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Embracing the “terrible” twos

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Anyone interested in so-called positive parenting or gentle parenting is probably familiar with Dr. Laura Markham and her Aha! Parenting website. I find myself reading and re-reading many of her posts and tonight I came across this fantastic list of reminders for parents who, like me, are starting to see the first glimpses of those dreaded “terrible” twos in their until-now saintly toddler.

I won’t tell you more about it because the list is perfect and clear as it is. All I will say is: please, if you have a toddler, read this. Think about what it says, apply as much as you can, print it out and keep it close for when times get a little difficult, and go ahead and embrace that beautiful toddler of yours.

Happy read!

(Original post from Aha! Parenting can be found here).

Toddlers: Your Game Plan for the Terrific Twos

How to manage your toddler and stay a positive parent?

Most children become harder to manage at around fourteen months. That’s because they make a huge developmental leap at this point. They’re not so easily distracted. They realize that you’re a separate person, who can sometimes–but not nearly often enough–be influenced to do things their way. They realize they have some influence in the world, but not a lot of power, and they start experimenting to see how they can get their needs met and their desires fulfilled.

This can be a maddening time for parents, or it can be a Photo: Angela Sevinwonderful time, watching your child blossom into a person in her own right.  How difficult the phase from 15 to 36 months is depends mostly on the parent’s attitude. Your child’s rebellion will be inversely proportional to the freedom she’s given to do her developmental work.

How much is he allowed to explore? To set his own pace?  To feel in control of his world?  To discover that he is a competent person?

Much of this depends on the parent.  Are you sensitive to your child’s readiness for independence, supporting but not pushing? Can you appreciate your child’s bids for independence without taking them as personal insults?  Can you give up some control so your child can develop some sense of mastery over her world? Can you set whatever limits are necessary for her safety and your sanity, while empathizing with her disappointment when she doesn’t get what she wants?

Your Toddler’s Developmental Tasks:

Rapid physical and brain development.
Rapid acquisition of vocabulary and verbal rules.
Learning how to stay connected to you while he asserts his own needs and wants.
Development of Agency (sense of oneself as a powerful, competent person able to act upon the world).
Learning that other children are people too, and that he relate to them safely, so he doesn’t have to be aggressive with them.

Your Parenting Challenge:

Keeping your sanity while your baby increasingly expresses herself and engages with the world.

Your Parenting Priorities:

1. Keeping your child safe as she explores.
2. Giving up some control so he can develop some mastery over his world.
3. Enjoying her emerging independence and curiosity.
4. Staying positive!

“The first three years of life establishes the blueprints for all of our future relationships.” — John Bowlby

What toddlers need from their parents:

1. The validation of her own agency.  She needs to learn that there are things she is in charge of, such as her own body, and she needs to experience herself as competent and powerful.

2. Structure, Limits, Routines and Security:  Toddlers are beginning to grasp that it’s a big world out there.  Even their own  feelings seem overwhelming to them at times.  They need the reassurance that the parent is in charge and can keep them safe  — from the world, and from their own big feelings and lack of self control.

3. Help understanding and structuring time so he feels less out of control and pummeled by circumstance (“After lunch it’s nap time, and then we’ll drive to Grandma’s.”)  Toddlers need to know what to expect and do better with a definite routine.

4. Your empathy: Look at it from his point of view, and you’ll see it makes sense.  Even if you can’t do what he wants, it will help him to cooperate if you can understand and sympathize with his unhappiness.

Gameplan for a Fun Toddlerhood:

Photo: Crushed Red Pepper

1. Let your child be in charge of potty training.  They all get out of diapers sooner or later. Fights with your child about his or her body are fights you will never win.  Toilet training can actually be empowering for your child, an important step in independence, but it depends how you handle it.  If your child shows zero interest in toilet training, find opportunities for him to be around other kids who are using the toilet, and he’ll quickly want to emulate them. For more on easy potty learning, click here.

2. Sidestep power struggles.  You don’t have to prove you’re right. Your child is trying to assert that he is a real person, with some real power in the world.  That’s totally appropriate.  Let him say no whenever you can do so without compromise to safety, health, or other peoples’ rights.  You’ll be glad to know that since tantrums are an expression of powerlessness, toddlers who feel some control over their lives have many fewer tantrums.

