Helping kids overcome perfectionism: 4 effective strategies

Helping kids overcome perfectionism: 4 effective strategies

Your kid tries to write and it doesn’t look ‘right’. So they get upset and you notice they never want to try again. Or you play a board game as a family, you kid loses and gets really, really stressed out and throws the board over. Your kid can’t do his math problem and throws a massive tantrum about it. What do you do? How can we help our little ones out in the middle of or to prevent these situations?

While it is tough to see our children shut down and in pain when things don’t immediately go their way, there are strategies that help. I myself am a recovering perfectionist, so it was with some pain that I saw my daughter begin to show the same traits. But what can we do to change this?

First, in the heat of the moment, when a child is frustrated and showing their big feelings about it, I validate, empathise and listen. At that point that is pretty much all you can do as their logical brain (the pre-frontal cortex) shuts down when cortisol (one of the stress hormones) floods the brain. In other words, big feelings stop people from thinking rationally. They CAN’T hear us at that point. We know, though, that the best way to get over feelings is to go through them. Listen and say stuff like ‘yes it is frustrating when we can’t do things as we want’ or ‘… you are upset it didn’t come out how you wanted. That is natural. I understand’. Just like adults, kids respond to being heard and validated and when we stay calm their mirror neurons will do their job and pick up the cue from us and (with lots of time to get their feelings out) will start to return to centre. It can take a long time to get these feelings out but it is amazing how healing a good cry can be. They can come back renewed, re-energised and ready to tackle the challenge again from another angle.

Meanwhile, there are things we can do to help re-orient kids’ brains so they aren’t so hard on themselves next time. Here are some of the main strategies I have tried that have helped my eldest begin to really change that pattern (and me, too):

  1. Focus on effort not on result. We now make a point to cultivate a culture of learning and growth in our family, including through mistakes, perseverance and bounce-back after screw-ups and we make sure that it is clear that 87- paintingresults/achievement are nice but not what impresses us the most. So, it is a move from outcome- to process-orientation. After a day at school, for example, we ask ‘did you have fun?’ and ‘what did you learn’ (rather than ‘were you good?’ or ‘what grade did you get?’) When we praise at all (we keep praise low as we know it messes with internal motivation), we praise (or notice or comment on) effort in a specific, constructive way that gives kids info on how to do it again, next time (eg ‘I saw you really concentrate and look at the ball for the whole trajectory before you batted it’). We do NOT praise outcome (saying ‘good job’; ‘good girl’; ‘well done on your A’, ‘what a beautiful drawing’, etc. give the message that we value results over effort and that in turn inhibits kids from doing anything that might not immediately and easily yield success – in other words they stop trying things that are hard or things they may fail at, on their first go… which leads to a stagnation in learning, only doing that which comes easy and, in a word, to perfectionism. In order to help a kid become more resilient and focussed on the learning process, praise or notice their strategies and their thinking rather than the result – ‘wow, you put a lot of thought into that drawing’, ‘I saw you try and try and try before you managed to do that. Do you feel proud that you stuck with it?’. ‘You kept at that puzzle for so long, even though it was hard. I know all that effort and learning will help your brain grow’… that kind of thing). Read Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’ if you want to understand this more deeply and check out the video based on her work linked below.
  2. Openly and lightly laugh at your own mistakes (as in ‘no big deal’ and ‘this is how we learn’) and let your child see you doing it. Ham it up and be goofy about it. ‘Ooops, Iook at me I read that word all wrong – hahahah’. [I learnt this tip from a talk I listened to by Lawrence Cohen, author of ‘Playful Parenting’]
  3. Harness the power of stories to illustrate to kids the importance (or at least inevitability) of making mistakes in our journeys toward success. Tell lots of stories about your own learning process and how many mistakes you made along the way. Kids (particularly perfectionists) LOVE this stuff. They lap it up. For a while, my kid couldn’t get enough of stories about potty accidents… then it went on to stories about all kinds of accidents and mishaps, especially by otherwise confident, successful seeming adults. ;) Also, if they are into that kind of thing, read them or tell them stories of famous successful people and point out how many gazzilion times things went wrong before they achieved success (in whatever field from basketball to science, from art to business) and how important it was for those people to ‘keep getting back on the horse’, even after getting something wrong publicly and feeling embarrassed. Emphasise how much they had to practice to become great, too. Real winners are not just people with talent but people who put in the work to keep improving and who develop the resilience to bounce-back when failure inevitably knocks on their door, too. That is where greatness is made.
  4. On a very different note, there is also a flower essence called ‘Yellow Cowslip Orchid‘ from Australian Bush Flower Remedies which specifically helps people overcome perfectionism and being over-critical of themselves. It is amazing. It is what helped my child start to try to write again – before she was too hard on herself as her letters didn’t come out how she wanted them, right off. Flower essences work fast and well – especially on children, in my experience. They are not ‘homeopathic remedies’ but they work a bit like that. They are vibrational essences of flowers – a famous example of one being ‘Rescue Remedy’ but there are so many ones out there. They are just amazing at helping us overcome psychological or emotional blockages. Sound weird? Sure… but they work, what can I say? Try them. :)

