Sometimes, taking care of toddlers can be very exhausting. Many toddlers are famous for their high energy levels and oftentimes, parents find themselves wondering how to contain these hyperactive toddlers. You may ask yourself why other kids sit and wait patiently, and yours just can’t stop skirting around. As a parent, there will always be that natural urge to hold them down and keep them out of harm’s way; experienced mothers say: “Don’t try to contain him; just keep him safe and conserve your energy”.
In the following article, Mary VanClay gives us some pointers on How to handle a spirited toddler
When a child is “spirited,” the toddler years can be especially trying. But what defines a spirited child?
“All toddlers are busy: They’re climbing and jumping and throwing things,” says Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of the popular books Raising Your Spirited Child and Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles: Winning for a Lifetime.
“But the high-energy kid is the one who can get to the top of the refrigerator,” says Kurcinka. “All toddlers say ‘no’ too, but a spirited child’s ‘no’s!’ are louder and more frequent, and his tantrums last longer and are more intense.”
Spirited kids are definitely a challenge, but there are ways to defuse daily battles and help a toddler learn self-control. Here are Kurcinka’s top strategies:
- Spell out what’s coming next
All toddlers become anxious when they can’t predict what’s coming next, but most spirited children need events spelt out to a degree that you might not expect. When it’s time to leave the playground and your 2-year-old throws herself on the ground howling, it might be because she’s insecure about what’s coming next.
Tell her in detail: “You’ll go to the car, we’ll drive straight home, find your sister and grandma there, and have spaghetti for dinner.”
Remember that with toddlers, words aren’t always enough. You might tell her “Daddy will pick you up from daycare this afternoon,” for example, but she may well have trouble remembering it all day. In this case, you might ask her daycare provider to remind her later in the day that Daddy’s handling pick-up duties.
Sometimes visual cues can help. If Grandma and Grandpa are coming for an annual visit, show her photos ahead of time. You might even make a picture book outlining her bedtime ritual: Bath, pyjamas, story, bed. You can’t cut all the surprises out of your toddler’s life, of course, but you can minimize the stress by giving her a heads-up when you can.
- Be clear and consistent
Spirited children need the security and consistency of clear rules, so it’s important to set limits. If nap time is always after lunch and your spirited 3-year-old puts up a fuss, be firm and confident as you enforce his rest period. If movies aren’t allowed after dinner but you let him watch “just this one” tonight so you can make a phone call, he’ll test you and demand one – forcefully – every night for the rest of the week.
- Stay close
“As toddlers move toward independence, they still need connection,” says Kurcinka. Maybe your toddler would like a back rub before bed. Or she might enjoy cuddling with you in a rocking chair in the morning.
Have her bring toys into your room so she can play near you while you dress for work. At daycare, sit with her on the floor until she moves into the group on her own.
These tactics may seem to slow you down initially, but they’ll actually save you time in prevented tantrums and battles. “Toddlers need to know they can trust you to be there for them. That way they’ll ultimately be more independent,” says Kurcinka.
- Create a “yes” environment
“Me do!” are a toddler’s favorite words, says Kurcinka. Let your child pour his own juice out of a little pitcher, use a fork at dinner, and put on his own shoes. Even if everything is a little messier and takes a little longer, his increased independence and cooperation are worth it.
Also, look at how your house is organized. Is there a low cupboard in the kitchen filled with pots and plastic containers that he can play with? Are his toys and books easy to reach? Is there a bed, couch, or floor pillow that he’s allowed to jump on?
The more child-friendly your home is, the less you’ll be fighting with him to keep away from special things and places.
- Avoid danger spots
If your highly energetic child can’t sit still at the table, choose restaurants wisely – or plan a family picnic in the park instead. If she’s slow to adapt to new people, don’t plop her on Santa’s lap. Stay with her and approach Santa gradually – or just wait until next year.
And if you find yourself in an overly stimulating situation, such as a playmate’s big birthday party, don’t be shy about leaving early – before your toddler loses it.
- Soothe senses
Help your spirited child wind down when the intensity level starts to rise. Water can be especially soothing: Give him a warm bath on a cold night or put a cool washcloth on his forehead on a summer afternoon.
For some toddlers, finger paints and modelling clay are also calming sensory activities. Other toddlers may find it soothing to spread sand, cornmeal, or shaving cream on a play surface.
- Acknowledge feelings
Talk to your spirited toddler about why she’s starting to meltdown and let her know she’s not the only one who is overcome by difficult emotions sometimes. Try saying “The people and the noise are bothering you. They’re bothering me too. We’ll leave the mall as soon as we’ve paid for these shoes.”
Even if she doesn’t seem to learn much from what you say at this age, explain it to her anyway. (Just don’t become angry with her when your perfectly logical explanations don’t result in quick compliance.) Toddlers usually aren’t able to change their behaviour in response to verbal reasoning, so keep it short and sweet.
For now, this exercise will help you empathize with your child. And eventually, she’ll learn to recognize what winds her up before she goes over the edge.
- Reward good behaviour
Don’t worry that your spirited toddler will get a big head if you praise him. Reinforce his efforts with positive messages: “Good job getting out of the tub without a fuss” or “You were a big help when you put your truck back in the toy box.” Try not to pass up a chance to praise the behaviour you’re trying to teach.
- Set realistic expectations
The many daily transitions adults take for granted – getting out of the house, in and out of the car, to daycare, to the store, home again, going to bed – are especially hard on a spirited toddler, who needs extra time to cope with change and who may become overwhelmed by people and noise.
Ask yourself, “Can I reasonably expect my toddler to handle this?” And when possible, skip unnecessary trips and demands. Do you really have to make that last stop or could it wait?
- Avoid negative labels
Most important of all, examine the way you describe your toddler. The “wild child” who is “stubborn,” “exhausting,” and a “crybaby” is also a spirited child who is persistent, energetic, and sensitive – all traits that are admired in adults. Use positive labels when discussing your child with relatives and teachers, and they’ll come to see his wonderful attributes too.
When you focus on your child’s positive features and strengths, it changes your behaviour, and that in turn changes your child’s behaviour.
- Allow time to run and play
Toddlers like to keep moving. Make sure she gets plenty of physical activity and time to explore every day – especially outdoors. Unless they’re sleeping, toddlers shouldn’t be inactive for more than an hour at a time.
Being active does more than help your toddler improve muscle control, balance, and coordination. When you play games with her where you each take turns, such as kicking a ball back and forth, she’ll get practice exercising self-control.
As she masters a new physical skill, she’ll also gain self-confidence. And the more confident she is, the better-behaved she’s likely to be.
- Take care of yourself
You may find it difficult, if not impossible, to admit that you need more time for yourself. But the house doesn’t have to look perfect and the dinners don’t have to be gourmet. If it’s already midnight and you’re exhausted, leave the dishes in the sink.
Rest or take a bubble bath when your child naps instead of vacuuming the living room. Take full advantage of your time at night after your toddler goes to sleep to connect with your partner or a friend, or to relax on your own.
Most importantly, build a support system. Your child will benefit when you’re revitalized, and so will you. Whether it’s your partner, a friend, a relative, or a babysitter, find a consistent caregiver and let them help out.
Source: Baby Center