You are trying to get your toddler to follow your instructions, but instead of complying, he says “NO!” and it soon escalated into a screaming/crying tantrum. Does this sound familiar? As mums ourselves, we’ve been there! Many of us might succumb to shouting back at them or snap and tell them to stop screaming, but will they listen? Most likely not! However, 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 share our favourite tips and techniques that you can use to 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 A CHILD AND CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOUR IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE & VALIDATE 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 to 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 know that you are feeling upset because you _____ (e.g. cannot get to play with the toy truck). Let's see what other interesting toy we can find to play with!" Acknowledgment and validation of your child's feelings establishes an emotional connection and communicates to your child that his feelings are heard.
2. GIVE THEM A HUG
Hugging triggers the immediate release of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, lowering the stress hormone (cortisol) and calms down the nervous system of both parent and child, avoiding an emotional crash. When we hug our children during meltdowns and tantrums, we are not reinforcing their behaviour but are instead helping them to calm down their overreactive primitive brain, getting them out of the flight/fight response so that they can hear us better. Some children may not want to be hugged or touched during tantrums and that is okay. Accept that this is part of their temperament and follow up with hugs and verbal validation of their feelings when they are calmer.
3. OFFER CHOICES 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 that 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
To punish or not to punish? There are many schools of thought when it comes to discipline and punishment. We grew up in an Asian culture where spanking 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 instead of screaming and incorporating punishment without establishing emotional connection or reasons.
6. GIVE HELPFUL PRAISE & 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, as parents, are only human and experience a full range of emotions ourselves. We will make mistakes and lose it at our kids. But that does not make us "bad" parents. What can we do if we have shouted, said hurtful things to our kids or messed up? You apologize! Let them know that you are sincerely sorry. It can be as simple as "Sorry for shouting at you just now, Sometimes mummy gets angry too, but being angry doesn't mean I have to shout." Apologizing as a parent is one of the most meaningful thing you can do for your child, as you are role modelling the importance of taking ownership for your mistakes and it helps to repair the hurt done. At the end of the day, please remember that there is no such thing as a "perfect" parent so don't even try to be one! Do the best you can and strive to improve everyday with small, consistent efforts! We are all trying our best and getting better each day.
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