3. Pre-empt tantrums.  First, know that tantrums are normal for kids this age.  Second, since most tantrums happen when kids are hungry or tired, think ahead.  Preemptive feeding and napping, firm bedtimes, re-connection with you,  cozy times, peaceful quiet time without media stimulation —  whatever  it takes to calm down and rest —  prevent most tantrums, and reground kids who are getting whiny. Learn to just say no  — to yourself!  Don’t squeeze in that last errand.  Don’t drag a hungry or tired kid to the store. Make do and do it tomorrow.  For more on taming toddler tantrums, click here.

4. Use play to “manage” your toddler.  Toddlers don’t like to be ordered around any more than you do.  What they do love is to play.  Want cooperation? Fly your toddler up to her bath.  Get him to finish his milk by pretending to be a puppy who loves milk.  Get her into her carseat by pretending to be the flight attendant preparing for takeoff.  Race him to the car.

5. Don’t take it personally.  Your toddler will at times reject you or be hurtful in some way.  Don’t take it personally.  She’s learning from you how to modulate her anger.  This is your opportunity to grow, and teach her at the same time.

6. Allow time in your schedule for your toddler’s need to explore the world.  That’s his job, after all — exploring, experimenting, learning.  That’s how his brain develops.  Rushing toddlers is one of the common triggers of avoidable tantrums.

7. Cultivate empathy for your child.  Social skills start with your empathy.  Kids begin to develop empathy for others (and therefore, the ability to share, not hit, etc.) as they themselves feel understood. Click here for more on what empathy is and how to use it to raise great kids.

8. Don’t force her to share.  That actually delays the development of sharing skills!  Kids need to feel secure in their ownership before they can share. Instead, introduce the concept of taking turns. (“It’s Crystal’s turn to use the bucket.  Then it will be your turn.”)  Help him wait for his turn with empathy. Help him put his favorite toys away before another child visits.  When he does share, out of the goodness of his own heart, empower him to make that choice again by observing, aloud, the effect of his choice: “Look how happy Michael is that he gets a turn with your truck.”

9. Use age-appropriate “discipline.”  For toddlers, that means empathic limits, information, redirection, and help with emotions.  Researchers compared two groups of toddlers who were rated as behaving about the same. They watched what happened when parents spanked them.  The children who were spanked behaved worse a year later than the kids who weren’t.  Even yelling at toddlers has a negative effect, causing them to harden their hearts to you and become defiant.  Toddlerhood is where violence starts: Are you unwittingly teaching your kids that might makes right? (See Positive Discipline, for help in managing your toddler.)

10. Be the person you want your child to be. Children learn to interact with others by experiencing relationships, and then they recreate them.  Remember that your toddler is learning both sides of any relationship she’s in.  If you don’t want her to tantrum, don’t lose your temper at her. If you yell at her, you’re teaching her by example that tantrums are ok.

11. Eliminate visual electronic media.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two not watch TV or videos at all because they have other important developmental work to do and because it impacts brain development.  The AAP recommends that older children watch AT MOST an hour or two per day of nonviolent, educational TV.  I recommend TV and movies only for special occasions. I know we’re told that Sesame Street is good for our children, but research shows that it influences brain development and shortens the attention span. It starts an addiction in kids who are prone to it. When they’re a little older, they’ll want to watch other TV. And before they’re much older, you’ll wonder why they flip on the TV instead of reading a book. Not to mention that you will have stopped being able to monitor what they watch by the time they’re eight.  For more on TV, see Why Your Toddler Shouldn’t Watch TV — and What to Do Instead.

12.  Feeding is the toddler’s job.  You provide the healthy food.  She feeds it to herself.  Put a mat under the high chair.   Don’t obsess about how much she eats. Kids don’t starve themselves. Many toddlers are too busy during the day to eat enough and ask for food at bedtime.  This can drive a parent around the bend, unless you build a bedtime snack into the schedule – which also often helps kids settle down and sleep better.  If you make sure the snack is healthy, you take the pressure off dinner so you can enjoy your child more at dinner without prodding them to eat. You can combine it with the bedtime story if you’re short on time.  Click here for more on feeding your toddler.

