Parenting Basics

The one thing you need to tame your toddler

February 12 , 2020
Bessma Bader
Bessma is a mother of four children, who has loved writing since she was eight years old....More

When you live with a toddler, you can very clearly imagine how it would be to live with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. One second they're playing nicely and the next they are having a full-blown tantrum because you sat down.

Toddlers are cute, volatile and extremely unpredictable. They often leave their parents in a state of confusion, frustrations and on the verge of tears. The speed with which their mood deteriorates is incredible!

Usually, it makes implementing rules and sticking to them more difficult than giving in and letting them have what they want. Especially in public.

I am here to tell you two essential things which will change your life as the parent of a toddler.

The first is that the tantrums are inevitable

If anyone promises you a quick fix to a tantrum-free 2- year-old, they may as well be promising you a no-cook recipe for soufflé. It's impossible.

Toddlers have not yet developed the physical and emotional tools they need to be able to control their emotions or reactions. It's like expecting a baby to walk right out of the womb.

You are not failing when your child throws himself on the floor of the shopping mall, screaming like he's lost a limb, The plan didn’t fail! It just needs to be repeated many times. At this young age, he can't help it.

The second is that this too shall pass 

I promise you. I have been through this with 4 children who are well and truly over tantruming. And I am currently working on getting number 5 through this as quickly and painlessly as possible. This will pass, and I will tell you the fastest (not fast, but fastest.) and straight forward way to get them from trantruming terrors to calm toddlers.

First, some brain science.

When Babies are born, only 25% of their brains are developed. In the first 5 years of their life, 90% of brain development happens. Millions and millions of connections are happening in the child's brain continuously during this time. They are either reinforced by repeated use or neglected and disappear in a process called pruning.

So if a child sees a black cat, then it will make a connection that cats are black. But then they will see a brown cat, and that first connection will not get reinforced and eventually will disappear.

A child's experiences physically shape the architecture of their brain. When we talk about changing behaviours, we often think of it as this intangible thing when, in fact, we are talking about creating or dissolving neurological pathways in the brain. It is a physical change we are after, and this takes time.

The secret to making this change, as you may have gathered by now, is repetition and persistence!

I often hear mothers tell me "I did that before, but he still hasn't stopped". They start with a clear plan of what is acceptable and what isn't but then give up on reinforcing it because it seems like it's not working.

So I am here to tell you that you will lose count of the times you have repeated yourself before your child starts listening.

I know you're thinking "surely there is a faster way!". And you're right. It involves inflicting mental or physical pain on your child so they "learn their lesson" the first time. Much like when a child gets burnt by candle and never touches it again. I prefer the repetition rout.

Any behaviour you endorse is getting cemented in their brain. When you give up after your child has screamed so loud your neighbours can hear him then he will learn very quickly that screaming loudly gets him what he wants.

When you flip flop between giving in and reinforcing, then you are confusing your toddler, yourself and still encouraging the behaviour as they sometimes get what they want.

At home, we usually have a box of chocolate on our coffee table. My kids are allowed to have one a day. This did not go down well with my 2.5-year-old. The first time we enforced it, my angelic curly-haired little baby dissolved into a mess of tears, snot and flailing fists. We had to physically remove the box and place it out of his reach.

The second time was not better. Consequently tho, the tears and flailing lessened. The time he took to move from anger to calm shortened. And now, after a couple of weeks of persistent and continual repetition, he sometimes comes and says: "only one?" and is satisfied.

Sometimes. And that's ok! Toddlers are doing their best just as we are. And sometimes they do not have enough self-regulation to deny themselves something they want. I mean, I struggle when I'm tired to deny myself something I want, and I'm his mother.

Repetition, repetition, repetition. This is how your child will learn. Whatever situation you feel is a constant battle between you and your child, decide what the rule is, then stick to it!