All these strategies I have used on my child (and in a modified version on myself) and they really help. Some of it, like changing the way we ‘praise’ our kids, takes time and… well… practice but they all really help make progress and help kids understand that old adage, that the process of ‘genius’ is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

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Here are some other very helpful pieces on this subject:

Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand Parenting’s When things don’t go perfectly: How to help kids with perfectionism

For perfectionist parents, Dr. Laura Markham’s My name is Laura and I am a (recovering) perfectionist

A GREAT little video on the power of ‘constructive’ vs ‘destructive’ praise (my words, not hers): Carol Dweck’s research on praise


Emotional release feels good – to kids, too.

The other day I was driving and the memory of a dear friend of ours who passed away some years ago, just before our wedding in fact, popped into my head. Perhaps I never grieved his passing properly as I had so much going on at the time. I really wanted to cry, to get the emotion all out and ‘get over it’ once and for all, but I could not because I was driving.

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Once, when I was a waitress at a casino (long story), I dropped a tray full of glasses and they broke. This was before the casino was open and my colleagues rushed around me to help tidy up. I burst into tears. My friend said ‘but they are only glasses’. The tears gushed forward. It was NOT about the glasses. That was just the last straw. All that stress and pent-up emotion I had been carrying around the last few days, was finally bursting out. I picked up the glasses but let the crying flow on. It seemed to be what I needed at the time.

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Very often I have had the experience that I feel so much better after sharing. Having someone you can just let it all out with and really vent about what is going on in your life, knowing they create a safe listening space, don’t judge and don’t take things personally (or try and make it about them or whatever). Sometimes you just need to tell someone how you feel for it to shift. 

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Crying childToday, I listened to my child cry for over twenty minutes. I was there, right up close to her, holding her at times, touching her at other times, engaging in eye contact whenever that felt right to her. She cried until she cried herself to sleep in my arms.

I would not have done this some time ago. I would have done what most parents do and tried hard to distract her (“look at the doggy”; “do you want a cookie?”) or tried to fix it (“is it because you are scared of the noise?”) or plain placate her (“there, there, you can have that toy and that one, too, if you want” – okay that is too far, but you get the picture). This time, I just stayed firm and weathered the storm with her, peacefully, lovingly.

This is NOT an easy option. It is hard emotional work for her and for me, as her ‘listening partner’. I am doing it because I have come to a place of understanding that for children (as well as for adults) the road to emotional health and wellbeing comes through full expression of our feelings. Whenever we do not allow ourselves to fully accept, express and release whatever emotions come up for us, they stay within us, lingering, festering, clogging us up.

Sometimes the difficulty lies in admitting we could have these feelings in the first place. ‘I shouldn’t be upset about something so little’ or ‘only a petty person would still be angry about that!’  – we judge ourselves and think we should be above these base feelings. But we are human. Feelings come whether we want them or not. Then our only choice is how to deal with them. Many of us (consciously or more often unconsciously) distract ourselves with other thoughts or by staying busy and/or we stuff the emotions down with food, alcohol or narcotics. Anything to stop us from admitting we feel things we ‘shouldn’t’ or don’t want to feel.

