Sara Dimerman

Sara Dimerman is a psychologist and provides counselling to individuals, couples and families. She is one of North America's most trusted parenting and relationship experts and the author of three books: Am I a Normal Parent?, Character is The Key and How Can I Be Your Lover When I'm Too Busy Being Your Mother?: The Answer to Becoming Partners Again. Learn more or listen to advice from Sara and her colleagues by searching for 'helpmesara' podcasts on iTunes or visiting Follow Sara on Twitter @helpmesara.
Sara Dimerman
May 15, 2015
Sara Dimerman
How to Handle Toddler Tantrums
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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:

  1. Is there a reason for the emotional outburst? Very often, if your toddler is tired, hungry or thirsty, their emotional tone and response will seem disproportionate to the reality of the situation. (Let’s admit, this can be true for adults, too.) If you believe fatigue, hunger or thirst to be the cause of your toddler’s emotional response, simply take steps towards remedying the situation by ignoring the behaviour and planning for an earlier bedtime or providing them with a healthy snack as soon as possible.
  2. Acknowledge their feelings. Anger is as important and healthy an emotion as any other. Holding anger in can be more damaging than letting it out. It’s important to let your toddler know that anger is an acceptable emotion but their behaviour may not be. You can do this by saying something like: ‘I see that you’re angry at the cat for stepping on your puzzle.’
  3. Then, offer suggestions for a change in behaviour next time. For example: ‘Next time you’re angry at the cat for stepping on your puzzle, please ask me to put the cat out of the room. Pulling his tail hurts.’
  4. Ask ‘is this normal?’ Understanding your toddler’s stage of development may help you to normalize the behaviour, or not. Often, a toddler’s desire for increased independence will lead to feelings of anger. Not being able to empathize with others may also lead to anger. Sometimes not having enough words to describe feelings may lead to angry actions instead.
  5. Let your child know how their behaviour affects others and establish limits. ‘When you hit me I feel upset because hitting hurts. It’s okay to feel angry, but next time you hit, I will take you to another part of the room so that you can have some time away from others.’
  6. Do they need your help? If a child is showing frustration in the form of anger, acknowledge their feelings of frustration, then offer assistance. If your child appears out of control, you may want to consider containing their physical and emotional flailing in a loving, comforting way by wrapping your arms around them, putting them on your lap and calming them through soothing words and touch. Also, remember to model your anger in a way that is consistent with what you’d like to see in your toddler. For example, it’s okay to show anger and allow anger to be shown by others so long as no one is getting hurt and the anger is being expressed in a respectful manner.

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.

Comments | Tagged under toddler, tips, behaviour
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How to Raise Kids to Have a Healthy Sense of Self-Esteem
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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.

Comments | Tagged under kids, advice
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