The Job of a Toddler part two

Getting what they want

Toddlers are experts at trying to get what they want.  

While I have never agreed with the term “terrible two’s”, I fully agree with the term “tenacious three’s” but have also met many tenacious two’s and even one’s. 

One of the most important lessons learned during the toddler years is “how to get what I want”. Toddlers will try many tactics to get what they want and the lessons they learn all depend on how parents and caregivers respond to the tactics used.  

I just spent time with a very tired three year old who didn’t want to sleep. I know this child well and know that a skipped nap could end in a very unpleasant evening for her family. She employed all the typical moves, she got up and used the bathroom twice, she argued that she wasn’t tired, that she was hungry and thirsty, that her clothes hurt, and on and on.  I continued to assure her that she would be ok if she waited for after nap snack because she had JUST eaten a big lunch, that her clothes were bothering her because she was tired and on and on. While it can be very frustrating watching her fight sleep, I know that she needs a nap and she needs me to allow her to test and not give in.  

Keeping a calm demeanor while dealing with a testing toddler is not easy but is very important.  If possible, tag team with one parent or caregiver switching with another when needed. This sends the message that everyone is on the same page and models cooperative behavior. 

Don’t ever hesitate to say “I’m feeling frustrated right now and need to take a break, I’ll be back in a few minutes to help you some more”. Then go into another room and do whatever works for you to remain or regain your calm.  By doing so you let them know that you are not going to give up just because you are frustrated and also show that it is ok to be frustrated and to take a minute when needed. 

Many toddlers will at some point try the tantrum method of getting what they want.  I know that there is a lot of conflicting advice out there about tantrums and I always say to go with what feels right for you and works for your family. My advice is to acknowledge how they are feeling, restate why they can’t get what they want and go on with your day. Remember, they can’t always get what they want and they have the right to be upset about that.  

Here we see my granddaughter showing my entire extended family at a Christmas party how upset she was that she couldn’t have what she wanted. 

And now her reaction when she realized a room full of people were going to let her express her feelings, but were not going to give her what she wanted. 

I recommend only trying to stop a tantrum if they are throwing things or doing something else that could hurt someone.  As with all toddler behavior, acknowledge how they feel with statements like ” I know you really wanted a blue cup but all the blue cups are being used”, or whatever is fueling the tantrum and then let them be. They will soon learn that tantrums don’t work, it may take a few tantrums before they are sure that you won’t give in, but if you are consistent, they will learn that this is not an effective way to get what they want.   

The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s ok for your child to have strong negative emotions, it is not your job to keep them happy all the time.  Despite what they may say, what they need most from you is to know that you are in charge, you can and will make the big decisions and you will love them no matter how hard they push and test.  

Always remember that the safer, more loved they feel, the harder they will test you.  So the next time your toddler melts down in public and you feel everyone’s eyes on you, remember that what they think is not important, your child seeing you be steady and accepting in the face of their emotions is. 

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