Exhausted From Raising a Toddler

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Question:

I have read a lot on your site, looking for some specific solutions for toddlers and I find that even the advice that is supposed to be for toddlers really seems too advanced for my 22-month-old.

Let me tell you what my problem is...my 22-month-old has been having a lot of outbursts that I know are related mostly to boredom and frustration and we are working on changing our daily routine to get into more of a rhythm that I think might make a difference with this...but what I need is some advice as to what to do until then and when these outbursts happen again, as they inevitably do.

Specifically, my daughter will do things like: start clearing off a table, throwing everything on the floor, emptying boxes of crayons & other things with many small items, food, etc, onto the floor, and refuse to help pick them up (we take the things away when she dumps/throws them, but she's at it again later when she's upset again, but with something else)...hit mommy or daddy even though we always say things like "soft touches", "be gentle please", "hands are for drawing, tickling, stroking, etc, not hitting" and other such positive comments...screams LOUD when she can't have what she wants NOW!

I am exhausted and my behavior is starting to get as out of control as hers! I find myself snapping at her and not being at all the loving mommy I know am and I am very disappointed in myself and want to change the direction things are going.

I think I know some of why these things are happening, as mentioned, and we're working on that, but still I need some specific pointers as to how to appropriately and positively respond to a toddler. I plan on buying some of your books soon, but need some pointers now!

HELP!! Tina

Answer:

Hi Tina,

I'm exhausted just reading about your struggles. I remember those days. You are absolutely right – raising a toddler is the most difficult job in the world – and the most rewarding.

Since you are planning to get a book, the one that will help you the most right now is "Positive Discipline the First Three Years". It sounds as though you already know so much – especially that everything she is doing is so age appropriate. And, so much of what you are doing is exactly the most effective thing you could do – "we always say things like "soft touches", "be gentle please", "hands are for drawing, tickling, stroking, etc, not hitting" and other such positive comments."

I have a few things to suggest:

1. Patience. I know it is difficult, but you only frustrate yourself if you think your daughter will "get" the positive statements after hearing them 100 times. Actually it has nothing to do with how many times you teach. It has to do with when she is developmentally ready to internalize what she has been learning.

2. Child proof your home. It drives me crazy when parents think they can leave things in reach of a toddler and "teach" her not to touch. Toddlers are programmed to touch, explore, experiment. This doesn't mean they should be allowed to touch everything. However, instead of expecting them NOT to touch things, parents need to supervise and gently guide them away from what they can't touch. This is most effective if parents keep their mouths shut. Toddlers understand actions better than words. So, to make it easier on yourself, keep things out of reach if you possibly can.

3. Don't expect a toddler to pick anything up unless you make it a game – and do it with her. Even then, it will work only sometimes. Toddlers cannot think nor understand the way adults do. They are not being irresponsible or defiant when they refuse to pick things up. And, refusing to pick things up doesn't mean they will refuse forever. Well, they might, but after the age of four it is "a little" easier to find ways to invite cooperation. Even then it has to be done over and over. That is what raising children is all about – over and over.

4. I'm glad you know the importance of routines. They are very important in the life of a toddler. Still, she will get bored and frustrated. It is not your job to protect her from all boredom and frustration. Allow her to be bored and to have her feelings about it. Empathy is fine, but she will benefit from learning to handle boredom and frustration – and to know that she can. How else will she develop her disappointment skills?

5. Supervise, supervise, supervise. This is the most important suggestion of all. Toddlers require lots of supervision. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it takes lots of time. I wish more parents understood that before they had children, but it comes as a surprise to most of us.

6. Kindness and Firmness at the same time. This requires follow through. If you don't want your child to touch something, get up and kindly and firmly remove her from what she can't touch and show her what she can touch. (This is also called "redirection.") And, it must be done over and over.

7. Don't be disappointed in yourself. I can tell you are doing an excellent job. All mothers of toddlers are exhausted — and all lose it at times. At least you are using this as an opportunity to learn and, "Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn." So make lots of them, and keep learning.

Positive Discipline the First Three Years has many, many more suggestions. These are the ones that pertain to your question. I know you have heard this over and over, and it is true. She will grow up so soon. It doesn't seem like that will ever happen when you are exhausted from the constant demands of a toddler, but it will happen. All of the Positive Discipline books will make the journey smoother and much more pleasant.

Enjoy,

Jane Nelsen

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