The crying. The meltdowns. The “Me do it’s!” When you have a toddler, there are days that are so utterly exasperating that you don’t even know if you’ll survive until sunset. And when you’re at your wit’s end (and it’s only 9:43 a.m.), you wonder if that snarling beast looking back at you in the mirror is really your own reflection. (Sadly, it is.) That’s when you need to breathe deeply, mama, and try to practice positive parenting techniques for toddlers. It might seem like an impossibility, but really, it might be the greatest sanity saver of them all.
“Generally speaking, positive parenting techniques are ones in which your discipline comes from a place of empathy rather than punishment,” Adina Mahalli, MSW, a women's health and parenting expert, tells Romper. “Even though your child needs discipline, they need to feel understood, loved, and supported at the same time, especially during their informative years as a toddler.”
But let’s be honest here. It can be hard to come from a place of love when your toddler draws all over your freshly painted walls, or has to be carried surfboard-style out of every store you bring him into. (Both of those happened to me yesterday, by the way.) Still, you can manage to employ some of these positive parenting techniques during the chaos that is your typical day. Who knows? You might find yourself feeling a whole lot more optimistic about the terrible twos. Maybe.
1. Slow Your Speech
You know the expression, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it?” This is especially true for young children, who are still learning to understand what you’re trying to tell them. “Children do not process sound at the same rate and pace as adults,” says Dr. Rebecca Jackson, VP of Programs and Outcomes at Brain Balance Achievement Centers. “To have young children comprehend what you are saying use fewer words, with bigger spaces in between your words.” For example, if your child is about to run into the street, you should say something like, “Don’t. Run.” The separation between words makes them more impactful, and allows the message to sink in.
2. Have Realistic Expectations
It’s hard not to jump on the comparison bandwagon when your child is around other kids her age. But assessing what your child should (and shouldn’t) be able to accomplish is so much more than a number's game, warns Dr. Jackson. “You have to match their age and their ability,” she says. “A child's development does not always match their age in all areas, so to set them up for success pay attention to what they can do, and set expectations at that level.” That’s why you shouldn’t say to your child, “Well, you’re three, you should be able to sit and color," because your child might be able to sit and color, just not as long as the other kids her age.
3. Pay Attention To Your Child's Physical Cues
Spunky and spontaneous, toddlers can be a laugh-a-minute one-man show. “They are not self-aware or self-conscious, so if they feel like singing and dancing at the grocery store, they will,” says Dr. Jackson. Since a toddler doesn’t always have the ability to communicate through words what he’s thinking or feeling, you can get a good guesstimate if you’re headed towards naptime (or a meltdown) from his physical cues. Closely watch his facial expression and body language to gain a greater sense of how he’s feeling so that you can better help him.
4. Give Attention
Sometimes you’ll find that your child is whiny, needy, or just generally acting out in a way that doesn’t reflect their usually calm demeanor. Instead of reacting negatively, take a minute to pause. “Is she acting out because she’s acting out, or because she wants attention?” asks Mahalli. If you child wants your focus, give it to her in a healthy way, through a hug or reading a book. This will help stop her feeling the need to resort to negative attention-grabbing techniques.
5. Get Down To Their Level
No one likes being spoken down to, least of all small children, who are already at a disadvantage height-wise. So when you want to convey a message to your child, perhaps when he’s upset or needs to be spoken to, you should kneel down and make eye contact, advises Dr. Jackson. By doing so, “you are just simplifying your message so they capture more of your key content,” she says.
6. Be A Role Model
Your toddler won’t know the right responses to situations unless you teach it to him. “They don’t understand concepts like you do,” says Mahalli. “When they struggle to share and you just snatch the toy out of their hand to give it back to their sibling, they’re understandably hurt.” Through being a role model, you teach your child fundamental concepts and appropriate responses to situations that they will inevitably face on a daily basis.
7. Skip The Traditional "Punishments"
It goes without saying that punishments and positive parenting are polar opposites. When your child is acting out, it’s for a reason, and punishments don’t always address the underlying issues. So if your kid needs to be disciplined, there might be more effective ways to do it, according to Healthy Children. For example, you might set more defined limits so he knows what’s expected of him. Or you might model more conducive conduct that you want him to adopt. And as strange as it might seem, you may choose to look the other way when you see your kiddo doing something naughty, but only if it’s not dangerous. After all, a non-reaction is a better way to stop bad behavior than yelling at your kid.
8. Enforce Limits
Positive parenting does not mean that your child has no boundaries. It’s important to set limits with your toddler in a realistic way. One way to do this is to be empathetic. If your kiddo cries when you put her to bed, empathize and validate her emotions. Saying things like “It’s hard going to sleep early, right?” shows your child that bedtime isn’t a punishment and that you understand her frustration, advises Mahalli. This doesn’t mean that they can stay up all night, but it’s a loving way to set boundaries.
9. Embrace The Meltdowns
Tantrums are a very real part of toddlerdom. And once your child is in the throes of one, good luck shutting down the show. “Tantrums are a typical part of development at this age,” says Dr. Jackson. But instead of freaking out or threatening a punishment, go with the flow. “Physical touch and a calm, gentle environment can help minimize the duration of the moment,” she says. Help your child through it by holding her, giving her a hug, and speaking in a low, soothing manner. After all, your child won’t be able to think logically or process what you’re saying when she’s melting down, so it’s best to simply be with her until she’s over it.
10. Watch Your Volume
A part of positive parenting is speaking to your child in a kind, loving manner. That means no screaming, hooting or hollering. “Constantly shouting at your child is never fun,” says Mahalli. “Nor does it result in lasting positive outcomes in the long run.” Of course, there are going to be times when you’re going to roar at your kid, and that’s okay. But the point of positive parenting is to try to limit those outbursts until they’re absolutely necessary.
Positive parenting doesn't mean that you'll never, ever scream or discipline your child. But it can give you a guideline of how to handle tougher toddler moments with love and compassion.