Do you have a toddler who is frequently crying, throwing tantrums and engaging in power struggles? If so you are not alone.
There are many reasons that two year-olds engage in power struggles and tantrums. Toddlers are becoming more independent but still have to rely on their parents for practically everything. They want to do things by themselves and then get frustrated when they can’t. As they test limits they are learning what they can get away with, and what they cannot. And toddlers have limited language; when this language fails them they resort to emotional outbursts.
What are parents to do? Children feel most secure when there are clear limits that revolve around health and safety. Although toddlers can scream when they don’t get what they want, they deeply crave structure and rules to keep them safe. Parents must be in charge. But finding the right way to set, and enforce, limits without having power struggles is not an easy thing.
Here are some tips that may help:
1. Be flexible. When setting and enforcing limits don’t become too rigid. Be willing to bend a little. For example, if your toddler does not want to leave the park right away, give her an extra five minutes. Maybe even give two minutes after that.
2. Make sure you can enforce your limit. If you are not certain you can make your child comply, think twice before setting your limit.
Look into the future and envision what you will do if your child refuses. Enforcement may involve picking your child up and putting him in his car seat, despite the tantrum. When you know how to make your child comply, your voice and tone will carry more weight.
3. Pick your battles. There are many things that you cannot let your toddler do for health and safety reasons. But other things may not be worth a fight. Examine why you are setting the limit and remember “less is more”. The less battles, the less your child gets into the habit of having power struggles.
4. Only have a few rules. Two year-olds cannot grasp a long list of rules, so keep it simple and stick to the big ones: Don’t hurt others. Don’t do things that are unsafe. And follow a routine and schedule that keeps you healthy.
5. Listen and explain. When your child resists, listen to what he wants (or does not want). Then repeat this back to him in your own words. Finally explain why you have set your limit. When toddlers feel understood they are a lot more accomodating.
6. Create an environment that decreases power struggles. If toys are scattered everywhere, a child often feels out of control. A neat, organized home, with less toys, can reduce power struggles. Try it…
7. Provide opportunities to be powerful. Are there chores that your toddler can do to help out? Give lots of praise. A two-year old wants to feel important, powerful and useful.
8. Give advance warnings. Tantrums and struggles often happen during transitions. If they are too abrupt they can cause a meltdown. I like to give plenty of warnings that things are about to change. For example: “We are having lunch in ten minutes get ready to finish your puzzle”.
9. Look for root causes. It is helpful to know why your toddler is having a tantrum. Is she hungry, tired, cold or bored? This helps you have more compassion and also lets you solve the problem faster.
I hope these are helpful. Good luck and remember your child will soon outgrow this stage…