Staying Patient

patienceLet’s be honest: toddlers and young preschoolers can wear on even the most patient person’s nerves. From the constant questions (“why?” “wat dat?” “where mama go?”) to the wild mood swings and outbursts, life with one to three year old kids can be difficult. But screaming back at your angry two year old is not going to help him learn how to handle his difficult emotions. Telling your heartbroken three year old to stop crying and “get over it” after she spills her ice cream is not going to make her feel better about the ice cream or herself. Smacking your twenty month old’s hand for pulling the cat’s tail does not teach him how to give gentle touches.

Here are a few tips for staying patient with your child (these don’t only apply to toddlers and preschoolers, but those are the ages I am most familiar with).

1. Be Silly and Play: Play is a child’s “main way of communicating, of experimenting, and of learning.” (1) Play is such an important part of children’s lives that there is an entire therapeutic technique based entirely on play. (2) And not only is it important to get regular play time in with your child, but you can also avoid arguments and stress by being silly and playing with your child when you foresee a problem. I recommend reading Dr. Cohen’s book Playful Parenting for more ideas in this area.

2. Try Alternatives to “Punishment”: Rather than resorting to immediate “punishment” or “consequences,” take a few minutes to cool off before addressing your child when you are angry. Hitting your child, humiliating him with harsh words, threatening him, or calling him names all leave emotional scars. Instead of punishment, try making a connection. Your child is more likely to understand and communicate when they are not cowering in fear of a scary, angry parent. Give your child a hug, pull him aside, and talk quietly -without judgment – about what happened. You are more likely to get to the root of the problem by connecting with your child than you are while smacking him. (3)

3. Sing Instead of Shout: Similar to the idea of being playful, try singing your requests instead of shouting them. You may get your child’s attention faster by asking “please pick up your shoes before I trip and break my neck!” in a singsong voice than by saying (for the umpteenth time) “get in here and pick these shoes up right now young lady!”

4. Try a Change of Scenery: Boredom is rarely conducive to happiness and cooperation, so if you’ve been stuck in the same house or routine, get out and do something different.

5. Remind Yourself That It’s Age Appropriate: Sometimes all it takes to calm us down is a simple reminder that your children are not trying to make you crazy, they’re just being kids. Toddlers cannot help expressing big emotions – they simply do not have the tools yet to manage them. One year olds aren’t trying to kill themselves by climbing the bookcase or sticking fingers in the light socket – they just haven’t learned what is dangerous. It is our responsibility and privilege to help children as they learn. Would we rather our child’s experiences growing up be filled with gentleness, love and respect, or fear, self-doubt and shame?

6. Identify Your Triggers: Take notice of the times you feel the most stressed out and what can calm you down. Do you need more alone time? Do you feel better after visiting with a friend? Do your batteries recharge during small playgroups? Can you chill out while volunteering? Are you getting adequate nutrition? Parents must take care of themselves too.

7. Adjust Your Expectations: Are you holding on to expectations that are no longer realistic? Our children are always growing and changing – they will drop naps, they will develop their own preferences, they will constantly challenge us. Make sure that you are not expecting too much (or too little!) of your child. And remember that parenting does not equal control. If you are always trying to control your child, you will only be disappointed and frustrated, and your relationship with your child will suffer.

8. Tell Your Child How You Feel: Are you angry? Frustrated? Tired? Share your feelings! Children need help identifying feelings in themselves and others. They also need to know that their actions affect others. Be careful, though, not to say “you are making me angry” – your child is not in control of your emotions, you are. It is not your child’s fault you are angry. Try “Mama is feeling angry that the paint spilled all over the carpet. I will have to spend time cleaning it up now, and I am disappointed because I will miss my book club meeting. I would appreciate your help getting some towels so we can start cleaning up.” A good resource for this concept is Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. (4)

9. Remember that “This Too Shall Pass”: If all else fails take a deep breath and repeat these words: “this too shall pass.” Your child won’t be two (or three or four) forever. This beautiful little one screaming in the next room will grow up too fast. These difficult days will be a fleeting (and precious) memory.

What tips do you have for being patient with your young children? Please share in the comments!

