Written by: Cally Worden
If you have a militant little person in your midst then you are probably no stranger to the impressive degree of defiance that a toddler is able to demonstrate. It can develop gradually, or seemingly overnight, as if they attended Rebellion School while you were asleep.
Bookstores are lined with helpful tomes stuffed with advice on how to manage this tricky phase in your child’s development. Success can depend on careful strategic planning, and that means knowing what NOT to do, as well which tactics work. Here are 5 things NOT to do when your toddler is defiant – try to avoid them!
Don’t Lose your Rag
You are your toddler’s role model, and if you lose your temper with them then you are showing your toddler that it’s okay to get mad and act out when they are frustrated – precisely what you are trying to get them to STOP doing. How confusing is that?!
Toddlers who are acting out need guidance, not criticism. In the heat of the moment it is not the root of their frustration that is the issue. It is far more important to show them appropriate ways to respond when they are feeling emotionally out of control.
Don’t Get Drawn In
There is something very validating about making everyone else around you feel miserable – a sort of ‘Now You Know How I Feel!’ thing. For some toddlers their acts of defiance are a way of controlling the behaviour of others around them, and this can be immensely satisfying for them.
If you choose to participate in this, your toddler is not learning the tools for self-calming, and instead receives the message that manipulation is a good thing. Try instead to distance yourself emotionally from the fray, acknowledge your toddler’s frustrations, and let them know you can chat about them when they are calm.
Don’t Allow a Disregarding of Responsibility
Toddlerhood is the perfect time for young kids to start learning about responsibility and consequences. When faced with a defiant, screaming, fit-to-burst child you may be forgiven for wanting the situation resolved as quickly as possible, and taking the easy route of placating and actually rewarding your child in order to regain control of the situation. This, of course, sends out all the wrong messages. Setting and consistently reinforcing simple expectations (‘We don’t hit’, for example), and following through with simple consequences (‘You don’t get to watch your favourite TV show tonight’, for example) is one way to go. It helps your child to learn that they are in control of their behaviour, and can make active choices about how to behave and the outcomes that will deliver. Setting acceptable boundaries for toddlers helps to make them feel secure. Consistently letting them off the hook is an invitation for continuing defiance.
Don’t Be a Merchant of Gloom
Any normally sane parent faced with a daily dose of defiance from their toddler can begin to feel full of doom about the future. It can seem as if nothing you do to combat your mini-activist is working, and never will.
It can be terribly hard, but try to remain positive. If you don’t, your toddler will invariably pick up on your tension, sparking further tricky behaviours. Making a conscious effort to remain in the here and now can help you focus on what your toddler needs from you today. Get that right, and tomorrow (and all subsequent days) will gradually get that bit easier. In theory!
Don’t Forget The Good Stuff
Toddler defiance is only one small part of who they are. When you are feeling ground-down by seemingly constant battles with your child it can be easy to forget all the good things about your lovely little person. Make an effort every day to actively notice and praise your child for a good behaviour, not matter how inconsequential it may seem. It will remind you just how precious they are, and help to put the battles into perspective.
When you are in the midst of toddler trouble it can feel like life will never be easy again. In real terms the tricky-toddler-time is short-lived. Count every day that you feel mired in it as one day of progress through this challenging period, and you’ll soon be feeling amazed at how much you and your child have achieved. It does, and will, get better. Never forget that.