As I’ve mentioned before, dealing with a toddler is often like trying to handle a drunk frat boy on acid.
Nothing makes sense. To you or them.
Why are you stuck in that cupboard?
I don’t know.
How come you’re eating the dirt?
I don’t know.
Why did you smear poop on the wall?
It’s pretty? (At least it’s an answer)
But that’s just the frat boys; toddlers can do some crazy stuff too.
That’s why it can be hard to know what to say or what not to say on a minute to minute basis, and that’s when you’re really trying to do a great parenting job. Often, you’re in the middle of paying bills or making dinner or a million other things and your kid is in your way, trying to keep you from doing what needs doing as aggressively as any NBA player blocking an opponent from making a basket. But, as any parent of a toddler knows, there is way more fouling in parenting than on the court.
You know what happens next, right? You blow up like
Ron Artest Metta World Peace on the hardwoods and say something you don’t really mean. Or you really mean it but don’t want your kid to know that. Something like “Leave me alone! Go away!”
I’m guilty of that and a couple other things and maybe you are too? Read on for some of the most common verbal mistakes moms and dads make when dealing with their toddlers, and some tips on what to say instead.
Kids, especially toddlers, have a hard time articulating their feelings. Hell, most adults do too. So they cry. Toddlers do, I mean. But adults do too! Your crying toddler might be sad, they might be scared and they might be pissed you turned off their cartoon. Either way, they're expressing their emotions. As CNN reports,
Debbie Glasser, Ph.D., and childhood expert says that telling a child to stop crying or to not be a baby "doesn't make a child feel better, and it also can send the message that his emotions aren't valid -- that it's not okay to be sad or scared." Instead say something like "It must make you sad when your friend won't share" or "I know the waves can be scary, I'll stay right with you the whole time." That way, you're not only naming the emotion for the child and helping him or her express themselves but you're validating the emotion as well. Yay for you! Go Team Mom and Dad!
This is another one from CNN's excellent list of 9 Things You Shouldn't Say To Your Child
. We've all been there. Rushing around in the morning trying to get kids bathed and dressed and ready to go. Or leaving the grocery store while a little one lags behind. But nagging your child to "hurry up" can backfire. According to CNN, "There's a tendency when we're rushed to make our kids feel guilty for making us rush. The guilt may make them feel bad, but it doesn't motivate them to move faster." Instead think of other ways to get them moving. If they're watching a cartoon instead of doing what you ask, turn off the cartoon. If they're lagging behind tell them you'll race them to the car or the lamp post or whatever.
You’re So …
This to me, is perhaps the most damaging of the list and I do it all the time. According to CNN
, "Labels are shortcuts that shortchange kids: "Why are you so mean to Katie?" Or "How could you be such a klutz?" Sometimes kids overhear us talking to others: "She's my shy one." Young children believe what they hear without question, even when it's about themselves. So negative labels can become a self-fulfilling prophecy." The last thing I want to do is make my daughter think she's mean and yet I constantly ask her why she's so mean to her brother. But even labels that seem neutral or positive like "You're so smart" can pigeonhole our kids and create unnecessary expectations. Now, of course you're going to tell your child she is smart or beautiful, but creating those burdensome expectations on your kid is something to be mindful of when doing so. Also, let's say your child is being mean. Instead of calling her mean address her specific behavior without labels. For example, "You hurt your brother's feelings when you took that toy from him. How can we make him feel better?" Problem solving without label-making. Score for you!
Leave Me Alone!
Yet another one I'm guilty of saying to my kids when trying to get things done. But, as Dr. Suzette Haden Elgin tells CNN
, kids can really internalize this and you may set up a pattern where they feel like they're a bother to you and maybe even be less inclined to tell you things as they get older. Instead, set up clear boundaries. "Mom has to finish this first and then we'll go outside and play. Do you understand?" Kids need to get used to parents not responding to their every demand from an early age.
Don’t Touch This!
I found this tip on Austin Mom's Blog
and really liked it because it's true. Tell a small toddler not to touch something and I'll be damned if he doesn't head right for that thing the second your back is turned. Instead, remove the untouchables from the room. Obviously, as the child gets older you want to teach them what they can and can't touch but I suggest the out of sight out of mind technique for 1-year-olds. You'll know when it's okay to leave your glasses on the table or a cup of coffee but until then, hide your stuff or, like me, you'll end up with broken glasses, scratched DVDs and pages torn out of favorite books.
Why Did You Do That?
This is where the drunk frat boy on acid analogy comes in again. Neither the frat boy or your toddler knows why they smeared their poop on the wall, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. In a Babble article called 15 Ways NOT to Raise Your Toddler
my good friend, Mira Jacob phrases it thusly: "Why did you bite that boy? Why did you hit your sister? Why is there spaghetti in your ear? Why am I asking you a question you can't possibly answer in any way that will make me feel better? Oh yes, because it's easier than accepting the idea that I am in charge of a tiny lunatic." The aforementioned Austin Mom's Blog
offers this technique: explain the action (and demonstrate it - as long as it isn't the poop on wall scenario) to the child and talk about why it's not a good idea. "See when you open and close this door you could hurt your finger. OUCH. Let's go play in your room instead." Or "When you touch the poop in your pants it's stinky and yucky and you could get sick." I'm not sure if that one works for drunk frat boys, though, so don't take my word for it.
Wait Until Mom/Dad Gets Home
I know it can be tempting to pass the buck to the other parent, especially after a full day of solo parenting, but postponed discipline keeps your child from really connecting the discipline with the original action. As CNN reports, "This familiar parenting cliché is not only another kind of threat, it's also diluted discipline. To be effective, you need to take care of a situation immediately yourself." By the time the other parent gets home your toddler will likely have no clue what all the fuss is about. Besides, as your kids get older you don't want to undermine your own authority or force your partner into the "bad cop" role. Instead, pull yourself up by your boot straps (or bra straps, as the case may be) and deliver the consequence or punishment immediately. You can do it!
More Great Things on Parenting
For more things you shouldn’t say to your child jump on over to CNN.com.
You can also find Monica on her personal blog, The Girl Who.