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Filtering by Category: Toddler Behaviors

Navigating the Not-So-Terrible Twos

Theresa

Last week, D started a part-time Montessori program, and loves it already! She is excited to go see her teachers and friends (and class fish!), and is happy when I pick her up later in the morning. As all transitions do though, this new start has stirred up some big emotions at home. She is clearly working through a lot, and it has resulted in less sleep and a few more tantrums at home. I know this will pass, but in the meantime I’ve been reading back over my favorite books and remind myself how to deal with some of these big feelings and reactions. I figured some of you might be going through similar transitions as school starts back up, or just have a toddler who acts like a toddler! ;)

Navigating the Not-So-Terrible Twos - Montessori in Real Life

I don’t like to call the twos “terrible” because they really aren’t. Yes, toddlers can be very difficult but it’s only because they are figuring out how to be their own little people. I think our attitude about our children plays a huge role in how we react to their behaviors. I know that it helps me to remember just how much growth and development is happening in their brains and body, and how much they need our love, respect, and understanding right now. I can better deal the toddler ‘tude when I remember it isn’t coming from a malicious intent, but rather figuring out limits, exerting their autonomy, and figuring out their place. At the same time, none of us are perfect, and we will all occasionally react in ways we don’t feel proud of when we are tired and frustrated ourselves. Cut yourself some slack and remember there’s always next time.

Navigating the Not-So-Terrible Twos - Montessori in Real Life

Below are ten ideas and strategies I try to implement in almost all cases of toddler behavior, from tantrums to refusing to cooperate to throwing or hitting. Maybe one or two will resonate with you too!

Navigating the Not-So-Terrible Twos - Montessori in Real Life

Provide a “yes space” - The more freedom a toddler has to explore and play, the happier they are. If we constantly have to tell them “no”, they will say it right back to us. Child-proof your house as much as possible and choose your battles. Save the “no’s” for when they are about to touch the hot stove, rather than dumping tupperware out of the drawer. Sometimes we all just need to get outside, which is usually a giant “yes space”!

Embrace the big emotions - Toddlers experience emotions in extremes, and there isn’t much we can do to change that. Rather than try to fix it, give in, or tell them “it’s okay”, let them feel their feels. It can help to wait until they are calm to try to have a conversation. Simply offering a hug or a safe space is best when they are in the middle of a tantrum, while you let it ride out. Then when they are a bit calmer, you can address the issue if needed.

Acknowledge and empathize - Toddlers can get frustrated or scared about the strangest and most trivial of things. It is tempting to laugh or get annoyed, but I find it’s helpful to think about how it feels for them. The more we get down to their level and acknowledge how they’re feeling, the better they will feel. Acknowledging and labeling feelings also helps them work through their own emotions.

Redirect - Often toddlers need to get energy and frustration out and the only way they know how is to throw, hit, or bite. If they are throwing dishes or hitting a friend, we have to let them know that’s not okay while still giving them opportunities to release that energy and feeling. I might say something like “I am not going to let you throw that toy towards your brother. I need to keep both of you safe. If you’d like to throw, let’s throw these balls into the big basket instead.” It’s helpful to be matter of fact, while stopping the unsafe behavior.

Be a Confident Leader - This is one of the most important tools. Janet Lansbury talks about this a lot, - how toddlers are constantly testing us to make sure we are in control. They don’t actually want to be in charge; they want a calm and loving, but authoritative (NOT authoritarian) leader. When we feel out of control, they feel scared and more out of control. Being a gentle leader means setting clear limits ahead of time, such as how we behave at the dinner table. It also means setting consequences that we can actually follow-up on rather than empty threats. An example is, “when you throw your food, that tells me you’re all done with lunch” (and then end the meal). We can always offer another chance later.

Navigating the Not-So-Terrible Twos - Montessori in Real Life

Give them Autonomy - Finding opportunities for a toddler to do things themselves, e.g. pick out clothes, serve their own snack, wash their own face, gives them that sense of independence that they so deeply crave. Offering limited choices is a great way to give toddlers some autonomy, e..g choosing between using the potty or brushing teeth first before bed. (Just be careful that your choices aren’t “yes/no” or you will almost always get a “no” in response.)

