Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Toddler Files Tuesday: Don't Have a Paddy

A reprint from the New Zealand Ministry of Education:

Toddler tantrums

A mother recently asked what she could do with a two year old toddler, who had terrible tantrums, refused to cooperate over anything and could even undo the buckle in her car seat while they were moving. Once in a tantrum the child was inconsolable and most things set a tantrum off. She and her husband had conflicting views on how this could be handled. Whatever they tried did not seem to work and they were at their wits end. It seemed like tantrums were ruling their lives. Does this sound familiar? It probably does, since most toddlers go through a tantrum time as they learn to assert their autonomy. But, telling parents that this is normal is not enough, they want answers!

Keeping your cool is reassuring to a toddler (over time!) who is in the process of finding out about their own feelings and responses in ways that are new to them too. This means keeping your voice low and calm as much as possible. If having a paddy is noticed and attended to, the child learns that having a paddy is the way of getting what they want. If the tantrum is ignored, they will learn in time that this is not how to get what they want. The key here is "in time". It takes many experiences before they first realise paddys do not work and then that a paddy is not the way to get what they want. Somehow a parent has to learn to close off to the sound of heels drumming on the floor as the learning takes place. This is hard!

Allowing toddlers as many chances to do things for themselves helps, but again takes time. If you are racing out the door it is not the time to tell the toddler to hurry up! This is when s/he wants to put their own shoes on and halfway through gets sidetracked into another activity. Have you noticed that a toddler is not good at realising a sequence of events? They live in the here and now. Saying "we cannot go if you are not ready" is meaningless. The child who undoes the seatbelt does not realise that if she kept it on a little longer she could see grandma or have an outing.

Giving some choices of their own will help. Watch out that the choices are not too hard and have an element of non-choice. This can include the non-negotiables. Wearing a seat belt is non-negotiable - you have to wear it in the car. Getting them into it can be an issue, but you can try a choice, "you have to wear your seat belt. Do you want me to do it up or will you?" If they refuse you need to get out of the car and not go. If the child undoes the belt in the car you need to stop and repeat the process until they realise that wearing the belt is a non-negotiable. It is important to see the process you have decided on right through as many times as it takes. You will need to allow time for the child to do it themselves.

Avoiding situations where the child is powerless will help. This means keeping to routines so the child learns to know what comes next. Avoid going shopping when anyone is tired, hungry or fractious. This is the time to consider is shopping with the toddler worthwhile or do you need to leave them with someone else while you shop. Putting your precious things up high or away means you avoid having to continually watch while the child persists in reaching for it. We do want the child to keep that perseverance, but only after they have learned to discriminate! Above all, it is useful to remember that this time will pass and your strong willed child will come out of it older, wiser and more sure about who they are. This is their task in this stage.

This paper is copyright to the Ministry of Education and may be freely distributed as long as it remains unaltered and identifies the Ministry of Education as the copyright owner. It may not be distributed in return for compensation of any kind.


Kelly said...

There's some good advice here, but I think the writers are living in a bit of a dream world. You can't always just call off an outing because your toddler doesn't want to stay buckled into her seat. You can't always avoid going out when someone is tired or hungry. Any advice for those situations, New Zealand Ministry of Education?

Cooks on the Coast said...

Dang. That reality business keeps biting us in the butt, doesn't it? The other thing toddlers need to learn: Life is not fair. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to. And if you continue with this god-awful behavior, I will find some gypsies to sell you to!

Cooks on the Coast said...

Sorry for the rant. Seems single-parenthood and PMS don't mix well. :-)

Shannon said...

Are you kidding? No need to apologize. I thought it was funny. Although I'm not sure the gypsies would take my two, and if they did, I'm sure they would return them in short order. ;)