13. Forget about stimulating your child’s brain by teaching her the alphabet.  The intellectual work of toddlers is about exploring, observing the world, talking and being listened to, being accepted, validated and acknowledged. Emotional self-management lays the foundation for intellectual development. It’s never too early to develop a love of books, but that doesn’t happen by learning the alphabet.  If you want your child to love reading, then read to her and tell her stories.

14. Pre-empt whining.  Whining is an expression of the child’s feeling of powerlessness.  It can become a habit.  To nip whining in the bud, avoid letting your child have opportunities to learn that whining gets her what she wants.  In other words, try to avoid making whining necessary, and if it does happen, try to avoid rewarding it. Instead, help your child with those helpless feelings.  Click here for more on how to stop your toddler’s whining.

15. Use routines.  Kids develop self discipline partly by living in a safe, predictable structured routine where they know what to expect.  When you disrupt routines with travel,  Grandma’s visit, or simply exceptions for your own convenience, you can expect tantrums, difficulty falling asleep, and other challenges. Grandma, of course, is worth it, but choosing disruptions wisely is part of protective parenting. Click here for more on schedules and routines that toddlers can understand.

16.  Give her the opportunity to experience competence. Toddlers tantrum less and cooperate more when they feel more powerful.  How can you help your toddler feel more powerful?  Three key ways: Listen to her, Let her make decisions whenever possible, and give her the opportunity to experience competence.

Toddlers need daily experience with work to gain confidence in their own capabilities and begin to think of themselves as competent people.  I don’t mean burdensome work, I mean work in the spirit of Maria Montessori, and Tom Sawyer making the other kids think that white-washing the fence was the world’s best game.   In other words, toddlers LOVE to understand how the household functions, and to participate.  They LOVE to contribute.  They LOVE to learn.

Invite your toddler to be involved with whatever you’re doing.  Ok, so the help will make your job harder, but he’s learning and gaining skills for the future, and you’re bonding.

What kinds of household tasks?   They can stand on a stool or bench in the kitchen to help.  They can help you as you run errands.  They can help in the yard.  Specifically,

Make themselves a snack, such as peeling fruit or an egg, or slicing soft cheese and making sandwiches with crackers.
Help wash pots and pans or other unbreakable dishes.
Wash vegetables in the sink
Wipe the counter off
Help you clean the refrigerator
Help set the table
Help clear the table
Help you by turning lights on and off.
Dust
Scrub the tub (from inside, barefoot!)
Pair the socks as you fold clothes.
Sort clothes (which clean clothes belong to which family member?)
Help you transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer, pull clothes out of the dryer, or hang them on a line.
Pick out fruit at the grocery store.
Wash the table or floor.

These activities are ultimately more educational and satisfying than TV, and most young children love them.  After completing such a task, the toddler says “I did it!”  and feels like a more capable, powerful person. (Compare that to how they feel after they watch a TV show.)  Sure, it’s more work for the parent than just doing it yourself.  That’s not the point.  Toddlers and preschoolers who feel competent and powerful don’t need to assert their power by being contrary.  They’re more confident.  And they’re more helpful! That’s what I call win-win.

Click here for more on helping your child develop Competence.

 

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Positive parenting: self-regulation

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Hi and sorry for the long absence! I really have no excuse, other than I’ve just been busy with life in general. Never too busy to listen to the radio, though. (I’m an incurable CBC radio junky).

I went for a short drive on Sunday, and I ended up idling my car at a parking lot because this documentary was playing on CBC: How does your engine run? It was a fascinating piece about a pilot project in schools in Surrey, British Columbia, where teachers are training kids to self-regulate their behaviour.

The gist of the story is that these teachers are dealing with behaviour issues driven by stress in a very interesting way: by identifying what is stressing each kid and offering individual solutions for them. For instance, one girl is so hyper that when her behaviour is spiraling out of control, she goes for a run to calm down. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle of a class. Another kid just hates his chair and can’t focus, so he gets to seat on a special cushion. It has nothing to do with discipline —it’s all about observing and understanding each kid’s needs. And it’s all about each kid identifying their own tipping point at doing something about it.

