
Some separation anxiety among toddlers is considered perfectly normal.
It tends to come and go, being worse on some days than others, depending on what is going on in the toddler’s life and their unfathomable mind.
Toddlers are still learning about the world and have not yet learned effective coping mechanisms. Their cognitive development does not allow them to accommodate sophisticated concepts, making them prone to what seems to adults like irrational fears. This sort of anxious developmental stage is a normal part of growing up.
However, separation anxiety can sometimes present a real problem and may require some more focused coping mechanisms. Psychologists call separation anxiety that is beyond the usual clinginess Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Here are some signs of normal separation anxiety and some hints as to when it may need therapy or treatment.
This may sound like a contradiction of terms, but many experts in childhood development commend some separation anxiety because it indicates a healthy attachment to the parent(s).
Forming healthy attachments is considered important for an individual’s future, particularly about interpersonal relationships. So a strong attachment to you, the parent, can be considered a good thing!
Normal separation anxiety can still be emotionally exhausting for parents and toddlers alike. Tips on how to handle separations are below.
- Build trust in your toddler. Leave them for short periods at first, showing that you do, return. Point out that they were perfectly safe the whole time you were gone. “I was gone for ten whole minutes! Did anything bad happen to you? Of course not!” This helps the toddler learn the brain patterns for remaining calm.
- Be consistent and firm regarding separation with your toddler. It’s easy to waffle and be uncertain, which can make your toddler even more insecure. So decide ahead of time if you’re going to go through with it or not.
- Familiarize your toddler with their caretaker, teacher, babysitter, or other individuals ahead of time. Try to have that person over for non-threatening interaction and let the caretaker take your toddler into another room for a few minutes at a time, then outside, and so forth.
Visit your teacher and the room the child will be in several times before leaving them. While you’re there, leave the toddler with the teacher for a minute or two while you run to the bathroom or some such. This helps practice the separation process.
When Anxiety May Be a Problem
Persistent separation anxiety can be a red flag that something is amiss. If a toddler does not respond to the above strategies, and if separation anxiety occurs at home (seemingly without end), it may be time to seek help.
- Toddlers – especially older toddlers – who are consistently anxious about your whereabouts, even when you are in the same house, may need some help coping. Child psychologists, in therapy sessions, work with your toddler using cognitive behavioral therapy or other methods. This can help your little one learn how to handle being left in the care of someone you know is safe.
Big Feelings: How to Help Your Toddler Handle Emotions
A toddler’s “big feelings” can be overwhelming for parents, but they can be overwhelming for the toddler, too. Helping your toddler handle their big feelings can go a long way toward your comfort level and their.
Toddlers have been described as “babies on wheels,” which refers to their age and mobility. They are still babies, so it’s important to remember that you help them deal with their emotions.
Toddlers, being babies, do not have the vocabulary or life experience to put emotions into perspective. Here are some ideas and suggestions for helping them healthily deal with their feelings.
As noted above, toddlers have limited vocabulary. Some of them do not even talk at all yet. This can be a source of great frustration. They don’t have a way to say how they feel. Teaching sign language can help in this regard. Giving the emotions a name is key.
Tell your toddler what she is experiencing. “You are feeling frustration because I would not give you that toy. Frustration feels bad, doesn’t it?” Now the toddler has a word for the feeling, which helps “tame” the emotion somewhat.
Now that you’ve named the feeling(s) show your toddler constructive ways to get those feelings out. Have a pad of paper and crayons handy, or a chalkboard, or whatever works for you. This is to get the point across that an angry/sad/scared feeling can be expressed in drawing or painting.
Toddlers can be taught to do an “angry dance” to express how they feel. Punching pillows, playing drums, or other creative but safe methods can channel the feelings. Gently direct your toddler to one of those activities when you see the big feelings coming on, and he will begin to learn how to go for these constructive activities himself.
It’s important to let your toddler know that feelings are not “wrong” and punishable; behavior is. Let your toddler know that they are allowed to feel an emotion but that she is not allowed to hit her brother. You could try telling her, “You are allowed to feel angry.
Everyone sometimes does, and when such-and-such happened, it made you angry. But you are not allowed to hit. When you feel angry, do this,” then redirect her to something more constructive to express her feelings.
Schedules and Routines
- For some toddlers, having a routine can go a long way toward helping them feel secure and, therefore, less at the mercy of their feelings. And when a toddler feels secure, he may have fewer emotional “episodes.” Some parents have had great success in establishing a routine, even using a timer for activities, so that things are predictable.