These emotions, packed down like this, continue to affect us and come out in strange ways, everything from passive-aggressive comments, defensiveness, a chip on our shoulder and the like to actual physical ailments said to be caused by ‘stress’; not to mention a difficulty in attracting and maintaining happy, stable, mutually supportive relationships, on all levels. Whenever we move to honestly look at and ex-press (literally: ‘push out’) our feelings we feel lighter, happier within ourselves, stronger and more capable of moving forward.

I have known this for myself for years. It is only slowly dawning on me that this could be the case for the little ones in our lives, too.

We are often so afraid of children’s emotions that we move Heaven and Earth to stop them coming up, but who is this helping? And are we doing this because it serves them or because these strong, passionate, free-flowing shows of emotion make us feel uncomfortable? Or even because they make us feel inadequate as parents – ‘if they are crying it must be because I did or failed to do something’, ‘there is an un-met need I did not attend to… what is it?!’, ‘I am just not good enough’…? Or perhaps we just fear judgement and what others will think of us if they see our child crying or raging in a public place. And these are all understandable fears but should we let them guide our behaviour toward these innocent beings we love so much?

I am lucky. As a mama-blogger and living among this powerful community of natural mammas in Northern California I have learned so much. Through many different channels, I keep coming across this idea that there is another way to approach and support a crying, distressed child. Time outs are not for me. I have read too much Alfie Kohn (or should I say ‘enough’) to  know that if I respond to my heart’s desire of hugging my child at her hour of need (rather than outcasting her) this is actually the best and most effective thing I could do, as shown by research. [I don’t mean being soft or permissive. I am actually quite assertive on many levels with her. My ‘no’ means ‘no’ but when she is sad or mad about it, I don’t punish her for it. That is a whole other huge topic though and much has been blogged about it, so let me stay on track here.]

Anyway, one of the main ‘authorities’ I kept being pointed to in this field is called Patty Wipfler and she is the leading light at an organisation called Hand in Hand Parenting, here in Palo Alto, CA. Here is the thing though. I kept hearing about her. Lawrence Cohen who wrote Playful Parenting (a book I LOVE) recommends this organisation. This is an internationally famous book, what are the odds that he would recommend a center just down the road from me?! And that is not all, my online blogger-friend and inspiration Genevieve  co-founder of the Peaceful Parent Institute also talked of the amazing teaching from this school called Hand in Hand Parenting. She is based in New Zealand. That was that, I thought: ‘I have to go check these people out’. So I signed up for one of their courses.

Given the international exposure this place has obviously got, I expected the workshop to be in a shining, modern room filled with eager parents. Nope. There were three of us on this course, in a dingy room in a local church. Hey, I am not complaining, it was very cosy and family-like, rather than big and corporate (which is what I expected). It was run by Todd Erickson who has trained with Patty.


Image by World of Oddy via Flickr

The mini-course was called ‘Tantrum Training’ and though I joked a lot about the fact that they were going to teach me how to shout ‘noooo!’ at the top of my lungs and stamp my feet with aplomb, it was actually freakin’ fabulous!

Their work is all about what I was talking about, above. It is about meeting and honouring the child’s emotions, rather than trying to repress, suppress or otherwise distract from what is going on, inside them. As one participant said, allowing her kid to work on and release his emotions, now, was helping him not accumulate baggage to carry around with him, later – hahaha. Loved that one.

Hand in Hand’s approach, in a way, brings together many practices I have been gathering from many sources over the years (some way before being a parent). NinjaDad said theirs was like the SmartPhone of parenting philosophies. Old phones just made calls. New phones unite phone, camera, games console, video recorder, computer, etc… lots of things you love all in one place. Hand in Hand Parenting did that for me: it brought together lots of disparate ideas and practices and organised them neatly into one system AND added in some new components that made the whole run better. Perhaps it is apt that they are just down the road from Apple :)

A quick summary of their teaching (as I understand it) goes like this: set aside some ‘Special Time’ to connect through play with your child each day and build a strong bond with them – that is the ‘prevention side’ (and they have specific advice, tips and guidelines for doing that); if/when a strong emotion arises for your kid, don’t move to distract or otherwise suppress the emotion coming up. Let the feeling come and be expressed fully. Know that the tears, the raging, the trembling are just the way to ex-press (push out) the feeling that is trapped and welling inside them. The crying, the tantrum is not the ‘problem’ but your child’s way of solving the problem and letting the hurt and frustration out!

