As I was scanning one of my many parenting books yesterday, I came across the topic of emotional development with toddlers. The book had a few suggestions on how to support your child's emotions and for the most part, most of them were pretty good tips.
Sometimes I read parenting magazines and books and come across articles on how to tame tantrum and behavior problems that are written by an 'experts' or even psychologists, but a lot of times I feel they miss the boat completely. I don't always agree with some of their suggestions, because a lot of times they go against the whole philosophy around Child-Centered play therapy. Mostly denying their feelings or giving commands. But this article I read yesterday really gave some excellent tips that taught great emotional support for your toddlers.
Here are some of the ideas they had (that I tweaked a bit) to encourage and support healthy emotional development :):
-Acknowledge your toddler's feelings, even if their behavior is not acceptable. The behavior is what you focus on limiting, NOT the feeling. Example: "I can see how angry you are right now, but I am not for hitting."
-Help your toddler identify and label their feelings by describing them. For example: "You look really frustrated right now as you stomped your foot down!"
-Express your own emotions honestly, but appropriately. Toddlers need to learn from their parents and labeling your own feelings helps them get there faster. For example by telling them: "I am pretty upset right now and angry, so I need a little break to help me feel better." Also, remember to label the happy feelings too so they just don't see the negative ones. For example: "Mommy is so happy right now that we are playing and singing songs together. See the happy smile on my face?"
-Give your child alternatives to emotional outbursts such as "I don't know what you want when you cry, please show me what you want so I can help you" or"use your words to tell me what you want."
-When possible, help your child avoid fears by using night lights for fears of the dark, and having consistency in routines (so they trust you and know what to expect next)
-The article also mentioned one tip that I just have to comment on. They suggest not to use controlling statements or guilt provoking statements, which I agree with. But, BUT what was hard to read was the horrible emotionally abusive example of what NOT to say to your child: "It's hard for me to love you when you don't do what I say". Yikes. Talk about hurting your child's sense of self-esteem and sense of faith in your unconditional love. Statements like that will cause your child to end up in therapy for sure, not to mention maybe even having borderline personality disorder at the age of 16! I know none of you would use statements like that, thankfully. I hope I never have to hear something like that as I am out in public, because having to resist saying anything to that parent is going to take a lot of restraint!
The tips sound easy enough and straight forward, but sometimes practicing them can be a challenge as we forget. Especially when our children are constantly engaging in negative behaviors, and having to repeat "I can see how angry you are, but we do not play with the dog food" over and over can get exhausting! You just want to say a quick, "no!" and be done with it. So if we tell ourselves to practice it half the time, that's a good start :)