Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 5

We are concluding this series with two more of the most common challenges of transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as your baby grows. Here is what parents had to say…

walkin-with-dadWhat do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

Challenge: Understanding Needs vs. Wants

  • Figuring out the difference between wants and needs. Babies are so easy as they are one in the same. Toddlers … not so much.
  • The shift from solely addressing needs to creating a strong foundation for addressing desires and emotional responses
  • Distinguishing needs from wants

Tip: Be confident.
You know your child better than anyone. You have been caring for her since before she was born, responding to her cues, learning her behaviors and understanding what she needs and when. Have confidence in being able to distinguish the difference between needs and wants for your child. As an attuned parent, you know best what your toddler needs (vs. what is merely a “want”) and can respond appropriately. Things like …

  • nutrition
  • connection
  • autonomy
  • safety
  • empathy
  • adequate sleep
  • belonging
  • respect
  • healthy limits
  • security
  • understanding
  • acceptance

… are the things your toddler truly needs, and there is a wide range of what is appropriate among children. Needs and wants are definitely not the same for every child. You are the expert on your child—so trust yourself in the limits you set for him. Though your toddler may act like he needs a toy or a sweet treat or just one more bedtime story, trust your inner assurance that you are meeting his most essential needs—the ones necessary for optimal growth and maturation.

Click here to download a teleseminar with Dr. William Sears on API Live! about “Needs vs. Wants: How to Fulfill a Child’s Needs Yet Discern His Wants in a Way That Preserves Healthy Attachment.”

Challenge: Learning New Parenting Tools

  • I feel like I’ve lost my toolkit for how we have handled difficult times (frustration, exhaustion, fear).
  • “The breast” is no longer THE solution.
  • Finding solutions to new behavior

Tip: Stay connected.
Whether it’s online or in person, there are a variety of ways to add to your parenting toolbox. Online communities offer a chance to ask questions and get ideas and resources in return, while local communities are great for connecting to AP moms and dads in person. Both give parents a different kind of support, and both are helpful for gaining new perspectives on handling challenging toddler behavior. In addition to connecting with AP parents who have “been there, done that,” staying connected to the latest news and updates in parenting is a must. There are so many blogs and online resources that are dedicated to sharing articles, posts and links on AP tips, tools and the latest research in parent education. Find some favorites to add to your newsfeed and RSS reader. To start, you can add these great API resources:

Whether it’s online (communities, blogs, Facebook pages, webinars, teleseminars) or in-person (communities, classes, support groups or local AP friends with older children), you can’t beat parents helping parents to expand your toolbox! Keep talking, keep reading, keep learning more about your child’s development.

Don’t miss Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this series on transitions into toddlerhood!

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 4

We are continuing this series with two more of the most common challenges of transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as your baby grows. Here is what parents had to say …

jj2010bwWhat do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

Challenge: Understanding Aggression

  • My toddler feels the need to act out physically despite the fact that this isn’t being modeled by anyone in his life.
  • Toddlers kick, punch and bite and yet don’t know their own strength.
  • It’s hard to be kind and patient and empathetic while your kid is kicking your [butt]!

Tip: Focus on the feelings behind the behavior.

Aggression in toddlers is very normal and is a phase most children go through as they develop necessary connections for communication in their brains. As they enter the age of autonomy around age 1-2, children become capable of feeling strong emotions but are still lacking in self-regulation and language skills. In short, the neural connections between the midbrain (where emotions originate) and the prefrontal cortex (where logic and reasoning originate) are simply not there. Help them develop by doing three things:

  1. Accept the emotions behind the behavior (the kicking is not OK, but the anger is).
  2. Give your child the words to identify his feelings (“You are mad. It’s OK to be mad.”)
  3. Create a safe space for an immature toddler to have his feelings while making sure no one gets hurt.

Challenge: Not Taking Emotions Personally

  • Dealing with those big, turbulent emotions without getting caught up in them. Keeping my cool and modeling patience and being a soothing presence takes a LOT of work on my own triggers and stress.
  • I found it hard to accept her negative emotions without feeling upset myself … I was so used to always having a happy baby that I guess I wasn’t prepared for her big feelings.
  • Separating my toddler’s emotions from my own

Tip: Pause
To avoid the emotional exhaustion that follows in the wake of a toddler meltdown, pause to remember three things:

  1. They’re my child’s feelings, not mine. She is not wrong for feeling this way, and I do not need to try to fix her feelings for her.
  2. I am not the cause of my child’s feelings. I will take care of my child by meeting her needs on a regular basis–this means setting limits, ensuring safety, and nourishing her physically and emotionally. She is capable of handling her feelings.
  3. It’s not personal. My child’s feelings are not a personal slight against me. I am not a bad mom if my child is upset.