But wait, isn’t this supposed to be a post about positive parenting? Yes! I found this story to be perfectly in tune with one of the principles of positive parenting that we’ve been talking about: treating children with respect. So many times, in so many instances, I feel that we look at our children from the top down, and we reach conclusions about their behaviour that in reality have nothing to do with what is going on in their minds and bodies.

I think respect means that, even from a very early age —from Day One, I’d say— we should try to listen to what our kids are trying to tell us, instead of projecting our ideas onto them. And we should really toss away that obsolete notion that kids behave badly just to make us feel bad. Treating our kids with respect means that we understand their behaviour is not about us, but rather about something they need and are trying to communicate to us.

It seems to me that respect is at the heart of this idea of teaching self-regulation to children, because it forces us to trust their ability to understand themselves; to trust that they can identify their own limits and deal with them, even from a very early age. Simply put, respecting our children empowers them.

So yes, I think positive parenting has a lot to do with teaching self-regulation. And I think I’m on the right track, because my friend E., from The Mindful Parent, also recommended the CBC doc to me 🙂

I encourage you to check it out. Read the story and listen to the doc here.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have a great week!

 

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Positive parenting: bits on toddler tantrums, doing chores together, and more

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Good morning everyone!

I am overwhelmed by how much attention you paid to my previous post on Big Feelings. I really love that we are all walking this positive parenting journey together. My brain definitely works better when I articulate my thoughts out loud, and I love hearing your thoughts on my posts.

Today I just want to share a few articles I came across that serve as a great follow-up to the discussion about big feelings and time-ins / time-outs. Below are some excerpts and links to the full articles. I’m not very familiar with these websites, but especially the first two seem like they have lots of good insights into positive parenting. If you know any of them and have an opinion to share, please do!

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, originally posted in Aptly Said.

  • “A tantrum doesn’t need a punishment but simply some time to pass. Stay nearby. (…). When a tantrum ensues, let your toddler know it’s OK to be mad…”

How to Raise Decent Children without Spankings or Time-Outs, originally posted in Abundant Life Children.

  • “Throwing out spankings and time-outs does not mean that children run wild. If they did, we would be failing them as much as if we were using coercive methods to force behavior. (…) Guidance revolves around prevention, instruction, and remaining cool in the moment, insisting that children’s anti-social behaviors are needs in disguise. [The emphases is mine]. If we can get to the bottom of the need, and teach a new method for getting that need met, we have done our job.”

10 Current Psychology Studies Every Parent Should Know, originally posted in PsyBlog.

(I’ll post the whole thing below because it’s short and has lots of interesting bits. I particularly enjoyed the one about the parents doing chores together —this is totally true in our home!)

1. Parents are happier than non-parents

In recent years some studies have suggested that the pleasures of having children are outweighed by the pains.

“Ha!” said parents to themselves, secretly, “I knew it!”

Not so fast though: new research has found that, on average, parents feel better than non-parents each day and derive more pleasure from caring for their children than from other activities (Nelson et al.,. 2013).

Fathers, in particular, derive high levels of positive emotions and happiness from their children.

2. Putting your child first is worth it

Underlining the pleasures of having children, research finds that child-centric attitudes are beneficial.

 A study by Ashton-James et al. (2013) found that parents who were the most child-centric were also happier and derived greater meaning in life from having children.

Performing child-care activities was associated with greater meaning and fewer negative feelings.

“These findings suggest that the more care and attention people give to others, the more happiness and meaning they experience. From this perspective, the more invested parents are in their children’s well-being — that is, the more ‘child centric’ parents are — the more happiness and meaning they will derive from parenting.” (Ashton-James et al., 2013)

So, what’s good for your kids, is also good for you.

3. Helicopter parenting may be depressing

As with many things in life, though, it’s a fine line between caring and smothering; especially when children have grown up.

Schiffrin et al. (2013) asked 297 undergraduate students about their parents’ behaviour and how they felt about it.

