Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mad Parenting: Toddlers and Preschoolers

In my introduction to the Mad Parenting series, I challenged you to check in with yourselves about your own experiences and thoughts about anger.

No, it wasn't because my therapist side was starting to itch!

It's because it's important for you to see your child's anger differently than you see your own.
Here are some tidbits about anger in toddlers and preschoolers.       

  • Anger in toddlers and preschoolers is normal and to be expected.
  • These tiny people are trying to learn so many new things and sometimes they don't have words for all of the things that they are learning.
  • Angry behaviors become a way of communicating when they lack the words.
  • With this age group, anger is less about aggression and more about learning the power and control they can have in their environment.
  • Kids begin to learn that when they choose certain actions, they can get BIG reactions and they test that out.
  • These young ones are smaller than their environment so good ol' fight or flight kicks in.  They either run to hide behind you or they puff up and defend.

The best way to manage your child's anger is with prevention. 

Activity Prevents Anger
  • Toddlers and preschoolers have a ton of energy running through their bodies.  
  • Without opportunities to release that energy naturally through play, running outside, and physical activity, they are more likely to have a low frustration tolerance

Prevention is all about Preparation. 
  • If you know what typically sets your child off, have a plan
    • If your daughter always cries and tantrums when it's time to leave the playground, you can prep her with extra reminders before it's time to go and name something for her to look forward to when she gets home.
    • If your son has more outbursts when he's tired, you can work on insuring that naps and quiet time are more consistent.
  • Set your kids up for success by practicing things they may struggle with. 
  • Remind your child of the rules and consequences before the activity.
  • Reinforce the skills you are trying to teach by praising them when they remain calm during a frustrating time. 

What to Do When Your Little One Acts Or Responds in Anger
  • Remain calm. Remember what I said about kids learning how to get big reactions out of their environment?  If you overreact in the moment, getting that big reaction will be reinforced.
  • Respond Quickly and Consistently.  Each time your child acts out or reacts with anger, he/she should receive the same response from you.
    • Using a neutral voice tone, at their eye level, calmly validate that you see they are upset
    • Encourage them to remove themselves from the situation so they can tell you what's bothering them
    • No one can learn anything when they are upset.  This is why it's important for your child to be calm before you teach.
    • Once you have a handle on what's bothering them, Explain: 1)what you saw, 2)why it was wrong, and 3) what they could do instead.
    • If appropriate, label a consequence.
    • After the consequence, reinforce the teachable moment and send them on their way
  • If necessary, guide an amends process.
    • This may mean retrieving a toy they threw and putting it back
    • It may mean an apology or accepting responsibility for someone they may have hurt
What if I don't agree with the whole calming before consequence thing?

I'm sure some of you will want to skip the whole calming down part and move right to a consequence. 

That's fine.

However, I usually think that immediate consequences are more appropriate for older kids. In theory, they have already learned these lessons a number of times, have had opportunities to practice, and chose to act out in anger anyway. 

Toddlers and preschoolers are just not that sophisticated.  They don't have that processing ability and shouldn't be expected to.

Need the Cliff Notes?
  1. Prevent Anger When Possible
  2. Remain Calm
  3. Gain An Understanding of What is Upsetting
  4. Respond Consistently
Still feeling unsure?  This stuff isn't easy.  A 30 minute consult might help you out and I am happy to help.
Don't miss the next installment in this series! Go to the top right of this page and sign-up for email notifications and the next entry, "Mad Parenting: School Aged Children" will be sent right to your inbox.
Until next time,


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