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What your child needs

Attention! Lots and lots of attention. Why now? Why are they asking so many questions? Why are they talking so much? Children at this age are incredibly emotional, curious and… dramatic.

At this age, paying them enough attention is important, but denying them your attention can also be a powerful tool in encouraging good behaviour.

What your child wants

Your child is beginning to assert his or her identity that is separate from yours, so he or she may deliberately be contrary, or repeatedly resist your instructions. Proactively interrupt this behaviour by presenting your child with choices – be it choosing meals (keep it simple for the younger ones and give two or three choices, instead of thrusting the entire menu at the child, which leads to havoc), clothes, the activity of the day, etc.

Manage the stimulation your child receives

At this stage, a child’s prefrontal cortex is in its early development; so while children experience the world at the same rate as we do, they take a longer time to process it and may lose control of their emotions when overstimulated. Give your child a break after periods of activity, to avoid your child melting down into an inconsolable tantrum.

We talked about the science of tantrums in our latest podcast. Tune in to learn more.

  • Brief and debrief – This sounds military, but think of it as the deliberate act of communicating to your child, your expectations, your hopes and suggestions of what appropriate behaviours would be, particularly when the child is about to be introduced to new people, a new environment or an event. Your child is incredibly curious, so “planting” these suggestions could save you a lot of trouble.
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  • Debriefing your child allows you to recognise your child’s efforts, positive behaviours and reinforces your child’s decision to behave well. You may also choose to highlight certain actions that could have had better alternatives.
  • Be demonstrative – In the same way your toddler displays his or her understanding of your actions by imitating you, imitate your toddler to help him or her understand why certain actions could be inappropriate. Then show your toddler what actions are preferred. Ask your toddler how he or she feels – they are capable of understanding more complex emotions now.
  • Do not bend to their will – Parents may not realise this, but children can be passive aggressive at this age; and learn very quickly, what actions may be “excusable”, e.g. ignoring a parent while watching tv. Be firm and be consistent.
  • Encourage self-reflection – Ask open ended questions to learn more and discover how your child thinks, before expressing your opinions and guidance on the matter. Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
    E.g. I know you wanted to play with the toy, but Thomas wanted to play it too. It’s okay to be upset, shall we play something else while we wait for our turn?

At this age, your child has not yet developed the ability to understand empathy, or the comprehend the concept that others may perceive and feel differently, so he or she would need your help to explain it.

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