The study found links between ‘helicopter parenting’ and higher levels of depression amongst the students, as well as lower levels of autonomy, relatedness and competence.

“Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely.” (Schiffrin et al., 2013)

4. Avoid strict discipline

Around 90% of American parents admit at least one instance of using strict verbal discipline with their children, such as calling names or swearing at them.

Rather than helping keep adolescents in line, though, be aware that this may just exacerbate the problem.

A study of 967 US families found that harsh verbal discipline at 13-years-old predicted worse behaviour in the next year (Wang et al., 2013).

And it didn’t help if parents had a strong bond with their children. The study’s lead author Ming-Te Wang explained:

“The notion that harsh discipline is without consequence, once there is a strong parent-child bond–that the adolescent will understand that ‘they’re doing this because they love me’–is misguided because parents’ warmth didn’t lessen the effects of harsh verbal discipline. Indeed, harsh verbal discipline appears to be detrimental in all circumstances.”

5. Regular bedtimes

Regular bedtimes really matter to children’s developing brains.

Researchers followed 11,000 children from when they were 3-years old to the age of 7 to measure the effects of bedtimes on cognitive function, (Kelly et al., 2013).

The researchers found that:

“…irregular bedtimes at 3 years of age were associated with lower scores in reading, maths, and spatial awareness in both boys and girls, suggesting that around the age of 3 could be a sensitive period for cognitive development.”

Regular bedtimes are important for both boys and girls and the earlier these can be implemented, the better for cognitive performance.

6. Do the chores together

Bringing up happy children is easier if Mum and Dad’s relationship isn’t too rocky. One frequent bone of contention between parents is the chores.

A trick for achieving marital satisfaction over the chores is to do them together.

When partners perform their chores at the same time–no matter who is doing what–both people are more satisfied with the division of labour (Galovan et al., 2013).

7. Limit infant TV viewing

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should watch no more than two hours of TV per day after two years of age, and none before that age.

Here’s why: a new study that followed almost 2,000 Canadian children from birth found that an extra hour’s TV viewing at 2.5-years-old predicted worse performance later when they attended kindergarten (Pagani et al., 2013).

The more children exceeded this recommendation at 2.5 years old, the worse their vocabulary, math and motor skills were at 5-years-old.

More on this study: One Extra Hour of TV Reduces Toddlers’ Kindergarten Chances

8. Exercise boosts kids’ school performance

Kids are increasingly sedentary and, as I frequently write here on PsyBlog, exercise is a wonderful way to boost brain power, and it has many other benefits (see 20 Wonderful Effects Exercise Has on the Mind).

A new study of 11-year-olds has found that moderate to vigorous exercise was associated with increased academic performance in English, Maths and Science (Booth et al., 2013).

These gains from exercise were also seen in exams taken at 16-years-old.

Interestingly, girls’ science results benefited the most from extra exercise.

9. Dangers of intense mothering

Some women say that taking care of children is more stressful than being at work. There are also links between child-rearing and stress and guilt.

How can we square this with the reports and research findings that children fill your life with joy and meaning?

It may be down to differences in attitudes to parenting. In particular, being an ‘intense mother’ may be bad for you.

In their study of 181 mothers of children under 5, Rizzo et al. (2012) found that mothers who most strongly endorsed the idea that children were sacred and that women are better parents than men, were more likely to be depressed and experience less satisfaction with life.

Yes, nurture your children, but don’t sacrifice your own mental health.

10. Why siblings are so different

Anyone with more than one child will have noticed a curious thing: their personalities are often very dissimilar.

In fact, according to a study by Plomin and Daniels (1987), siblings have no more in common in their personalities than two completely unrelated strangers.

This is very weird given that 50% of their genetic code is identical.

The answer isn’t in the genes at all, but in the environment in which children grow up.

Far from having the same environments, each child has:

  • a different relationship with their parents,
  • a different relationship with their other siblings,
  • different friends and experiences at school…

…and so on.

And all these differences add up to quite remarkable dissimilarities between siblings–often such that if they didn’t look alike, you’d never know they were related.

All this means, of course, that because their personalities are often so different, parenting strategies that work with one child, may not work with another.

It’s just one more challenge of being a parent!