Dear Caring Parent,
Your beautiful children are now between one – four years old. Toddlers! And attuning to toddlers, tuning-in, is different than attuning to your baby during the first year. Truthfully, you’ve found yourself wondering, who IS this? In the first year, you felt that not only were you attuned to them, but they were attuned to you! Now suddenly, not so much. Well maybe every now and then, but you barely catch your breath and they are once again barely recognizable. Here are some ways to calm the tantrums, calm yourself, and grow everyone’s self-esteem.
Toddlers, developmentally speaking:
There’s so many developments in one, two and three year olds! The overarching developments are about discovery, independence and the beginning of self-regulation (calming). All of that, for parents, is rather like going on a very tall roller coaster ride!
While there are reasons for this, you might find yourself wondering if it’s possible to carry on with that wonderful tuning-in, attunement thing you had going from birth to one year.
Yes. The skills discussed in the newborn to one year old attunement article, are still in use (reading non-verbal cues, co-regulating, taking care of yourself etc). In fact, some of those intensify (5,6, and 7 on the magical keys list below).
And No. One, two and three year old children are steadily discovering, well, everything they can. Their sense of “I can”, their willfulness, is something about which they feel very strongly. All their newfound mobility, interaction abilities, and problem solving growth motivates their sense of independence. Because of this, how they respond to you is vastly different than when they were a sweet 4 or 9 month old (and even then, they had their moments, didn’t they ever).
All of this is affected by their born-with temperament; a feisty child is going to be lively in their response when you set a limit on kicking the ball indoors, an easy going child might shrug and go off and do something else, a cautious child might want you to stand next to them while they kick the ball!
They ALL, though, do this while surging between willful independence and clinging to you, sometimes several times in one hour. Because of this normal cycle, it takes great patience working through their moods, additional mobility and ability(s). It’s why I say parenting happens in the speed of love – #inthespeedoflove.
Put temperament together with developmental stage and all the associated hormonal and neurological changes, parents become dizzy with the mix of parenting feelings from love and laughter to terror and disgust. The good news is, there are some ways to even this out.
Magical Keys to Attuning to Toddlers
There are some magical keys I’ve found to working through these years in an attuned, tuned-in way:
1 – Give choices as much as possible. Even as you are setting limits (which you must), give choices. Wear the pink or blue? Brush your teeth now or after you put on your pjs? Drink water or have an applesauce? When choice isn’t an option, that’s fine. If you are giving enough other choices, the few times there are none won’t be so painful.
2 – Acknowledge what they are feeling. Use feeling words! “I know that is disappointing.” I like to use oreo cookie communication for this. For example, “We aren’t having cookies now, I know that is disappointing/frustrating/not what you wanted, we’ll have them when the clock says 5.”. What is and what will be are on either side – the two side of the cookie. In the middle is the feeling you think they may be having.
3 – Give them ways to express their feelings. You are a co-regulator with this. Have books with children experiencing different feelings, ask about them and talk about them. The TV show Danielle Tiger does a great job with how to express feelings. You can always act out feelings through role playing, using a couple of toys who are working out the situation your child is experiencing.
4 – Keep your toddlers active in unstructured, non competitive play. Children balance themselves, not to mention learn a lot, through unstructured play.
5 – Regulate yourself. This age is VERY unbalancing. Check in on the L.O.V.V.E. system in my book, The Dance of Parenting – this is a great time to get proficient with this so your default is to lovingly re-balance yourself.
6 – Watch your expectations. It is normal for toddlers to move from independence to clinginess, willfulness to uncertainty, happy to utterly frustrated. Understand what is happening. The best visuals I know for this are thanks to the people at The Circle of Security.
7 – Notice their strengths. Call out their creativity (which shows up in how they play and how they problem solve). Call out their smarts and affection. Call out their independence and determination.
Attuning to toddlers is possible!
Hopefully there is something on the list that will help you out of a toddler bind. I invite you to use it as a check-in, how-am-I-doing, list. If you are anything like me, you have one or two of these you’re a little out of synch with right now, especially if your child is a different temperament than you. Then make what you want to do differently into an affirmation – if you seriously want that affirmation to stick to your ribs, this will empower you and let you thrive in whatever changes you desire to make.
I love to watch parents and children who do these magical fixes. They spend less time in tantrums, have more affection even through rough patches, and grow in their self-esteem because problem solving becomes effective for both. Toddler years are tough. I hope this makes them less tough for you and more about a thriving family life.
Take care now, Natasha