Most of the time toddlers are terrific. They’re cute, energetic and fun to be around. But what happens when your toddler expresses anger? Do you try to stomp out the fire as soon as it sparks? What message does that send to your child about their right to express anger?
Let’s say, for example, that your toddler yells at you to ‘leave me alone’ as you try to put their shoes on to go outside, or pulls the cat’s tail when it walks across the puzzle your tot is attempting to put together. Do you tell them to put their angry words away or send them into time out because they’ve hurt another living creature? Or do you remain calm, acknowledge feelings and read between the lines to try to understand the source of the anger?
Here are some things to keep in mind when handling an angry toddler:
Some books that I often recommend to clients dealing with challenging or worrisome behaviour include:
The Emotional Life of the Toddler by Alicia F. Lieberman and Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender by Louise Bates Ames. The latter is one in a series of books that looks at each year of a child’s life from a developmental perspective.
Many of us were raised by parents who felt that children should be seen and not heard. They may have believed that if we were encouraged to stand in the spotlight, the attention would go to our heads. Nowadays, parents push their children not just to be their personal best but to outshine everyone else and to rise to the top. This is understandable in light of strong competition in the university system as well as in the workplace. In other words, if you don’t get the highest marks in your class or if you’re not a leader, you may get left behind. This belief is not unfounded. However, in the process of raising children to be fierce leaders and better than the rest, parents may unintentionally be neglecting to teach other important values such as empathy, consideration for others and teamwork.
The trick to raising self-confident and motivated children is to understand how and where to draw the line between boosting their self-esteem and causing them to overestimate their abilities, or to have an over-the-top need for affirmation or admiration.
Consider the following:
When your child comes home with an A on a test, and you respond with something like, ‘I’m not surprised. You’ve always been more intelligent than your friends. You’re top of the class I’m sure.’
Unfortunately, a response such as this sends a message to your child that he or she is better than everyone else. Children who internalize this may become snobby or aloof. This attitude will ultimately not help them in the real world where it is better to appreciate others’ strengths and weaknesses and to show humility.
Instead, focus on their accomplishment. Say something like, ‘Wow, your hard work really paid off’ or ‘you must be proud of yourself.’
After watching your child perform on stage or on the field, you say something like, ‘What would your team do without you? You make them look good!’
This response would unfortunately encourage your child to believe that others cannot function without them around. This does not promote teamwork or humility and gives the child an inflated sense of self. Although you may believe that your child is better than the rest, not everyone will.
Instead of focusing on their performance as being better than others, it may be wiser to say something like: ‘You were all so in sync with one another. It was a pleasure to watch. What great teamwork!’
Also, rather than praising everything your child does or waiting for a positive ending to comment, encourage them during the process. If you notice that their writing skills, for example, have improved, share what you are seeing along the way, as in ‘I can see how hard you’re working at forming your letters.’
In this way, you are focusing on process rather than end result. If you constantly praise your child’s work, he or she may become a praise junkie and constantly look for affirmation and validation from others. This may set tehm up for disappointment and frustration in the real world when they don’t get showered with all the validation and approval they’ve gotten from you.