If you are a parent or if you have ever interacted with a child between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, then you most likely have witnessed many of the milestone behaviour within autonomy versus shame and doubt stage from Erik Erikson’s stage of psycho social development, such as wanting to dress themselves, feed themselves with their fingers, or you may have even experienced a struggle trying to hold them amongst a pool of tears because they can’t and won’t find their drink bottle (even though you know that they haven’t even started looking for it and it’s on the kitchen bench!).
It is at this point in development that young children will begin to express a greater need for independence and control over themselves as well as the world around them.
According to Erikson, children at this stage are focused on developing a much greater sense of self-control.
Your mighty toddler at this age is gradually wanting and yearning for an increase in their independence. They want greater control over what they are doing and how they are going to do it.
Toddlers that are in the thick of this developmental stage will often feel the need to do EVERYTHING independently!
Things such as picking out their own clothes, deciding what they will and won’t eat, toys and games that they want to play. This can create SO much frustration for many parents and understandably so, you want your toddler to look super CUTE but instead they look like a red-hot MESS!!
The simple fact is, this is not only an important milestone in development for your little one, but an essential one. Your toddler is in the thick of developing their personality further, their sense of style and all whilst also creating personal autonomy.
For toddlers who thrive within this stage it is mostly due to parental understanding and support, they will feel secure and confident as individuals, whilst those who don’t will feel that they have little sense of ‘freedom’ leaving them with the perception that they are inadequate.
As parents, it is important to know that it is OK to let go and allow your little one to develop their own sense of ‘style’ or to eat with their fingers, after all it is all part of the fun of being little enough to ‘get away with it!’
Below are SIX ways to Gentle discipline and reconnection whilst being in the thick of this fascinating but also at times, frustrating developmental stage!
Choose your battles
For us that could be choosing an outfit for the day but if they decide to change it up and wear mismatched clothing then they are establishing autonomy and we are helping them express their creativity. Of course, there are always non-negotiables such as when it comes to safetly, wearing their seat belt is an example of this, perhaps personal autonomy could come in the form of a compromise such as you helping them click their seat belt buckle in?
Again you’re dodging a bullet aka a tantrum BUT they’re strengthening their sense of autonomy.
Give two options but it has the same outcome
This is one of the simplest and easiest tips for parenting throughout difficult toddler behaviour. In giving your toddler two options with the same outcome it will help to create a feeling of having more control for your toddler. Meanwhile,you are also getting them to agree to what you would like happen! For example, “would you like some help to put on your shoes or mama can put them on?” or “This outfit or this one?”
You could even use this for dinner time! Try presenting the same dinner but in two different ways!
Same result for you but it looks different to your little one!
Try to give warnings and use a timer
How would you feel if you were mid conversation with a girlfriend and your partner suddenly started to usher you away or worse picked you up and carried you out the door all whilst saying “we are leaving NOW!” I think it’s safe to say that the conversation that would ensue would be more like a huge argument and I don’t think you would feel respected.
Newsflash! Your toddler feels the same way when you drag them out of a park without fore warning. With our three year old I will tend to say something like, “ok honey one more swing then no more,’ whilst holding up one finger, that way my toddler has a visual of what I would like as well as clear instructions.
For the older toddler a timer on your phone can work wonders! Firstly your toddler will need a clear explanation of what your expectations are, then you will let your toddler know that you are setting the timer for 5 more minutes and when it rings it will be time to go.
Be clear in your instructions and having visuals are always a good idea!
Consequences for their actions
As parents, we can quickly react instead of respond. An example of this can be an automatic timeout for drawing on the coffee table with a texta. There’s no warning or clear instructions just an instant reaction from you.
When we are clear on what our expectations are prior to an activity taking place ie. drawing. Then your toddler is clear on what they can and cant do. For older toddler using consequences as a side effect for their behaviour or the choices that they are making can help draw gentle boundaries, research has shown that it can lead to a sense of better internalized moral reasoning ( Dr Laura Markham Aha Parenting).
An example of a logical consequence for your toddler’s behaviour (after you have already given clear instructions!!) may be to take away the use of all textas for the day.
When we as adults feel heard and understood and our partner can paraphrase our feelings back to us such as “oh honey, it sounds like you’ve had a rough day, having sick kids is exhausting,” this alone can be a valuable tool for connection within your relationship.
This type of empathy and compassion for your toddler can have the same sort of effect when it comes to connecting with them throughout the day.
There is ALWAYS room for empathy and re connection within your parent and child relationship, especially whilst they are acting out.
Hug it out
We ALWAYS hug it out!! As frustrating as it can be mid meltdown and it could very well be the last thing you feel like doing, majority of the time a simple hug can soften both of your resolve and make for a very easy but beautiful first step in re connecting with your little one.
Everyday our children offer us up an invitation to slow down.
We can relearn to really appreciate the beauty in our everyday just by being present with them and allowing the space to reconnect in a very genuine and heart felt way. When we let go of our own expectations of their behaviour it gives them the space to genuinely just ‘be.’