School’s in! How’s it going for you and your child?
On the first day of school, did your child give you a sweet hug and run off cheerfully to play with their friends?
Or were they stuck to you like a limpet, screaming “Don’t go! Don’t go!” as you tried to extricate yourself, highly ambivalent yourself about whether this transition was the right one to make?
And on the second day, did they happily get into the car and strap themselves in, or skip along beside you as you walked to school?
Or did they dig in their heels and refuse to get into the car seat, and then refuse to get out of the car at the other end, and give you the “Don’t go! Don’t go!” treatment again?
Toddler 1: “Nooooooo, it’s mine!”
Toddler 2: “I want it!”
How many parents have ever heard that scenario?
(I’d be surprised if any of you haven’t.)
And how many parents are sick of hearing it?
(I’d be surprised if any of you who have more than one child aren’t…)
Young children find sharing difficult!
We know that children develop the mental skills needed to engage in sharing behavior over time, and yet we find ourselves in a pickle over sharing all the time. Our own children take things from each other. Our child takes something from another child at preschool. Someone else’s child takes something from our child at the park.
When it’s just our own children at home, we might just step in and say: “Well if you can’t stop fighting over it, I’m just going to take it away so neither of you can have it.” In a public place, we immediately find ourselves getting hot and anxious not because of the children, but because of what the adults around us will think of our children – and, by extension, our parenting.
Being judged is hard, right?
Ever been in any of these scenarios?
“I took my children on a fantastic vacation to Disney World. My youngest ate it up but my five-year-old pouted the whole time. The lines were too long; the weather was too hot; the food sucked. Why can’t he appreciate the sacrifices we make for him? It’s not like us parents want to go to Disney World…”
“My mom gave my three-year-old daughter a beautiful and expensive doll for her birthday. My daughter doesn’t really like dolls, and when she realized what the gift was she threw it aside and went to play with her Legos. My mom was really hurt, and I was mortified. Why can’t my daughter just be thankful for a gift even if it’s not exactly what she wanted?”
“My five-year-old has it so easy. We buy him toys; we pick up after him; we go out for treats (ice cream and the like) all the time. He really wants for nothing, but he’s so ungrateful. He has absolutely no idea how good he has it, and that there are people in the world with so much less than him. What can I do about this?”
We’ve all been there.
Your preschooler wakes up in a foul mood (don’t we all, every once in a while?), and starts crying before she even gets out of bed. Nothing you do can make it right: she doesn’t want the same thing she has for breakfast every morning; she can’t choose something she does want; she hits her brother; she collapses in a sobbing heap on the floor.
Or maybe your “witching hour” comes later in the day, after school or at bedtime: he doesn’t WANT to go in the bath. He doesn’t want a bath with bubbles OR without bubbles. He refuses to brush his teeth, with either bubblegum OR strawberry toothpaste.
Toddlers have tantrums, and to some extent we just need to be supportive and get through them because they don’t really have the mental skills or vocabulary to express what they need. But by the time your child is about three, some new abilities start to open up that create enormous opportunities for you. They are able to think about more than one way to do something, and their vocabularies are expanding so they can begin to express these new ideas.
They probably aren’t yet fully able to regulate their own emotions, which is why they still have these occasional tantrums. But what if there was a way to use some of their new skills to avoid tantrums in the first place?
The good news: there is!
The bad news: this method does require you to go through one tantrum to figure it out. But isn’t that a small price to pay?
The best news is that this method is most powerful for the types of tantrums that are related to issues you face repeatedly related to their ideas about how things should work in your house (like whether it’s OK to eat ice cream right before bed). You may still get the ones that result from being over-tired or hungry/hangry, but you already know the fix for those ones…
One of the most-often asked questions in parenting groups that I’m in is “My child WILL NOT let me brush his/her teeth. How can I get through this?”
Oh my goodness; I feel your pain.
We went through this too when my daughter was about 15 months old, and it persisted for several weeks on and off before we finally figured it out.
I would say “OK, it’s time to brush your teeth!” and she’d say “NOOOOOO! I don’t wanna!” and collapse in a writhing heap on the floor.