This is genius stuff and so different from what we are taught and see modelled in the world most of the time. And the most important thing is: it works!

Yes, it is hard to see your child cry and ‘do’ nothing but actually you are doing a lot. The advice we are given by Hand in Hand, when the child starts to tantrum, cry or rage, is to move in closer, touch them in some way that feels natural and comfortable to you both (i.e. don’t force it) and engage in eye contact (or at least provide opportunity for them to see the love you have for them pouring from your eyes, when/if they are ready to look at you) and stay with them as they feel it all out. You can literally say to them ‘I am staying with you, I am not going anywhere’ along with other short (non-intrusive) support statements like ‘I know you are feeling sad’ or ‘you are very mad that you can’t play with your trucks anymore because it is raining’ (or whatever). But mostly you just stay with them, holding the space for them to express anything that they feel.

If you go back to my initial examples from my life, you’ll know there are times I wish I could have done that for myself and times I am grateful others were there holding a non-judgemental space for me when I cried or just talked about how big my feelings were getting about whatever little thing sparked it that day.

And here is the thing, with this new approach to my child’s upsets came huge relief for me. You might think this is ‘harder’ than distracting and in a way, it is (as I said). It is deeper work. It involves pure, unconditional listening, empathy, caring and emotional availability. But in other ways, once I got past some of the objections in my mind (like: ‘isn’t this just like ‘cry it out re-packaged for more sensitive hippies?’ or ‘will all this crying damage my child?’ or even ‘will letting her tantrum openly this much make her spoilt and soft?’), once I got past those though, this felt lighter to me. This act of stepping toward rather than away from my child’s pain felt empowering to me, too, as a mother. Before, each time she cried I felt a stab of helplessness followed by a flurry of activity to try and stop that noise. Now, the invitation is to stay calm and centered as I invite her into my certainty that all is well, even as the tears, the feelings are flowing. And with this she can follow her own instinctive pull to express her feelings in the most natural ways that come to her, until all of them are spent.

And, as I said, the beautiful gift is that it works. Anya woke up from the nap she fell into, between tears, and despite my fear that she might be withdrawn, brooding or angry at me, her mood was happy, trusting, playful. And in general, since starting this work on a more systematic basis, she has been calmer, more at ease and more confident. Even her dad commented on it. I am new at this, but she really seems MUCH less anxious about separating from me, too, which is huge and I am (despite continuing to find my own individual path through this teaching) seeing more and more ways this is bringing us closer together and helping her release a back-log of fears, anxieties and upsets. Bless this system and others like it, for helping us parents find new ways to dance to rhythm of our own hearts.

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Sources of further information:

  1. The Right Use of Will – this is an… uh… unusual book I read a while back. But I have got to tell you it changed me and it introduced me to what I still think is the best method for identifying and releasing pent up feelings. If you can embrace the hippy in you, suspend your disbelief and read this with an open mind, it might really speak to you. It did to me.
  2. Hand in Hand Parenting – online courses (for those of you not based in the Bay Area)
  3. Hand in Hand Parenting Blog – full of fabulous real life stories of how connecting through ‘Special Time’ and deep listening (what Patty Wipfler calls ‘StayListening’) are benefitting the families using these powerful tools for whole-family-emotional-intelligence
  4. Aletha Solter and the Aware Parenting Institute – Aletha Solter is a world-renowned author and teacher in the area of effective, gentle parenting. Her website (linked her) has a wealth of articles and resources to help us learning parents
  5. Playful Parenting– information on Lawrence Cohen, PhD’s brilliant books and lecture series
  6. BabyCalmer – a facebook community of like-minded parents
  7. The Way of the Peaceful Parent – the facebook page of an inspiring gentle parenting instructor, full of wisdom and practical advice

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Do you do this for your child – practice what Patty Wipfler calls ‘StayListening’ or what, Aletha Solter calls ‘crying in arms’? How does it work for your family? Are you seeing the ‘results’ – a happier, more connected child that expresses their feelings easily, often, fully?

