We’ve all heard of the “Terrible Twos.” The toddler years are marked by intense emotion and feelings on the part of the little one–these reactions can be magnified if your child’s temperament is naturally more intense. Disciplining toddlers with more sensitive and intense temperaments is done in the same way disciplining a more easy going child–it will just take more patience, perhaps more repetitions and better planning on the part of the parents.
Stay calm. The toddler years are marked by highly sensitive behavior and some sensitive kids experience very intense emotions and feelings. When in the midst of a battle of the wills with your little one it’s best to keep your cool. Take deep breaths, walk away momentarily if you need to, or ask your partner to take over if you’re too frustrated or angry. These times are trying, but if you respond to her outbursts with one of your own you’re likely to end up escalating both your toddler’s response and your own.
Staying calm during tantrums is important, but so is staying calm before the tantrum begins. You may find when keeping your own mood and response calm, you’re apt to avoid a tantrum or the need to discipline your toddler further.
Acknowledge how your son or daughter feels. If he is throwing a tantrum or upset because he doesn’t want to stop what he’s doing to run errands with you say, “I know you’re frustrated that we have to leave now.” Often when a child feels understood he’ll start to calm down.
Give warnings to your little one. When you are headed to the park to play, remind your son before you leave the car that when it’s time to go you will give him three warnings and you expect him to then be ready to leave when it is time without any crying, fussing or difficulty. Before it’s time to leave, give a ten minute warning, followed by a five minute warning and a two minute warning. Be sure that you have his attention when providing the warning–they do little help if your son doesn’t hear and recognize what you’re saying, and often little ones are so engaged in playing that they do not hear and understand what you’re saying.
You may find that less sensitive children don’t need as many warnings to leave an activity or to move on to something else.
Provide choices. If your daughter only wants Froot Loops from the cereal isle of the grocery store and you have committed to not buying “sugary cereals,” then provide her with the choices she does have–Cheerios, Corn Flakes or Peanut Butter Bumpers. She may still be angry about not getting her way, but providing her with a choice will give her some control, which is ultimately what she is after.
Give positive reinforcement. Certainly you need to make boundaries and reinforce limits that have been set on behaviors, but be sure to catch your toddler “being good.” Toddlers–as well as older children–are more likely to respond to positive reinforcement with more good behavior. When your daughter leaves her play date after the three warnings, be sure to praise her while she’s doing it and then announce it at family dinner so she can feel the praise from all of you as well.
- All of us have been in public places when our little darling has decided to begin screaming, yelling, crying and thrashing about. The urge to give in to buying her the cookie you had just refused to buy or the baby doll she can’t live without that you already said “no” to, will be overwhelming–if for no other reason than to stop the feeling of your public humiliation. But giving in always reinforces the tantrum. The next time the tantrum will be even longer and even more intense until she gets her way. Essentially – you’ll have taught her that tantrums are an effective means to get what she wants.