After the festive season it can be hard for parents and children to get back into the routine they were in before the madness of the holidays took over. Many children don’t cope well with disruption to their routine, and this can lead to them being unsettled and showing off some spectacularly unmanageable behavioural tendencies. Without the Elf on the Shelf to encourage good behaviour and with our direct lines to Santa disconnected, it can be hard to find the leverage to encourage your child to behave well.
Below we discuss some of the ways parents and carers can provide those much needed boundaries for unruly toddlers, and how to avoid difficult behaviour whenever possible.
We know it well, that time when your toddler is making such a fuss that there’s only one thing you can do: timeout. The rule of thumb for timeout is one minute per year of your child’s age, i.e. a two year old will get two minutes of timeout and so on. But does it even work? Some say that timeout is only effective if the child gets adequate ‘time-in’ with their parent or carer. But when it comes down to it, there are a few little tricks to help your toddler cope with timeout.
- Soothe your child by giving them a calm bottle or a comfort object while they’re on timeout. It can help to distract them and pacify their high strung emotions enough to have that little chat about behaviour when their stint is up.
- Tell your child that you’re going to count to ten and by the time you get to ten, their sadness, anger or frustration will be over and we can figure out how to make it better. Focusing on a different activity can distract the child and give them some distance from their frustration.
- Call timeout a different name so your toddler doesn’t give it negative associations.
Measuring a child’s actions by a reward chart can provide them with the structure and the encouragement they need to manage their behaviour. Have your chart lead towards a larger goal and encourage visualisation by having your child move an avatar of themselves along the chart, getting themselves closer and closer to the ultimate prize.
Lack of stimulation vs too much stimulation
Some children can become overwhelmed with an undue amount of stimulation and vice versa, a lack of stimulation can create boredom that can be unbearable. Your child will respond differently to both and it’s important to understand which one affects your child positively.
Another tactic is to focus on the good behaviour and ignore the bad (as best you can).
- When your child is acting out, state what you want to happen, not what you want to stop.
- When making requests, even when your child is in the throes of it, use calm, polite language. Speak as you want to be spoken to. Repetitious demands will only teach your child not to listen to you the first few times.
- When your child loses control of their feelings, empathise with them. For example, if Gymboree is cancelled and they’re uncontrollably upset, say ’I can see you’re sad because I know you were really looking forward to Gymboree’.
- Likewise, encourage your child to articulate their feelings. When they’re sad, happy, or angry ask them to explain why they’re feeling that way. It helps children to understand that feelings aren’t forever, and that they can always change.
- Ask your child for ideas to help them feel better. They might be able to tell you what they need to calm down and adjust their behaviour.
It’s been said that putting labels on children, positive or negative, has a negative effect on their development. Children strive to match the label they’re given, so if and when they fail to meet that label, it can put doubt into their mind as to whether or not they will still be loved. Remember, it’s the behaviour that is naughty, not the child.
Children thrive on routine, so even if they’re not attending crèche or school, be sure to be consistent with meal and sleep times to keep them on the right track. Feel free to embellish your routine by adding song time after breakfast, outdoor play before lunch, or stories at bedtime so that when children begin their day, they enjoy knowing what to expect from it. But don’t be afraid to throw in a few surprises here and there to keep them on their toes!
Finally, above all, remember your ABCs (Always Be Calm)!