Yes, I defend my child’s right to say ‘no’

If  I only had one word, if I was laid up in bed or something, couldn’t talk, couldn’t sign and for some reason my brain could only put together one word and if I could chose that word, now, I would chose the word ‘No’. It is a very powerful word. If I were (God forbid) unable to communicate or move I am expecting other people would be making a lot of choices for me. They would probably be doing things unto me, over me, around me… making decisions that I wouldn’t make for myself. The word ‘no’ might be the only word I need. Whenever they are doing things that I can live with, things that are loving and aligned with who I am and what I want, I could comfortably continue saying nothing and letting them do what they do. But if a line were crossed into something I really didn’t want to have done to me, then I could use my word to confidently assert that !

If I had just one other expression, I would chose ‘Thank you’ so I could express gratitude for all the work and care these grace-filled helpers were putting into maintaining my wellbeing.

Now I wonder if being a toddler is not a little like this. So much happening to them, decisions being made for them, they are physically picked up and moved and taken (sometimes expressly against their will) to places they don’t want to go before they were ready to leave. No wonder one of their first words is ‘NO’!! No wonder it is my child and so many children’s favourite word. That word is power.

I have said already my kid is not even 18 months old yet, but what I see in her is that word is freedom. It puts her for a second on an equal pegging – ‘I get a say, too. I am not just something to be moved and plopped somewhere else. I am a person and I deserve respect and choice!’ and most often when she uses the power of this word it is not to tell me ‘no, never’ it usually just means ‘not just yet, mom’ or ‘let me think about it for a moment while I finish what I am doing, mom’ but she is not quite articulate enough to say all that yet, so I fill in the words for her by looking in her eyes, feeling into her energy as it shifts through the day, as we do our dance.

Every ‘no’ I hear, I try to listen into it. Honestly sometimes I laugh. It is still fresh enough that it is cute. In fact my daughter doesn’t actually say ‘no’ yet, she signs it. I modified the sign from ASL to be easier for her, I gave her a proper, cool finger waggle and I love when she gets that finger out. ‘No, mommy’ (waggle, waggle). ‘I don’t want to put my PJs on yet. Thank you.’ And I remember, I probably wouldn’t want to be told what to do, when to do it and how to do it all the time, either. I might still have a lot to learn about this (the ‘terrible twos’ lay still ahead of me laughing… or is that screaming and banging their fists on the floor at me?!) but for now, I let her have some ‘nos’. I let her have as many as possible.


How to tame a toddler, gently – ten easy tips

Cry baby

Image by joanneQEscober (tacit requiem) via Flickr

My baby is nearly  18 months old. The ‘terrible twos’ are hurtling towards us – and the first signs are here. She is slowly stretching her will-power-muscles. She is discovering she is a separate person, with separate wants and she is learning she can ask, nay demand, to have those wants met. This is a super-empowering time and I am proud of her for finding her voice… and I am having a chance to learn how best to respond to these new strong emotions as they come rushing up for my child.

But here’s the thing: I am all into gentle discipline. I have been inspired by friends as well as by authors like Alfie Kohn and I am convinced by the research that has found that not only is this approach more humane and empathic but it is actually more effective in producing emotionally balanced, secure, caring grown-ups.

Alas, being committed to gentle discipline means I know a lot of what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to hit, yell, bribe, ignore, punish, isolate in a time-out or otherwise attempt to manipulate my daughter into being or behaving how want (unless it is for her or someone else’s safety, of course). I want to listen and I want to learn about who she is. I want to find strategies for co-existing which respect both my needs and hers. This is about focussing on the inner motivations for what kids do and always  acknowledging what is true for them, their feelings, needs and desires. In other words instead of concentrating, for example, on the fact that she is screaming and then moving to stamp that behaviour out, I will ask myself what it is that she is trying to communicate, really, and – where possible – respond with compassion to the underlying need or challenge she is facing… or, at the very least, help her express these overwhelming feelings, as they surge through her little body, in more benevolent ways (say instead of hitting her sister, hitting a pillow).