How to Help Your Toddler Deal with Fear
Toddlers are notorious for experiencing irrational fears. This can get annoying for parents who have difficulty getting their toddlers to understand that such fears have no basis.
What can you do? Here are some tips that may help.
Down Blow It Off
It’s easy to be dismissive of your toddler’s fears. After all, you know there’s nothing to be afraid of; it’s tempting to roll your eyes and tell her to forget it.
But experts do not recommend this approach, claiming it may make your toddler feel like you don’t care or that she needs to suppress her fears. It’s important to let your toddler know that communicating her fears and asking for help is a healthy thing to do.
Don’t Blow It Up Either!
While taking your toddler’s fears seriously and acknowledging them are important, taking them too seriously may make the fear worse.
Have you ever been around a campfire or somewhere that scary stories are being told? To get everyone scared, the storyteller may stop and say, “What was that noise?” in a scared tone of voice.
This has the desired effect of getting everyone convinced that there is something scary in the woods or nearby, adding to the frightening effect of the story. This is what you want to avoid with your toddler!
Identifying with his fears is fine. “I can understand how that dog would be scary to you.” However, inflating the fear. “Dogs are so scary! They have such sharp teeth and they’re so big and loud” – is not recommended.
Getting Used To It
If possible, practice with your toddler is facing his fear. Some psychologists call these practice sessions “GUTI” exercises. The point is to set up a situation where the toddler has to face his fear, and you help him cope with the situation in a calm way. He may then see that his fear has no basis.
For instance, back to the common toddler fear of dogs – get a friend with a calm dog to meet with you and your toddler. Make sure the dog is on a leash. Then try going through some practice motions and talk positively.
For example, you could pet the dog first and talk about how soft and silky its fur feels, enticing your toddler to want to try. Point out how sweet and friendly the dog is. You might try gently placing your toddler’s hand on the dog’s fur. Take your time.
The first session of this nature may involve your toddler being near the dog and not touching it at all. See if you can repeat the practice times regularly, such as weekly, until your toddler is calm around the dog.
Safety, Not Fear
- Last but not least, psychologists and other experts do not recommend using fears to promote safe behavior. An example of this might be telling the child a negative or scary story about a child getting hit by a car to fear crossing the street. Given the toddler’s way of thinking, this could end up as a disastrous fear of all vehicles and even a fear of riding in the car.
Tips on Keeping the Twos from Being Terrible
The “Terrible Twos” is an unfortunate term. It tends to set parents up to be apprehensive about their two-year-old. It also may cause parents to worry unnecessarily when “Terrible Twos” behavior manifests when their child is three, four, or five years old.
Regardless of the age, there are some strategies for keeping that kind of behavior – temper tantrums, screaming, etc. – from becoming completely out of control. Here are some tips.
Let Them Know You’re Bigger
This is not to say that you need to intimidate your toddler. Instead, let her know you are big enough to “take it.” When your toddler acts up, she may be looking for a reaction from you to see if her behavior is appropriate or gets results.
If you do not let their behavior make you react strongly, it may curtail the tantrum. Also, by remaining calm, you are modeling the correct behavior for the situation.
It’s tempting to want to respond angrily to your toddler’s behavior. But you might try something unexpected that some child development experts and counselors recommend.
Help your toddler calm down by putting your arms around her, letting her know that you know her feelings are really big but that you are bigger, and can help her manage those feelings. You are physically restraining her, but in a loving way that says you are there to help her control herself, not just “hold her down.”
Tame Your Temper
It’s a good idea not to have a temper tantrum of your own. If you “lose it” when your child is losing it, then all is lost! The two tantrums tend to feed off of each other and make the situation so much worse.
Also, consider your behavior during the times when your toddler is calm – are you modeling anger and tantrum-like behavior as a way to handle frustrations in life? For example, if you tend to have angry outbursts, your toddler will see this behavior and may adopt it as his own.
Knowing what to expect can go a long way in keeping toddler behavior calm. Making transitions smooth. “Five more minutes until we leave the park…three more minutes…okay, one more minute…” can also help toddlers have time to adjust to upcoming change inactivity, which tends to decrease potential frustration.
- Some little ones find a timer helpful as a visual and auditory reminder of the passage of time and the upcoming change. Daily routines help toddlers feel secure, too – they don’t have to be so worried and upset about what is coming next.
How To Communicate Effectively With Toddlers
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