Toddlers and Self-Control: A Survival Guide for Parents
19 December 2016
/ by Claire Lerner, LCSWC and Rebecca Parlakian, Zero to Three
Recognize that it‘s not easy being a toddler. There are an awful lot of things toddlers need to do that they don’t want to do, like getting in the car seat, stopping play to take a nap when they are NOT tired, or sharing their treasures. Let your child know you understand: “You’re really disappointed that we can’t go to the playground today.” “You’re mad that I won’t let you have ice cream before dinner. I totally get that.” “You are so frustrated with that train — it is so hard to make it stay on the track.” Giving your child the words to describe his feelings is the first step toward helping him manage his emotions and develop self-control.
Play games that require impulse control. Color one side of a paper plate red and the other green, and play some “stop and go” games. Hold up the green sign and let her run. Then turn to the red side and wait for her to stop. Play “freeze dance” with music. When the music is on, your child dances; when you stop it, she has to freeze.
Use pretend to practice self-control. When a stuffed animal gets really mad or does something it shouldn’t, problem-solve how “Mr. Bear” might deal differently with the challenge he’s facing.
Set appropriate limits with natural consequences. Even though your child may not be able to follow a rule yet, it is still important to set a few simple family rules. Look at it as an important way of teaching and guiding your child. Stay calm and explain the rule (“No throwing toys. If you throw the truck, I will have to put it away”). If your child tests the limit, calmly implement a natural, age-appropriate consequence, like taking away an object that he is misusing. Through everyday interactions like these, children develop the brain connections they need to master the skill of self-control.
Take your own temperature. As a parent, you have a lot of power. Your child is taking his cues from you when it comes to managing emotions. Learning to manage and make sense of your own feelings — and getting help when you need it (and we all do) — is the best way to help your child develop self-control. Responding thoughtfully, rather than reacting, is one important way that parents support their children’s healthy development.
Find more ways to help your child manage their emotions and develop self-control:
Data presented here are drawn from an online survey of adults conducted for ZERO TO THREE and The Bezos Family Foundation by SoAct Consulting, an independent research company. The survey was conducted in October 2015 among a nationally representative sample of 2,200 parents of children aged birth through 5 years. The Margin of Error at the 95% confidence level for a sample of 2200 is +/- 2.1%.