What this entails, at its core, is a shift from looking at behaviour to looking at relationship. The foundation of ‘gentle discipline’ is respect, clear communication and empathy and (though I am VERY MUCH A BEGINNER at this) I find so much of it is about prevention. It is about spending 90% of the time forging a strong bond so that in that 10% of times when they test you and ‘misbehave,’ you have a base of trust there, to fall back on.

“But what does this look like in practice?” you ask. Here is my starter kit, gentle parenting tips for beginners. These are 10 ideas for working with your toddler, toward peaceful transitions and mutually beneficial outcomes (a.k.a meltdown prevention measures):

  1. Tell them what you want them to do, not what you don’t want. This is classic but remember their language skills are very basic and they pretty much pull out key words. If you say ‘don’t hit the dog’, they pretty much hear ‘hit… dog…’. But even with adults, it is far more effective to state requests in the positive. As they say in ‘the Secret’, there is no use telling a taxi driver where not to go, if you want to give effective direction, tell them where you do want to go.
  2. Be consistent. Kids at this age are all about forming ‘rules’ and patterns about what is happening in the world. It is very confusing to them, then, if one day daddy allows them to play on the computer and watch YouTube and the next day they cannot. It is far easier and will lead to far less pestering, in my experience, if you just set a rule and stick to it. You don’t need to go on about it, kids will love and be entertained by what they can do and not pine for what they can’t… unless they keep getting little teases of it and then told it is off limits again. Give them a clear message about what they can do.
  3. Show don’t tell. Toddlers are mainly in a realm of movement and action. Verbal commands don’t mean so much to them (and according to Steiner best leave ‘logic’ arguments out of it until they are about seven). If you want a toddler to do something, you can put it in words, yes (and that helps them acquire the vocab that  enables them to first thing and later talk about these things) but also physically show them what you want them to do either by modelling it for them (e.g. cleaning the table, walking over here or whatever) or by moving their body (e.g. removing the rock from their mouth for them, rather than verbally asking them to do it, from across a room and then getting angry at them for not complying). Be the change.
  4. Give advanced warning. Transitions can be sooo hard for toddlers – and probably would be for you, too, if you were really into doing something and then someone else came and grabbed you and told you that was over. Bwaaah! One of the easiest ways I have found to lessen the stress is to follow the advice to give toddlers a ‘heads up’. If I am cutting Baby off from berries I say ‘this is the last one’ when I hand the last allotted one for today to her (or the last handful or whatever) and it is amazing how accepting she then is when the next time she asks (a minute later) and I say that we are done for today. She might still protest, but it is demonstrably less. The same works for saying there is ‘one more minute left at the toy store’ or ‘one more go on the swing’. It is also helpful to just give an advanced running commentary of what is to come: ‘we are going to go to the car and then you’ll go in your car seat and we’ll go for a drive to Ellie’s house’… or whatever. It really seems to make things so much easier for them, they no longer seem lost in a sea of unpredictability and uncontrolled chaos (from their point of view). It is always good to feel in the loop.
  5. Make it fun. Put yourself in their shoes – what would make this seemingly mundane task, like say putting your PJs on less of an annoying strain which gets in the way of play and more like a game, itself? What is working for us at the moment is to name body parts. If I ask Anya where her bellybutton/knees/hair/what-have-you is, she’ll stop almost anything to ‘tell’ me. But you also got to keep changing it up. You know that game will become boring then you’ll have to come up with a new one that keeps stretching your kids area of interest.
  6. Let Teddy do it first. If your kid has a favourite toy, it might amaze you how much easier it is to persuade them to do something if their teddy/monkey/doggy/tractor has already done it first. This works for anything from diapering to getting into the car, for us, at the moment.
