Coming in a close second after “mine!” on the list of most frequently used toddler phrases is “by myself!” It’s truly exciting when your baby starts exerting her independence, using language, and more actively exploring the world around her. But the world of toddlers and 2s brings with it a new batch of challenges. How do you support your child’s desire to be independent and foster her feelings of competence and self-esteem, while also keeping her safe and setting appropriate limits? I considered focusing this article on responding to tantrums, because they can be so prevalent during this time in early childhood, but I decided to approach the topic from a more proactive angle…
What can a parent do before their child tantrums? My initial answer to this question is always the same: “fight the battles worth winning.” This is a concept that will follow you as your children grow. Is it worth getting into it over striped leggings or solid ones for school? Probably not. Does it matter who buckles her in to the stroller? Not really, as long as she ends up buckled.
I generally recommend that parents of toddlers and young 2s use brief sentences when talking to their children. Repeatedly using these “catch phrases” will help your child understand them and begin to incorporate them into their own vocabulary. For example, when taking your child out of a high chair you might say “all done.” Going forward, your child may start using these words to let you know that they are finished. When your child wants a toy that a friend is using rather than saying “share,” which really doesn’t mean much to a child at this age, try “my turn” and “your turn.” When a young child is able to express themselves and make their needs known, they are less likely to have a tantrum.
Phrases like “my choice” and “your choice,” or “my pick” and “your pick,” set up an environment where young children feel that they have some control. This can be very helpful when you have a toddler or young 2 with a persistent case of “by myself-itis.” Studies show that “by myself-itis” is a leading cause of tantrums. (Okay, I made that up. But I’d bet that most parents of toddlers would agree!) Pick times to let your child choose, and highlight it for them. You can say “Pasta or rice, your choice.” Then later on, when you feel strongly that they should be wearing a jacket in the snow you can say, “Jacket on, my choice.”
Every child is different, and children have tantrums for a variety of reasons. Reflecting on what the triggers are for your child, can help you before they reach the point of tantrum. If you are having a hard time seeing a pattern, get in touch. That’s what I’m here for. Embrace your toddlers’ and 2 year olds’ natural curiosity, and use of phrases like “mine” and “by myself.” Celebrate their independence, and use language and limit setting to help them manage the world around. You can do it!
empowered parents, happy families