“Do” rather than “Don’t” - This is a trick I learned from working at a Montessori school. We would always ask the children to “use walking feet” rather than “don’t run”. Phrasing requests or questions in a positive rather than negative way makes children much more agreeable and sounds less nagging. Another example is “let’s use quiet voices” rather than “don’t yell”.

Make Time Tangible - Time is a very tricky concept for toddlers to grasp. Telling a toddler “5 more minutes” doesn’t really mean anything to them. Instead, try saying something like “two more runs down the slide until we get in the car” or “one more book until bedtime”. The important part is to follow through on whatever limit you set! It’s even more helpful to have consistent routines throughout the day so that your toddler knows what to expect (this comes before that) without you always having to remind them.

Be Real - Sometimes when we are really frustrated, the best thing to do is to say so to our toddler. It’s okay to say to a toddler, “Mommy is feeling very frustrated and needs to take a break." Walking away from an intense meltdown (when possible) and taking some deep breaths is great modeling for your toddler. We want to show them that we all have feelings and there are strategies, such as breathing and movement, to deal with them. Additionally, you will be able to come back and react in a more calm way if you’ve caught a breath first.

Be Playful - The book “How to Talk so Little Kids will Listen” is good at highlighting this. I don’t find it always works to actually get a toddler to do something, but it never hurts to lighten the mood and get us both out of a negative space. An example of this can be in offering two choices - “Do you want to walk or gallop like a horse to the car?” Another way to get a toddler out of a grump is to play music, sing and dance around, or do yoga together!

Navigating the Not-So-Terrible Twos - Montessori in Real Life

My favorite books on the topic are:

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen

No Bad Kids by Janet Lansbury

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of these links, you won’t pay anything extra, but I will get a small commission, which helps keep this blog going. Thanks for supporting Montessori in Real Life!

Tackling Transitions with a Toddler

Theresa

After my Instagram post about routine cards, I got a lot of questions about how to make them and how I use them. I figured it was worth it to write a short blog post about it, and a few transition tips in genera!! By transitions, I mean shifts in the day such as getting ready for outings, getting ready for nap or bed, and cleaning up or setting up before a meal.

Daily transitions are difficult for toddlers, because it means switching from one activity to another (often sooner than they want). Transitions are also tricky because they typically involve multiple steps, which can be hard to remember, and even harder to execute. Toddlers do not yet have the self control or planning skills that we do, but they do have the determination. The more we try to hurry the process along, the more resistant they become. It can definitely be a vicious cycle! Though we are unlikely to make transitions a breeze, especially when we are dealing with an over-tired or over-hungry toddler, there are ways to make them slightly easier, and hopefully more pleasant.

Tackling Transitions with a Toddler - Montessori in Real Life

Consistency

The best way to help toddlers tackle transitions is by creating and keeping a consistent routine. This isn’t always possible, especially as busy parents, but we can do our best. Toddlers thrive on routine as it gives them a sense of security in a big, overwhelming world. Keeping a routine doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every day, but it means maintaining a certain rhythm to the day, so your child knows what to expect. You can read more about our routine in this blog post. There are of course days when routines are completely thrown off, and in that case, the best thing we can do is just let our toddler know, and talk to them about what we are doing as we do it, and give a little warning about what we’ll do next. With toddlers, it’s best to keep words simple and to the point.

Tackling Transitions with a Toddler - Montessori in Real Life

Choice

Toddlers love to feel that they have some control over their life, as they should. Though we can’t and shouldn’t let them make all the decisions, we can provide them with simple choices that give them a sense of autonomy. Transitions are perfect times for these. Instead of asking whether your toddler would like to use the potty (giving them the appealing option to say “no”), we can ask “Would you like to read ____ book or _____ book on the potty?”. Another example is getting dressed. “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or pink shirt today?” Toddlers do best with only two choices, and avoiding yes/no questions altogether. Sometimes the questions are just “Would you like to put on your coat or would you like my help?” Sometimes D doesn’t want to make a choice or do the task independently, and in that case, I make it for her (e.g. I help her with the coat or help her sit on the potty) and we move on. It’s never productive to get in a power struggle or debate with a toddler.

