Toddler Communication

Toddler life is so exciting, ever changing, demanding and challenging. My son is 2 and 4 months and my daughter 6 months. My biggest challenge is how to communicate with my son when he has a day of whining or having mini tantrums (some physical). I stay with him and then try talk to him at what feels like the best moment, to validate his feelings and find a way forward. However that often makes him start again or seem to go inward. Please help me to support him through these times.

Dear parent,

At such a young age, your child is not likely to be responsive to words. He needs touch, connection and to know that he is loved and worthy by your actions. Instead of learning how to respond to his tantrums and aggression, I would like to start by suggesting ways to take away his distress in the first place. His tantrums are for a reason. The reason can be at least reduced. 

Your children are very close in age. Your son is most likely experiencing distress about the loss of being the baby of the family. You didn’t say that he is hurting the baby, but I think my article “When Your Child Hurts the Baby” will be helpful because your child is most likely reacting to the extreme change that comes with a new baby:

In my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, toward the end, there is a whole section about helping a young child to deal with jealousy and self-doubt that arise from having a new baby. It starts with understanding how incredibly painful it is for your child and how he ends up feeling guilty because of having fantasies of hurting the baby. In the book you will also find specific guidance of play therapy that will help your child feel secure again. 

Give your son a sense that his life is still intact and that you love him more than any words can tell. Make sure you have one-on-one time with him daily; when the baby is asleep, as soon as dad comes home, and in bits of time when you dress him, nurse etc. Always let him know, “While I hold the baby, I love you.” Do your best to hold, cuddle, and if you tandem nurse, to give him the eye contact he is used to. 

Make sure your son doesn’t have to give up his joys because of his baby sister. If you say, “I can’t be with you now because I am putting the baby to sleep,” your son will feel hurt and develop self-doubt. Instead, say, “I can’t wait to be with you. As soon as the baby is asleep you and I can do whatever you want.” Or, if your son wakes the baby up, don’t come across like your real treasure (the baby) was harmed by the less important one. Instead you can say, “Woops, she woke up.” Then give him a hug and whisper, “Its fine, maybe she will go back to sleep. If not, we will play with her together.” 

When your child has a tantrum, validate while he cries, not later. Later he does not remember feelings. They are gone. In addition, children often resent having their feelings spelled out for them. They feel connected when you speak about the facts instead, “You wanted the banana whole and it broke,” or, “You wish the baby was gone so you can be with me all by yourself.” It is good if your validation causes him to cry more and he releases his emotions. However, if he screams, indicating he wished you wouldn’t say anything, be quiet and present. 

We, parents, speak too much. You can hold your distressed child if he lets you and say nothing, or as little as, “I know how you feel.” Or, “I understand. I love you.” Hugs (when he is ready) are powerful. Let him hit a doll, pretending it is a baby or just let him unleash in his own way, without words. Mostly, make time for just you and him and make is focused, personal and fulfilling. 

Warmly, Naomi Alodrt


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