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Thriving With a Toddler...(or teen!)

We are halfway through 2014, you think we'd know how to...How many times have you said or heard that? Well it's 2014, you think we'd know how to...raise kids...right? Raising kids is tough and it doesn't matter if you have 1 or 6, it's still a hard job. The world has changed so much that it's hard for even the younger parents to stay on top of things in their child's world.

Parenting toddlers and teenagers is especially tough. It can be excrutiatingly difficult. Toddlers are still learning rules and oftentimes have a hard time communicating with us. Their natural instinct to be curious and explore their world is in overdrive and that often clashes with parents goals or desires for the day. How are teens different? Think about it for a few seconds (I was going to say a minute but realistically, I know that's probably not going to happen.) Your teenager acts much like he did when he was a toddler (your 13 year old will act a lot like he did when he was 3 and so on). The reason for that is that the brain is changing so much that it goes back to it's near primitive functioning...tantrums at 3 turns into yelling and slamming the door at 13...all because that wasn't the right shirt. Andrea Nair wrote a fantastic article that may help you out. You can find the whole article here. But here are some important things to remember to make living with a toddler (or teen) easier:

"Along with learning how to not scare your toddler, and instead be patient and teach them, the two most important skills for parents during this time are:

1. Your ability to reduce your exhaustion.

2. Your ability to calm yourself when your child is freaking out. (I have written other posts on this topic if you would like help in that department.)

When you are rested and calm, you are more able to be rational—which is really the biggest thing you can do to help yourself during the toddler years.

If you are looking for some specific tips to manage your toddler, here is a list of tricks that worked in our family and in the families of my clients:

Do not pose instructions as a question. "Do you want to put your mitts on?" will often get a reply of "NO!" Use an "it's time to....." statement. "It's time to put your mitts on." If "NO!" still happens you can say, "Oh, I didn't ask you, I was just letting you know what time it is."

Do not use the words "please" or "okay?" when giving instructions. Children learn manners by watching how you interact with them and other adults, not by you asking them to "please do this... or that" So when you are giving an instruction, resist the urge to throw "please" or "okay" at the end, which will reduce your authority.

Everything can be made into a race! “Let’s see if you can get into your carseat before I count to ten!"

Be creative and/or gross with everyday tasks. For example, “There’s a fire in the potty! Who can put it out?!” *Sound effects and silly faces get you extra bonus points.

No surprises… if you can help it. Announcements like, “Okay, it’s time to go,” may result in an hour of yelling. Give three warnings: “Just so you know, we’ll be leaving in fifteen minutes…” Repeat the warning at ten and five, and on the last warning, introduce something like, “because we are leaving in five minutes, which is soon, what special toy do you want to play with before we go.”

Find a way to give directions in a way that doesn’t feel coercive. Instead of "Wash your hands." Try "Everyone with clean hands can sit down to eat."

Invest time in them. Your child needs your undivided attention more than anything else. Undistracted, on-the-floor time (cell phone/computer/TV off) every day will help form a secure attachment.

Routine, routine, routine. A predictable order of things at a consistent time reduces yelling. Ask her to help you create a morning or bed-time routine and then make a chart using simple drawings to post on the fridge.

Have low expectations of behaviour when your child is compromised. For example, it is not reasonable to expect a young child to stop himself from pushing his little brother when he is tired, hungry, hot, or has had to share his favourite toy all afternoon.

Get used to being a broken record. It might take several, maybe hundreds of repeats of "Hitting is not okay. Let's hit the chair instead when we feel full of anger." These directions will eventually sink in.

Toddler-proof the entire house. The more thoroughly you toddler-proof your house, the less you will have to convince them to not climb on, pull down, or get into things that will hurt them. More things off the battle field!

NEVER, ever, say HURRY UP! This will make your child slam into slow motion. There is a deep instinct in all of us called counterwill. If a child feels he has lost control, he will be compelled to do the opposite. Try hard to not be in a rush yourself.

Don’t ask your child to stop yelling. He is yelling because he is likely angry or scared. Give him a safe place to get it all out. Yelling into pillows, sweaters, or his elbow allows him to resolve his feelings.

Learn to support your child through a tantrum. Children need to learn that calming themselves down is their responsibility. I encourage parents to sit calmly nearby but not to try to talk to their child during this time. Make sure the child and surroundings are safe, or get the heck out of whatever public place you are in. During a time when the child is calm, establish a family "anger plan" which tells them exactly what you will do and what you expect them to do when they are flipping out. (This is a huge topic with entire books having been written about it. I regularly post book reviews and articles about this, so if you would like more information, I recommend you go onto my Facebook page .)

Try not to take it personally. Even if you feel more equipped to handle fits of yelling, they still might be difficult to go through. Try saying this to yourself during these times, “This child is not trying to hurt me. This too shall pass.” I also found it helpful to do slow, long breathing." -Andrea Nair is a psychotherapist and parenting educator


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