(1) Cohen, Lawrence, “Playful Parenting” at 4 (available in part as a Google book)
(2) “Play therapy is a technique whereby the child’s natural means of expression, namely play, is used as a therapeutic method to assist him/her in coping with emotional stress or trauma.” McIntyre, Tom, “Play Therapy,”
(3) Playful Parenting, Chapter 13
(4) Aldort, Naomi, “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves (available in part as a Google book)


Author: Dionna

Dionna writes at Code Name: Mama, where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler/preschooler.

17 thoughts on “Staying Patient”

  1. That you for saying this. After a day of temper tantrums yesterday, I was pretty beside myself. Especially problematic, is she has been having a melt down every time we leave her friend’s house. She won’t cooperate or put her shoes/jacket on, and I usually have to haul her out kicking and screaming. I have tried letting her know before we go that it’s almost time, and explaining that we will come another day, but those don’t seem to help. Also, she screams at the top of her lungs when she wants something and I tell her no (a sucker, things from mommy’s purse, etc.) I don’t know what to do about these behaviors. Any suggestions?

  2. If your child is screaming & having a temper tantrum, try whispering to them. They will get quiet as they try to hear what you are saying.

  3. So many of the wonderful things I see you doing on a daily basis with my fantastic grandson!! Such a wise young woman you are!!

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone 🙂

    Eboni had a good idea re: meltdowns.
    I might also try:
    *Making it into a game (who can get shoes on faster? or who can be silliest on the walk out to the car? or who can find something to hide behind on the way to the car?)
    *Ask her for help solving the problem: try talking to her about why she doesn’t want to leave. Brainstorm with her about how to make leaving a better experience, let her help you come up with solutions. Make sure her feelings are validated. She might just feel like her despair over going home hasn’t been fully heard.

    Does anyone else have suggestions? Please leave a comment!

  5. Playful parenting usually works well with my 3 year old. Pretending that the coat is too heavy or that I’m going to put it on myself, same with the shoes/boots (or else, go out without them if it’s a short trip to the car–take them first). Make SURE that good-bye happens, even if this means you have to stay a few minutes. Nothing is worse than when you’re saying you don’t want to go and have to go anyway without getting to say good-bye, at least for my little girl. Then, when I get to the carseat, I “desperately need [her] help” to get the straps on. Silly Mommy couldn’t do it without her, after all 😉 Or imitating her frustration. “Oh! These straps! Oh, they’re frustrating! I don’t want to do this! I really need help!” (all in a fake-frustrated, goofy voice, so that it’s clear you’re playing) Often, being goofy or needing their help distracts and gives them back some of the power that the end of playtime took away from them.

  6. My own LO is too young for meltdowns right now, but I used to nanny for three year old twins (double melting trouble…ha). What worked great for us was a transition song leading up to the event. It sounds like you’ve tried a version of this, but the repeating of the melody for EVERYTHING eventually helped. Pavlov’s Dogs and everything. Pick any children’s tune you like and use lyrics like this:
    I looked at my watch and what did it say? 5 more minutes til we put on our coat today
    I looked at my watch and what did it say? 2 more minutes til we put on our coat today
    I looked at my watch and what did it say? It’s time to put on our coat today.

    Distraction games like races as someone else suggested worked sometimes too….

    I also always gave them choices…esp in the supermarket when they wanted everything not so great for them. I think it is empowering to choose for yourself (esp since tantrums can sometimes just turn into a power struggle). For instance, no ice cream today, but which would you prefer? A pear or an apple? Nope, ice cream isn’t a choice today, but you get to pick for yourself! Apple, Pear, or nothing this time.

    Good luck!!

  7. This may sound strange, but have you looked at her food consumption around the times she throws tantrums. Brains react to sugar and cocaine in similar ways, it gets highly addicted and can have huge withdrawal symptoms. At a craft meeting for my MOPS group, the standard snack fair was donuts, cookies, and juice. After a morning of hard play and tons of sugar, everyone of those kids had a meltdown leaving, except mine, who had a high protein snack to help her brain function the way it should, without the withdrawal meltdown of sugar. She wanted to stay as much as the other kids did, but I was able to reason and explain why we had to go and that we could come back again another day. Her response was “okay, lets go” The book Little Sugar Addicts was a huge eye opener for me. Having a good day with my kids(4) all depends on the food. Even when they are really, really tired, if their protein levels are high, we have a really good time and meltdowns are much, much easier to overcome. My six year old said to me the other day, “Mom, I don’t like sugar, it makes my brain feel fuzzy”. My boys(7&6) and 3 yr old daughter routinely pass up cookies at church and the huge suckers(gross) they pass out at AWANA. I have also limited my sugar intake and have never felt so level, but as soon as I stray from my high protein low sugar, I get moody and ornery, just like my kids.