  7. Only offer meaningful choices that you will follow through on. I find if you ask a toddler a yes or no question their instinct (unless it involves swings or strawberries) is to say ‘no’. It is good to give a constructive choice (say between walking to grandma’s or going in a carrier or stroller, for example) when it is something they really can determine. At the same time, the key is not to make it seem like there is a choice if there isn’t. Don’t ask “Do you want to go to grandma’s house?'” when really you mean “It’s time to go to grandma’s, now” (which by the way can be a very clear and positive way to announce it). Again, toddlers like structure and predictability and if you tell them in advance that you are going to grandma’s, chances are they may take your word for it. Of course if they really object, you might want to get down into the possible causes for that, understand what needs of theirs are not being met and how you can change this so that both your needs (and schedule) are being attended to and your child’s needs for love, support, play, etc are being met. Which leads us to:
  8. Stay flexible. Be open to renegotiation and understanding their point of view. If your toddler feels strongly about something like staying at the park a little longer, for example, and you check inside (in your heart) and find dinner can wait, don’t be a hard-arse just for the sake of it, listen to your little guy or girl just like you would to another person – yes you CAN treat a child with the same respect you afford an adult. Dance with them and find a movement that suits you both.
  9. Slow down. Wherever possible I try and move toddler speed (ahaha) and with her energy. I figure so much of the world and her life are being dictated to her at this point that whenever I can I slow down and allow it to take half an hour just to change a diaper without coercion or tears. Okay I say ‘allow’ – that makes it seem like I have a choice and am always in control and if you have a toddler you know that is a joke! But what I mean is I don’t fight it, I just relax and go with it and let her take the time to make this transition peacefully, gleefully.
  10. Channel the energy. Most of these tips are preventative, but if your kids engages in a behaviour that you want to curb, presto, one of the best ways is to tap into and re-direct that same energy. Say your kid is hitting your new table with a heavy toy truck. Instead of having a meltdown yourself and yelling the word nooooooo across the room, try just atuning to what they are getting out of it. If they are into the noise of banging and want to learn about cause and effect, just quietly move them from banging the table to hitting another surface you are okay with them hitting like a shoe-box or… come on, you are a mom (or dad) you must have some toddler proof thing they can hit?! Reinforce it with words, of course, but again keep it positive and find a way of turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’: ‘you can’t hit the table but you CAN hit this box’ and then show them with gusto how fun it is to hit the box. In fact, finding as many times and ways as possible to say ‘Yes’ to your toddler is a wonderful way to show you understand it sucks that they otherwise hear the word ‘no’ an average of 30 times per hour!!! Be a firm but gentle ‘Yes’-parent.
      11.  Distract, distract, dis… what? If all else fails and the (sometimes) inevitable meltdown does occur, one of the best tools to use on kids this age is still distraction. They are so wonderfully in the moment that if you bring them out of the cause of the anxiety and point them toward something they love – especially if you engage their curiosity by asking questions about it – that can completely bring them to a new place. It is almost magical. Don’t get me wrong, this should come AFTER listening and honouring your child’s emotions, acknowledging them, accepting and releasing them. Crying is good. Sometimes a feeling just needs to be felt… but rarely does it need to be fed or indulged. Acknowledge it, remind them (with actions and words) that feeling sad/angry/frustrated/etc is just fine and normal and then, when it feels right and they seem open to it, help them move on from that.

In our household we have two other things working for us. The first is Attachment Parenting which means I am so connected to my baby I can really feel what she wants and needs a lot (not all!) of the time and can move easily with her, often. The second is Sign Language – which further helps to close any gap in understanding as she can tell me so much of what she wants and could starting at nine months. And being able to show that we really understand what is going on for our little ones is a huge part of Gentle Parenting. In fact, ‘terrible twos’ are said not to exist in other cultures, where mother and baby move as one. But, hey, I am from this culture and see different moods rising for my daughter… so the learning continues.
Please do get in touch and tell me which of these work for you or, better still, add to the list with other ways to wrangle a toddler successfully and with love. Thank you.