Radical toddlers

When our baby enters the toddler world, things radically change. Parents believe their now two to three-year-old child is capable of informed decisions. Sadly, they are not, says DR KAREN PHILLIP, author of Communication Harmony.

Two to three-year-olds act more independently than babies. They can talk to us reasonably well, use the toilet and eat independently. However, their brain is only 6 – 8 per cent matured. We often hear stories of parents struggling with their child at home, while the preschool and grandparents tell us how wonderful they are. Parents may wonder why their child is a little more reactive and defiant at home. 

Understand the Reason
Overwhelm is often the reason. Overwhelm occurs when parents negotiate with their developing toddler. Negotiation is excellent, but negotiation of multiple choices can quickly overwhelm a little child. Negotiation with two options only (perhaps three) is needed for their mind to process.

As an example, let’s say the child wants something to eat. The parent, being kind and considerate, opens the cupboard and asks what the child would like. This is often overwhelming for the child. Sometimes the child knows what they want, often they don’t, and selection is just too much. The toddler can then become overwhelmed, struggle to choose, and become frustrated. A tantrum erupts. The parents are left wondering what happened.

Processing at Warp Speed
The young brain of the child is processing at warp speed to comprehend all the choices they have. When we offer two things to the child, the selection becomes far more manageable. Bear in mind they may have a choice in their mind they are unable to articulate, so you may get a ‘no’ for both. If this happens you give one more choice, then say if they cannot choose, you will do it for them. This is often the time they let you know or show you precisely what it is they want; they will make the decision, not you.

Although a young child may be able to articulate many things, their brain has often not been able to catch up, especially if overwhelmed with items, choices or emotions.

When a child erupts, what do we do?
We stop, wait or redirect. If a child is throwing a tantrum because they can’t get their way, rather than sending the child to their room to ‘think’ about their behaviour, the parent can redirect them.

Redirecting means changing the subject or topic of frustration completely. Perhaps you could ask what their favourite character is doing currently such as, “I wonder what Fireman Sam may be doing right now,” or, “Gosh, maybe Nana might knock on the door in a minute”, before walking to the door to see if she is there.

These types of statements allow the child to transfer their thoughts to something other than them and redirect their mind quickly; hence the tantrum stops.

Clear rules
All toddlers need clear rules and boundaries. Parents often become tired after long days and can let rules slide. This confuses a child. One of the toughest parts of parenting is consistency in boundaries. If you said it, you enforce it. So being mindful of words becomes imperative. Rules and boundaries should be discussed one at a time, never three or more as the child’s brain is unable to process, and they will forget or not even hear it. 

Overwhelm is so common an issue yet one often missed. Small choices, few options. This way, their mind has a chance to process. Then add redirection and your little one can be who they are meant to be, the kind, considerate, loving, gorgeous little person you created.

For many tips on how to eliminate all conflict from your home, your relationships with partner, kids, everyone, please have a read of my latest book Communication Harmony. It is filled with techniques and strategies that will lead you to a more calm, happy and connected life with those you love. It is easier than you think!

karenphillip.com.au