  8. Great suggestions about whispering, game playing and talking about her feelings.

    Some kids react poorly to playful reactions (as though you aren’t taking her seriously) but some react really well. I’ve had one of each! Try putting her shoes on before her socks. Say things like, “oh no! Now we’ll never get home and no one will cook dinner and we’ll all starve!” really dramatically so she knows you’re playing. It can help break the tension of the transition.

    I also lean heavily on Naomi Aldort’s SALVE method (the fourth book reference Dionna listed). It’s easy to remember and a great habit to form. First, separate yourself from the issue. She’s not trying to cause upset, she isn’t trying to make you late, she isn’t trying to cause embarrassment etc. Then give her your full attention. Listen to what she has to say without interjecting anymore than a ‘uh-huh’ so she knows you are listening. Then validate her feelings with “I understand it can be upsetting to leave a friend’s house.” Then empower her to identify and solve the problem. Does she just want to finish the game? Was she still waiting for her turn with a toy when it’s time to leave? Is she unsure when she’ll get to play with that friend again? For one of my children, it was often the missed opportunity that upset him and all it took was saying “I will call Joe’s mom tomorrow and set up another playdate” or setting one up right there on the spot.

    And remember, the point isn’t to get them to stop feeling these big feelings but to give them confidence that they can deal with them. Sometimes it really is just holding them while they fall apart and saying nothing. They’ll realize that no matter how end-of-the-world something seems in the moment, they can and will get over it without anyone having to fix it for them.

    Hang in there!

  9. Re: livesimply…

    I love Dionna’s idea about making a game out of leaving. My son responds well to this. Their brains are hardwired for play so anything we can make a game tends to go more smoothly. Perhaps try an incentive for going to the car, as well. Explain to her that you need her help in getting to the car and if she can be helpful to mama, she can have X snack once she’s strapped in.

    Have you tried reflecting back to her what she may be feeling at the time? For example, “You sound like you are disappointed that it’s time to go. I bet you had a lot of fun playing with Abby and it is very hard to leave when you want to keep playing. I had a really good time too. Could you help me say thank to you to Abby and her mommy for having us over to play?” Perhaps if she hears that you know how she feels she will be able to calm down enough to talk about the process more.
    When she’s screams because you have said no to something she wants, I also like the idea of talking quietly or whispering. I say something like this to my son, “Sweetie, if you can talk to me in a quiet voice I might be able to help you. If you keep screaming then I can’t help you right now.” If he is able to quiet down I immediately thank him and explain why he can’t have what he wants and often offer an option of what he can have. “I can’t give you the sucker right now because we are eating lunch soon, but would you like to help me decide what to make for lunch?” I think kids feel more empowered when the alternative choice is offered. That works a lot for us right now.
    Hope you find a couple of our suggestions help calm the storms!

  10. Thank you for all the great suggestions. I didn’t mention before and should have, that my daughter is only 2 years 4 months, so a few of them are still over her head as far as understanding and being able to verbally respond, but I will definately keep them in my “bag of tricks” for later. Surprisingly, I have already been doing a few of them, so that’s reassuring to know.

  11. Great article and comments! Similar to Megan’s experience with food, we have seen our little ones throw a fit usually when they are hungry or tired. Sugar does give them a boost of energy – so if they have had a sugary snack, it is probably a good idea to let them burn it off first. If you expect them to be quiet at that time, it is probably not going to work and a tantrum will result!

    Like all parents of toddlers, we too find ourselves on edge and quick to lose our patience at times. Lack of sleep and exercise make it worse. We don’t believe in hitting or time outs. But sometimes, the frustration takes over and voices are raised. It is unlikely that both parents will get mad at the same time. So it might be useful to rely on your partner during those times and let him or her take charge so you can get some time to cool off.

    I think it is important to remember that parenting is a team sport!

    Great tips by the way.

  12. Wow, where were all you wonderful Mom’s ( and Dad’s) when I was raising my little brood of chicks? Such wisdom, empathy and love!!! A great group of folks, I am so glad that my daughter ( Dionna) has joined your little group!! I see the benefits of your wisdom every single day in the bright and happy smile of her wonderful boy! (AND my fabulous Grandson!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.