Toddlers. We've all been there. One minute they are these adorable little people and other times, they are unpredictable and impulsive. And to make matters worse, sometimes it feels like there is no way of reasoning with them.
Just when you think all is calm, your child drops a biscuit in the café and it breaks in two. Yes, that's right, the biscuit incident. They are devastated and it seems as if the world has ended. You empathise as best you can and tell them it's OK - but the 'toddler tantrum' has begun. The more you ask them to calm down, the louder they seem to cry. And for that moment, it feels like everyone in the café is looking across at your table and you feel like a failure. But it's not just about the biscuits, refusing to put their coat on and the 'getting in the buggy' standoff are equally hot favourites we can all relate to.
However, these mix of emotions are an important stage of our toddlers' development and these years are a time of growth of their cognitive, emotional and social development.
Every child is different and children need time to gently adapt to the environment around them. So perhaps that's the point. How can we expect our little ones to automatically get used to new environments unless we take children with us to different places, are patient with them, help them to understand how they can behave in that environment and reward/praise them accordingly. Let's not expect them to adapt straight away as when it does happen, often it just feels like a fluke.
Recently, I have been reading some interesting articles and views on toddler behaviour by Gillian Bridge. The former teacher turned therapist and author of The Significance Delusion says parents can overstimulate their children and expect them to fit in with their adult lives, which can cause behavioural problems. In The Times, she writes that 'perhaps' we shouldn't take our children to places (such as pubs or cinemas) and just expect them to fit in with adults. But let's be clear, as modern day parents, we have to allow our children to fit around our schedule. We can't not take them out anywhere, just in case they have 'a moment'. Parents don't know when tantrums are going to occur and we can't live in a cotton wool world where our children look and act in a pristine manner all the time.
We are all just trying to do what we believe is best, fumbling along the treadmill of life. With many parents now relying on two incomes, weekends become sacred 'family time' with many families choosing to go to a family-friendly pub in the afternoon, or go to the cinema - together. Childcare can be expensive and grandparents often openly admit they are too exhausted to keep offering to help all the time. So it often feels like we are in this on our own, and more so than ever.
It is fairly inevitable that at some point when out and about, your toddler is going to have a melt-down. It is what they do! Like many parents I have my own methods of how to pre-empt and manage a toddler meltdown, here they are:
1. Be Patient & Consistent
No toddler behaves sensibly all the time but they need guidance and consistency to learn how to socially behave in different environments. It doesn't happen overnight, which is why a consistent approach to helping them understand different environments is really important, praising and rewarding them accordingly for good behaviour.
For example, say you are invited to a large family gathering at the local pub to celebrate a relative's birthday. This can often feel like hard work as we know the toddler will get bored and will only sit still for 20 minutes. Therefore, plan ahead and provide them with appropriate toys, books and snacks to keep them busy.
It takes extra effort to be organised for trips out in public but it's worth the extra five minutes. Expect your child to act like a toddler (as they are) and they will want to run around and explore. However, help them understand what you want them to do by saying 'we are going for a drink now', instead of 'would you like a drink?'.
2. Set Boundaries
Try and be clear on telling your child what is allowed and what's not. If you keep changing the goal posts, it will leave your toddler confused and more likely to get frustrated. Children feel more secure if they have clear guidance from you on what is acceptable and what is not. Praise and reward your child for doing things well. Children tend to feel more secure if you stick to the limits you've set, even if they complain about them.
Praising good behaviour for particular tasks is a good way to reward them and make them feel happy. For example, a positive message might be "Well done. You've been really helpful putting the toys away. Thank you."
3. Manage melt-downs
If a melt-down does occur despite your best efforts, don't despair! The following tried and tested tricks can work wonders:
Anything you can do to distract the child from their mood. Use humour to defuse tricky situations - silly songs, laughter and making a game of tidying toys can all work brilliantly. A hug or a tickle at the right moment can also change a child's mood.
Change the environment
Throw on some wellies and bundle them outside. A change of scenery and some fresh air can often change moods. Sometimes this does not seem appealing, especially if it is raining, but it does help.
Some one-to-one attention
Try a little 'one to one' attention for 10/15 minutes, such as reading a fun book or playing a game. Hide and seek is always a favourite!
So are terrible twos really that terrible? No, there are not. Most children do grow out of the need for tantrums and as they get older they have more language and understanding, which makes things much easier for both parent and child. My own children, who are aged four and six, are thankfully out of the tantrum stage now! My son was particularly willful as a toddler but I believe that shows good strength of character, which will benefit him in the long term. I personally found that the more my children could both communicate with us, the better they can express their feelings and grow out of the tantrum period.