Tackling Transitions with a Toddler

Routine Cards

Though I’ve seen lots of printable routine cards online, I really wanted something more personalized for D. Each toddler has their own struggles with transitions, so it’s nice to customize them. Plus, it is much more fun for toddlers to see pictures of themselves and their house than drawings or cartoons! D has loved that part of it. Based on the transitions that we’ve struggled with at home, I made three sets: “getting ready to go outside/on an outing”, “getting ready for nap”, and “setting up for mealtime”. We go over the sets/routine together like a book first. Then when it’s time to actually go through the steps in a transition, we take the set of cards with us and go through the steps in real life, one by one. I like using the binder rings because I can take out or add steps as needed!

Tackling Transitions with a Toddler - Montessori in Real Life

If you’d like to create these cards for your toddler, here are the steps:

  1. Think about the transitions your toddler could use some help with and jot down a list of the steps (focus on important ones) that the transition(s) involves.

  2. Find or take photos of a) the space in your house where task occurs or b) your child doing said step/task.

  3. Download my template here!

  4. Using Word or Google Docs or similar, insert your own photos and text into the template.

  5. Print on cardstock, cut into cards, and laminate! (I use this thermal laminator and love it!)

  6. Use a hole puncher to make a small hole in the upper left hand corner of each card and then group photos/steps together in sets with these small binder rings.

Tackling Transitions with a Toddler - Montessori in Real Life

Songs and Rhymes

Lastly, transitions can be made more fun by songs and rituals. D loves books and songs more than anything so those have been helpful for us. Singing the same song at certain times of the day help our children know what’s about to happen. For example we probably all have certain bedtime songs we sing to our babies or toddlers to help let them know it’s time to sleep. While I often just make up little rhymes about going to the potty or cleaning up, This Reading Mama’s website has some great transition/routine songs to try out! Below is one of our favorites.

Transition Song from This Reading Mama

Transition Song from This Reading Mama

I hope one of these tips helps make your transitions just a little smoother too! :)

Tricky Toddler Behaviors

Theresa

I put some feelers out on Instagram to get an idea of what you all would like to read about, and many of you mentioned tricky toddler issues. I feel ya! We are definitely dealing with toddler ‘tude these days, and I know there’s only more to come. I wish I had all the answers myself, but I think everyone struggles with this one. I know it’s much more difficult for me to deal with D’s tantrums than it was with other people’s toddlers as a teacher! But I do appreciate having the Montessori background to reference during these times.

When D was just entering toddlerhood, I wrote this post, so you may find some helpful tips there, as well as our general positive discipline approach. Six months later, some issues have resolved and mostly they have just changed. So I’ll address a few of the tricky behaviors we are seeing at home, and how we are approaching them. In addition to my Montessori education, my husband and I try to follow ideas from the book Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, as well as Janet Lansbury’s work, especially No Bad Kids.

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Clinginess and Separation Anxiety

D has always been a mama’s girl and loves physical contact, but starting around 15 months, she developed major separation anxiety and clinginess, even sometimes at home. While I know this is developmentally normal (it typically peaks between 14-20 months), and I’ll miss these snuggly days when she’s older, it can still be difficult to deal with. I know I need my own space sometimes for me to stay sane as a stay-at-home mom, and I’m sure many of you do too! I also think it’s important for her to have confidence in her own abilities, without always holding my hand.

At home, I find the best way to encourage her independence is to set up her environment in a way that promotes autonomy. For example, her toys organized and accessible, her dishes in her small kitchen, and water for her to pour and drink independently. That way, she learns she can take care of (some) of her needs without my help. Even so, sometimes she wants to cling to me at home. When she does this, and I’m available, I give her the one-on-one time she craves. We spend 15 minutes or so reading and snuggling or prepping food together. Then I transition to separate time.

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Often after that, she’s more open to playing by herself for a bit (sometimes that means stacking tupperware from the kitchen drawer rather than using toys from her shelf which is fine by me!). I make it clear that I have to work/tidy/sweep for a few minutes and that I’m not available to play right now. She isn’t always happy about this at first, but usually once I start the task I’m doing, and she can still see me, she finds something to occupy herself. (Note: sitting on the couch on my phone does not count!) I don’t stop her from standing close to me and observing, or standing at the kitchen helper when I’m cooking, but I do set limits on picking her up or her being on me during these moments, because sometimes I just can’t! I think it’s important for her to learn this boundary, and that sometimes we have to wait a little bit for what we really want.

