Parenting coach and author, Faith Collins has a new book, Joyful Toddlers and Preschoolers: Create a Life that You and Your Child Both Love (Hohm Press, Oct. 1, 2017), which I reviewed on this site. The book is filled with advice for parents looking to minimize power struggles with their headstrong young one, and strengthen the parent-child bond. We chatted about parenting’s challenges and joys, why children have such different needs when they’re at toddler and preschool age, and how to best get them to respond.
How does someone’s parenting style influence a child’s development?
While every child comes into the world with his or her own unique character and temperament, the research is clear that parenting style has a real, measurable effect on a child’s development. Children who are happy, curious and tend to follow the rules — even without adult supervision — tend to have parents who have high levels of warmth and high expectations. If the warmth is lacking, children tend to become rebellious or sneaky, depending on their temperament. If the high expectations are lacking, children tend to lack resilience, or the ability to pick themselves up emotionally when things don’t go their way.
What’s the best way to get your child to be responsive to your requests?
We can support children’s responsiveness by getting their “buy-in.” For toddlers and preschoolers, explaining why we’re asking them to do something rarely works. Instead, we get buy-in through emotional connection: by turning our requests into a game, for example. Children get pleasure from moving their bodies, from using their imaginations, from songs and music, from humor and from affection. When we incorporate connecting activities into doing what we’ve asked, we’re helping them get into the habit of being responsive.
How can parents cultivate a habit of “yes?”
One of the most important things we can do is to make sure we phrase things in such a way that the preferred answer is “yes.” Instead of saying, “Don’t bang your spoon on the table,” try, “You can use your spoon to take a bite.” Instead of saying, “Don’t jump in the puddle,” try “Please stay where the ground is dry.” This type of language is much more powerful than we realize, because our brains think in images. Modifiers like “don’t” have little effect on those images. Make sure your language is creating an image of what you want, rather than what you don’t want.
The second piece to cultivating a habit of “yes” is how we respond when a child doesn’t do what we’ve asked. No matter how positively we phrase our requests, young children will often ignore us. They’re fully immersed in the sensory experience of their world. When we don’t get a positive response right away, we need to get up and help them physically.
Sometimes this is as simple as pointing them in the direction of their jacket that you’ve asked them to put on. Other times you might need to take them by the hand and walk them over, and sometimes you’ll need to carry them over and put the jacket on for them. This physical help is not punitive; make it as connecting as possible using funny voices, imagination, a little song or some physical play. If a child knows you will follow through every time you ask, they’re less likely to ignore you.
If a child has frequent meltdowns, should parents take it as a sign that their child may not be getting all they need?
Occasional meltdowns are completely normal as a child learns to manage big emotions, especially when tired, hungry or over-stimulated. But frequent, sustained meltdowns, on the other hand, are often a child trying to send you a message that something is out of balance. Look closely: your child may need more boundaries, affection, a slower pace or more consistency.
Learn more about Faith Collins and her new book at the author’s website.