Toddlers and Teens – Part 1

Posted on August 20, 2018

Let’s face it, toddlers and teens get a bad rap. You can’t read anything about parenting without a focus on the “terrible twos” or difficult teenagers. When you tell people you have a 3-year-old or a 15-year-old, you’ll most likely get a sympathetic look and “I’m so sorry.”

We are doing a disservice to our children by labeling toddler and teen years as difficult. There are joys and challenges at every stage of child development, and we should be embracing these amazing stages of life as the truly remarkable learning experiences that they are… learning experiences for us, that is, the parents. It is especially at these two stages of growth that we are invited to raise our communication game. This week I’ll talk about the toddler years. In my next post, I’ll cover teenagers.

The Toddler Years

Between one and three years old, toddlers learn at an incredible rate. Not only are they learning to walk and talk, but they are also learning about their emotions and realizing they can do things apart from their parents. They become more aware of their place in the world. They are developing their own identity and in a way are experiencing “separation anxiety.”

The problem is that toddlers don’t have the vocabulary to communicate all these feelings and therefore tend to throw tantrums as well as objects. Built-up emotions and the lack of being able to express them through words triggers tantrums and what we call “bad” behavior.

It’s frustrating for sure, yet when we show our own frustrations with our kids by yelling and spanking, all we are doing is letting them know that we don’t understand them and that we aren’t paying attention. They get more upset, we get more upset, and we chalk it all up to the terrible twos.

When we understand that our children are in a deep state of learning—without the necessary communication skills—we can begin to embrace the wonder of the toddler years. How?

  1. Show understanding. This might mean holding your child close and whispering, “I’m here for you” or “I will help you through this.” The only help that they need is your presence and full-on acceptance. That is what understanding is all about. When we resist their behavior, we isolate them further.
  2. Build their emotional vocabulary. Ask your toddlers if they are hurt or angry or hungry or tired. Get to the bottom of why they are lashing out. It might be something simple that they can’t express. There are flash cards and emotional-vocabulary-building tools and toys out there. Building their emotional vocabulary is as important as teaching them the alphabet and building their word vocabulary. Remember, the trick is to give toddlers a way to communicate what they are feeling. With a little focused practice, you can raise emotionally intelligent kids—but, of course, that requires you to be emotionally intelligent first. Try a quick Dealing with the Feeling as your first go-to. Research today informs us that emotionally intelligent children are more likely to achieve higher life success and academic success. So set your kids up for success early on!
  3. Give them quiet space. If you have tried all of the above and your toddler is still throwing a fit, so be it. Allow him or her to weather the emotional storm. Emotions create varying frequencies of energy within our body, and if these are not given a chance to pass through our systems, they will park themselves deep within, only to surface later. If your toddlers are okay with your holding them, do so in silence, both internally and externally. If your mind races or you get frustrated, allow your own emotions to pass through. Managing our internal landscape is the only way we can make ourselves available for our kids—without judgment—and exemplify how to self-manage and self-regulate. Like adults, children can feel overwhelmed and might just need a quiet place to erupt and release their emotions. Nature has a way of calming our internal state. Take kids outside when they are upset. Things as simple as a butterfly or a rabbit can be magically soothing to a child.

The toddler years may seem long, but they go by very quickly. Watch your youngsters closely, and learn to see the world as they do. Commit to simply being there for them.

Check back next week for Part 2 – Teenagers