Sunday, April 21, 2013

Toddler Tactics - Positive Foundations

Before I outline in greater detail each of my individual Toddler Tactics that I use for conflict avoidance or resolution, I first want to set the stage by mentioning a few general principles that allow these strategies to be as effective as possible. 

In order to successfully avoid or deflate conflicts with a toddler, I've found that it helps to show respect, to start with healthy assumptions, to have realistic expectations and to cultivate patience. Without this positive and loving foundation to work from, these strategies will not work to their full potential.

The corner stone of a positive foundation is respect.  Children are people too and their wishes, their play and their desires must be taken seriously for them to feel respected.  It's one thing to say that we respect our children, but it matters not if our children do not feel respected. All of my tactics have the desire for a respectful relationship at their core so I'll be elaborating on this in upcoming posts. Essentially, I define respect for children as thinking about the things we do and say from their perspective and endeavoring to make sure that our actions are sensible and fair to them.

The second stone in a positive foundation is having healthy assumptions.  Our perceptions of the world shape our reality and this is most certainly also true in regards to our children.  I go by the basic assumption that my (and all) children are fundamentally good.  They want to please us and act in a manner that will gain our approval.  Acts of misbehavior always have an explanation behind them.  Sometimes children feel misunderstood and lack the language skills to convey their frustrations.  Sometimes they get tired and hungry and wound up and forget the social skills they've learned.  Focusing on their innately good qualities helps us to see children in the best possible light. I try to remind Riker (and myself) all the time that he is a good, kind, thoughtful and loving boy.  Like adults, children are very much affected by the labels we give them, and will live up (or down) to them with alarming frequency.

Realistic expectations are extremely important in maintaining parental sanity.  Having a basic understanding of child psychology and development makes it easier to endure outbursts, defiance and anti-social behaviors, so many of which are entirely appropriate behavior for someone who is learning how to manage their emotions, get along with others, follow directions, plan for the future and establish a sense of independence.  Additionally, having realistic expectations makes us more forgiving of both our children and of ourselves, an especially important ability since as parents, we are often worried about what other parents think of us or our children.  Realistic expectations can also remind us that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks - our primary goal should be to do right by our children.  

Finally, the tactics I've come to rely on will not work without a good deal of patience.  It's unreasonable to expect that when a toddler is misbehaving, that a strict command will fix things up immediately.  It takes time to negotiate and to make sure that both parties feel that an issue has been satisfactorily resolved.  Sometimes this means making my child or other children and their parents wait while we find a solution to a problem. One of the best methods I use to cultivate patience is to think of myself as a diplomat.  Toddlers are in many ways like little visitors from a foreign land.  They are seeking to understand our customs but make many social blunders along the way.  In attempting to foster positive foreign relations, diplomacy is far superior to coercion and threats.  If I can channel the tact I would use as a diplomat interacting with a foreign dignitary, I find that I can respond with more respect and patience when faced with challenging toddler moments.  When I find myself about to lose my cool, I try to call to mind one of one my trusted parenting mantras to help me regain composure. 

Finally, the strategies I'll be outlining rely on the principle of connection before correction. The basic premise of attachment theory is that toddlers can grow into autonomous and competent children only if they can rely on an adult who makes them feel safe and protected.  From this basic feeling of security grows the impetus to try out new skills and to learn how things work in the world. Connection before correction assures that above all, a positive relationship is maintained with our children. This doesn't mean being permissive or never offering discipline - it simply means that a secure connection is the basis for earning respect and ensuring that children want to act in a way that please us.

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