You are outside and your toddler starts screaming because he does not want to leave, or is insisting he wants something. You are at home trying to get your toddler to follow your instructions, and he starts screaming. Do these situations seem familiar? We’ve been there, and we know how hard it is to control toddler tantrums! Many of us would succumb to shouting back at them or snap and tell them to stop screaming, but will they listen? The answer is NO! Our kids are not intentionally being "terrible", it is just that we might not be talking to them in ways that they'll listen!
In this post, we'll like to share the tips and techniques that we have learnt from books and research and also through our own experiences, on how you can communicate to your kids. We don’t claim to be experts, but are regular moms striving to implement these tips in our daily communication with our kids as well!
1) The only way to get through to a child and change their behavior is to acknowledge their feelings
Instead of blaming your child for bad behavior, what can you do to pacify the situation? Often, kids don’t listen to their parents because their feelings aren’t being acknowledged. A child’s behavior is tied to how he or she feels, and often when we communicate with a child, we don’t address this. Demanding that your screaming child who is demanding for food/toys be quiet overlooks his feelings. He is probably communicating his frustration or it could be that his basic needs are not being met e.g. he could be tired or hungry.
I recall occasions when I was insisting my 2.5 year old daughter to take a shower before bed and she starting screaming (what is it with kids and bath time?) After 15 minutes of trying to coax her into the toilet, I decided to change strategy, squatted down and patiently asked her, “I see you don’t want to bathe, why?” After some guessing by asking her directed questions like, “is it because you still want to play?” “Do you want to bring your toys into the bath?” I finally hit the nail on the head when I asked, “do you want me to carry you?” Turns out she wanted to be carried to the toilet like her baby sister! So I did just that and she happily took her shower. It took 15 minutes to guess what she wanted, but at least I had a happy child after that.
The next time your child is throwing a tantrum, squat down, look him in the eye and ask, "I see you are upset, why?"Acknowledge his feelings. If your child is upset because he doesn't want to leave the playground, it might be easier to manage if you let him play for another 15 minutes with an expectation that you have to leave at 6pm.
2. Offer them a Hug
I've found this particularly helpful for my toddler when she is upset. Sometimes, what they need from parents is just a comforting hug and love. Showing their feelings are being acknowledged with a gesture can help them to calm down and follow your lead.
3. Offer choices to your child or come to a compromise
One technique that you can try is to offer choices to your child to get to get them to do what you want. For example, if you child refuses to go to bed, try asking them, “I see you don’t want to sleep now, but we need to go to bed soon. Do you want to read one book before bed, or do you want me to sing you one nursery rhyme?” Try coming to a compromise.
I recall an incident when my daughter (2.5yo) did not want to go to bed because she wanted to stay up reading (ALL her books). I told her, we can read one more book before we sleep, to which she replied, “No, TWO!” (Yes, toddlers can negotiate!) I figured it didn’t do any harm to read her two short books, and so I compromised and bedtime went smoothly thereafter!
4. Control your anger
But what if you’ve tried the tactics above, they are STILL throwing a fit, and you can feel yourself getting angry?
Have you noticed that when you shout, use sarcasm, threaten or command you child, it usually ends up with the same results? Your child won’t listen. It’s more likely he/she will reciprocate by becoming angrier herself!
It’s vital to be mindful of our own feelings and learn strategies to come ourselves down when we feel ourselves getting angry. Take deep breathes or self-talk yourselves into calming down. You can’t communicate with your toddler when you are feeling like blowing the roof.
5. Explain Punishment
There are many schools of thought when it comes to discipline and punishment. We grow up in an Asian country where caning children for bad behavior is common. However, psychologists have found that when you punish a child without explaining the reasons why, it often leads to more anger and might hinder future progress.
If you decide to punish, ensure the child understands why he/she is being punished. Also, show them they are still being loved despite their punishment.
I recall an occasion when my elder daughter (2.5yo) bit her younger sister (very hard) on the hand. I felt the situation warranted a punishment to her but was also conscious on the fact that it was probably out of jealousy that she did that. In this situation, I asked her, “Do you think it hurts your sister when you bite her?” “Yes.” “Would you like people to bite you?” “No.” “Are you a naughty girl this time & do you think mummy should punish you?” Surprisingly, she replied “YES!” I gave her a light smack on her hand, but made sure to give her a hug after that, telling her that I was proud of her for admitting her mistake.
Kids are capable of feeling guilty for their own behavior, and it’s important to use the situations to help them grow by explaining the reasons why you punish them.
6. If you want your child to grow and learn, offer helpful praise and never use labels
So your child stopped throwing a tantrum after you managed to communicate to him or he’s simply being an angel and doing what you tell him! Don’t forget to praise him for it! Let him know, “I am proud of you for saying sorry to your sister just now” “I am proud of you for taking a shower today” “I am proud of you for keeping your toys today.” Praising good behavior develops self-esteem.
On the contrary, avoid labelling bad behavior. Avoid words like “you are so stubborn!” “Why are you always so naughty?” Kids do adapt to their labels and start behaving accordingly, becoming convinced they are stubborn or just naughty. So unless you want your child to live up to the “lazy” or “naughty” role you’ve given him, don’t label him!
We hope these tips have been helpful to you and here's a little infographic to summarise the key points!