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In a recent article, early childhood expert Tamar Jacobson wrote that young kids' misbehavior often stems from a desire for a relationship. Instead of leaving kids to figure out how to regulate their emotions on their own, it's important for parents and caregivers to help kids develop the tools and language to deal with their feelings. Use these ideas to reframe attention-getting behavior as opportunities for connection:
Slow down and observe
It can be hard to remain neutral when your child gets upset. As much as possible, try to take the role of an observer when your child is having a tantrum. Despite how connected you might feel to what happened, try to see things from your child's perspective. What caused her to become upset? How is she letting these emotions affect her?
Look for the 'why'
Now that you have a sense of the situation, think about why your child is acting this way. What is she seeking? Whether you agree with how your child is acting or not, try to objectively uncover where this behavior is coming from. Look for what types of connections your child may be seeking, or what type of guidance she may need.
Plan your approach
Now that you have a lay of the land, think about how you can help your child navigate her big feelings. Even the most irritating tantrum can be an opportunity to help your child learn how to deal with disappointment and frustration. Consider helping your child by teaching her to take deep breaths, calming your bodies together. Then model how to use language to express feelings, saying something like, "It looks like you got really upset when I took that toy away. It's frustrating to have toys taken away." You can also use this opportunity to explain more of your "why." For example, you might say, "I took the toy away because I had asked you to stop playing with it. If you don't listen, I need to take things away. Next time, you could listen and put the toy away yourself." The key here is not to overexplain, but rather to give your child the language she needs to be able to communicate her feelings.
Learn more about other toddler behavior problems and how to handle them.
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