Since graduating college, I have worked off and on as a behavior interventionist for children with autism. I have been trained at 4 different places and use many of the strategies I learned with my own children. Below are some of the ones that have helped me not only in my work, but in keeping my sanity with my toddler.
The Bringer Of Fun
One of the most important things I learned was to have fun. To play and be silly, be so interesting that the child wants to pay attention to you, be so much fun that they want to keep interacting with you even when you start making demands and asking them to do something.
Easy during a 2-4 hour session. Not so easy when you’re home all day with a toddler who has more energy than that Energizer bunny.
But I take a deep breath, remember it’s quality and not quantity of time spent with my toddler that is most important, and dive back in to play after a blessed 5 minutes sitting down to feed my infant.
Like with the darlings I used to work with, I will be so much fun with my precious son, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
Kids need the opportunity to learn, to make a mistake and then try again. In one session, we repeated each program over and over, giving the child ample opportunities to learn. The same is true of any toddler.
I don’t punish my son the first time he does something wrong or bad. I don’t punish bad behavior the first time it happens. Why? Because he didn’t know. He didn’t know it’s bad to kick or hit or bite the first time. Instead of putting him in time out or yelling or otherwise punish hi, I calmly tell him the behavior is not appropriate and why. I give him the opportunity to try again, telling him to use his words or try an alternate behavior. He does great when he’s given a second chance. He just needed the opportunity to learn.
Keep Calm in the Face of Tantrums
Tantrums happen. They are normal. I was fortunate that I received training to deal with them. I have another post planned to discuss this. For now, I will say that staying calm is key. Instead of reacting to the tantrum or other bad behavior, stay calm. Kids need you to model calmness for them. Getting angry fuels their distress.
Teach in Steps
Just like you teach thing shoes step by step over time, don’t expect a toddler to be able to do everything the first try. You have to teach in steps. Even cleaning up. When working with children with autism, we usually sang a clean up song to let them know it was time to clean up. And I never expect my toddler to clean up a large mess on his own. I leave a small pile and guide him until he can do it on his own. Again, learning opportunities.
A toddler is not in the middle childhood years (around 5-10). They are learning everything for the first time. Don’t expect miracles, or too much, without some guidance.
When working with children with autism, I learned to break everything into steps (tying shoes, making a sandwich, washing hands, etc.). One action per step. Step one, push up sleeves. Step two, pump soap into hands. Etc. We worked starting from either the first or last step and did not move on until the child could do the step entirely on their own.
Remember, Toddlerhood is a Magical Time
Finally, remember toddlerhood happens only once. It’s a magical time of exploration, learning, and fun. So, have fun with your toddler. I know I said that already, but it really is important. If you’re not fun, you probably wouldn’t want to spend time with you, either. Everything is new to a toddler and it is up to us to teach and make sure they have a good time while learning.
I hope some of these can help make toddlerhood a more enjoyable time, especially when it gets overwhelming and exhausting because, honestly, toddlers don’t have an on and off switch and “off” definitely doesn’t exist.
Stay tuned for Part 3: The Explorer!
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