That said, there are ways to maintain a connected relationship while keeping yourself from becoming caught up a toddler’s in-the-moment feelings. Here’s how:

Pause (Yes, again. Pausing before you react is always awesome). Take a breath. Give your child time and space with her own feelings and you with your own feelings. This may mean you leave the room for a short time-out of your own.

Check in. Stay with her and periodically ask how she is doing. This is not the time to talk about the situation; just let her know you understand how she feels. “I know you’re mad, and that’s OK. Let me know when you’re ready for a hug.” Trust in her ability to handle her feelings.

Follow-up. Always come back together and do something fun. You can touch base on the previous situation or not. But do something with your child that she enjoys and that will foster some connective energy between the two of you. Make cookies, play games, go for a walk, dig in the garden, ride bikes, read, go to the park, blow bubbles … pretty much anything you do together will communicate to your child that you love and accept her despite her anger at you, and that you’re not holding her feelings against her.

Don’t miss Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series, and watch for the final installment, Part 5, coming soon!

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 3

We are continuing this series with two more of the most common challenges of transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as your baby grows. Here is what parents had to say …

img_3259What do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

Challenge: Not Listening

  • “NO! NO! NO!”
  • Not listening
  • Defiance
  • Frustration with the idea that if you establish a strong connection, they will want to please you and behavior won’t be an issue 

Tip: Set realistic expectations for obedience.

True, toddlers won’t necessarily jump to your every command, but what looks like “not listening” may be a toddler asserting his very new, very powerful sense of autonomy. Young children begin to realize that they have power to make their own choices and take charge of their own actions. What helps with this behavior (and ultimately your relationship) is to do everything you can to encourage this autonomy. The key is to direct children’s newfound power in useful ways.

  • Model cooperation and listening skills
  • Offer limited choices
  • Ask for their help
  • Show appreciation for their contributions
  • Encourage their efforts
  • Celebrate their successes
  • Listen to their feelings and all attempts at communication
  • Physically step in to help or redirect when necessary
  • Establish a child’s sense of significance and belonging

All of these things will help with “not listening” by strengthening your relationship. But while relationship matters, it is not a foolproof cure for undesirable behavior. After all, you’re parenting a very young child with a very immature brain. No matter how strong your relationship may be, until that prefrontal cortex develops, self-control, behavior and “listening” skills will be an issue. But they will develop in time! So hang in there and in the meantime, stay attuned to your toddler and aim for relationship over obedience. In the long run, this truly is the most important part of discipline … even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment.

early-aug-2007-015Challenge: Tantrums

  • Discipline and tantrums are very hard.
  • Allowing her to cry tears of futility instead of trying to stop them …
  • Dealing with the intense frustration of pre-verbal toddlers
  • Tantrums!

Tip: Teach your child the language for the feelings he is having by empathizing with him.

You may be taking the most helpful steps towards the prevention of tantrums—ensuring your toddler gets regular, healthful foods, adequate sleep, and plenty of cooperation and help with his frustrations—but despite even the most diligent prevention measures, tantrums will happen. Toddlers are simply too immature to handle all of life’s frustrations calmly.

Remember that while it is unpleasant, a tantrum is normal and very appropriate for a toddler, so do your best to stay calm. A child’s brain has mirror neurons that pick up on the emotional state of his environment. In other words, calm begets calm. You may be able to stay composed during a tantrum and provide the calmness your child needs, but it’s also OK to step away from the fit or a few minutes to collect yourself and refocus if you need to.

A tantrum doesn’t need a punishment but simply some time to pass. Stay nearby to ensure a child’s physical safety as well as to touch base as needed. When a tantrum ensues, let your toddler know it’s OK for him to be mad. Have patience with his lack of communication skills, stay nearby and allow him the space he needs to cry. Check in periodically with inquires of, “Would you like a hug?” or other reassuring comments. It might take a while for the explosive feelings to work their way out of his system, but when he is ready, take time to reconnect. Offer empathy and words of acceptance.

You were really angry!
That was really sad for you.
It doesn’t feel good to be so upset.
It’s OK to feel mad like that.
We all get mad sometimes.
I love you!

Remember, you don’t have to change the limit you set (i.e., give the child what he wanted) if you have evaluated your course of action to be appropriate. You are only acknowledging his feelings and being emotionally available to support him through them as his brain chemistry restores. Your empathy teaches emotional intelligence as your toddler outgrows a tumultuous age.

Don’t miss Part 1 and Part 2 of this series … Watch for Part 4 coming soon!

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