Things I don’t expect of my young toddler
Two year olds don’t look like babies anymore, and they are starting to be able to articulate their ideas, feelings and preferences, but there’s a lot we often ask them to manage that they just can’t handle yet. Often I hear parents talking about how their toddler was awful in a certain situation, and while I understand in the depths of my very exhausted soul how incredibly challenging it can be to be responsible for a person at this stage of life, the phrase I try to remind myself of is “he’s behaving the best that he can.” Kids don’t want to be jerks (even though they are sometimes.)
If my son is really struggling, it’s either a) something he needs to struggle with, or b) because I’ve put him in a situation he doesn’t have the tools or ability to handle yet.
Time outs are popular for kids in my son’s age group, despite the fact thatthere is a boatload of evidence they don’t work. Taking away something he likes isn’t really helpful either, especially if it’s unrelated to the behavior I’m trying to stop. If my kiddo is out of control, discipline in our house takes the form of “I can’t let you do ________. I’m going to help you not _______.” that’s it. We set lots of firm boundaries in this way, because toddlers are boundary testing machines, but punishments, as they are generally conceived of, don’t exist in our house. Discipline certainly does.
There have been times his behavior has trended down hill when he’s had too much screen time, but we haven’t announced to him “you hit me and so you can’t have any screen time anymore!” We simply take away the screen time and continually hold the limit that we’re just not doing screen time right now, and redirect him to other fun options.
Explaining the cause and effect of those actions isn’t going to do anything for him at this age; it’s just my job as the adult to set the boundary and give him the tools to get back on track.
If he starts hitting me with a spatula, I let him know that I can’t let him hit me with a spatula, and he can choose to keep it by not hitting me. If he hits me again, I let him know I am going to help him not hit me with the spatula by putting it away for now, end of story.
Kids with few exceptions are wired for prosocial behavior. They behave as well as they can. I see it as my job as a parent not to set him up for failure, and remove him when I realize a situation is too much for him. That means skipping the birthday party that happens at nap-time, keeping a mental list of restaurants that work well for him and saving the others for date nights, having a back up plan when we’re going to attend an event where he needs to be quiet. These back up plans usually involve each of us parents, and sometimes roping in friends or relatives, taking turns being with him away from the main event. We play this game at restaurants when food is taking a long time too.
This is a situation where using a carrier with our toddler can come in, and I think is totally respectful to him; there’s lots of situations he can handle up on my back that he can’t handle roaming free, and the ability to have him in a carrier at those times means there’s less we need to miss.
Also under the “situations beyond his capacity” category is what most people refer to as “sharing nicely.” I don’t expect my kid to happily share his what he’s playing with or snacks he’s eating, or not to try and take toys from other kids while they are playing together. Before you stop reading, that doesn’t mean my kid never shares.
1. Small kiddo takes an object from big kiddo. If big kiddo is upset, I ask him to find a toy small kiddo would like to play with, and offer her that instead to trade for the toy he wasn’t done playing with. 90% of the time he doesn’t actually care that smaller kiddo took something from him and my intervention isn’t needed.
2. Big kiddo is upset small kiddo is playing with one of his toys that he wasn’t actively playing with. I let him know that when smaller kiddo is here, she has a right to play with stuff if he wasn’t already playing with it. Before smaller kiddo comes, I ask him if there are toys he doesn’t want to share that day, and we put those away to play with after smaller kiddo leaves. Stuff that’s not put away is fair game.
3. Big kiddo takes object from small kiddo. If small kiddo doesn’t care, we leave it alone. If smaller kiddo does care, I tell my bigger kiddo that smaller kiddo was playing with that and can’t ask him for it back themselves yet, so I am doing it for them, and bigger kiddo needs to wait until smaller kiddo is done. Sometimes there are big feelings about this kind of situation, and we talk about them.