As for separation anxiety when we are out or when I am leaving, this is just a part of who she is right now. I know D is usually going to have a hard time going somewhere new and/or watching me leave, and that’s okay. I accept her feelings and let her know I see them. I try to make her more comfortable with new people and situations by talking her through it and staying together as she eases in. But when it’s time for me to leave or step away, I confidently and concisely tell her so, and that I’ll be back soon and that I love her. Although it may seem better to sneak away when they are distracted, I know from working with toddlers in a classroom that it only confuses and upsets them more more. So I always say goodbye and kiss her and she often cries out, but stops once I’m out the door. Most importantly she sees over and over that I always come back. That is what really matters! This phase won’t last forever.

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Throwing at Mealtimes

This is an issue that seems to come and go throughout the infant and toddler years. Over the past month, D has gotten in a habit of throwing her glass (or similar) off the table. It started on vacation, when her routine and environment were all mixed up, and unfortunately it’s continued since we’ve been home. My knee-jerk reaction is often to react with emotion, but it helps me to remember that it’s that exact reaction she’s hoping for, and isn’t helpful right now.

The best way I’ve found to stop the throwing is to catch it before it happens. Sitting down with her at meals helps me to pay attention to signs that she’s all done, not hungry, and possibly ready to throw. Sometimes just giving her that focused attention can prevent attention-seeking behavior, sometimes not. When I see signs she’s done eating I ask her if she’s all done and often she signs it back to me. If she says or signs “more”, I give it a little more time but keep an eye on it because sometimes she still throws. If I can, I stop the throw with my hand and say “I can’t let you throw your glass” before it happens, but I’m not always fast enough.

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If she does throw her glass, I tell her “It looks like you’re all done. You can tell me “all done”. We don’t throw glasses. Let’s clean it up”. I take her out of her chair and have her help me wipe up the water or pick up the glass. I try to keep my reaction neutral rather than scolding. I want her to simply understand that there are natural consequences to throwing, e.g. mealtime is over and she will need to clean it up, I tell her we can try again later. Sometimes she gets pretty upset when I remove her from the chair, but this passes fairly quickly too. I let her snuggle if she needs comfort and we usually are able to move on without too much drama. The more consistent we are, the better. Toddlers thrive on us being firm, consistent, and loving. Not that it’s always easy!

Note: throwing is a normal toddler behavior, and throwing can be useful for getting out pent up energy. It can help to redirect throwing to things like balls in a basket at home!

Big Emotions & Tantrums

We all know that toddlers have big emotions and strong opinions. I like the quote from Positive Discipline (linked above): “The very same qualities we want for our children as adults can make life challenging when they’re young.” So true! The irony is depicted well in the cartoon below. We don’t need to take the passion out of the toddler, we just have to help them learn how to work through it in an appropriate way. I myself feel big emotions sometimes, and I want D to be able to feel all her feels too, from the high highs to low lows.

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The low lows can be really hard though. I know D often melts down when she’s overtired, hungry, or hasn’t had a chance to exert her independence in a while. There is almost no way I will budge her nap or bedtime because of this. Yet even in seemingly perfect circumstances, even when choices have been offered and tummies have been fed, tantrums happen. Often when she doesn’t get something she wants. When they happen at our house, I first give D a chance to feel the feels. (If this is out of the house, I would probably remove her from public situation first). I stay close by and help her identify her emotions, e.g. “I see you are frustrated/sad/angry because….” Sometimes we don’t know why they are upset and we don’t have to make up a reason for them. I don’t say much while she’s upset, but I offer her a hug when she’s ready for it.

Once she’s calmed down, we might read a book or play together for a bit. Importantly, I don’t give in to whatever it was she wanted when the tantrum began. Limits are important for toddlers. When she’s a bit older, I’ll discuss more with her, but at this age, too many words can be confusing, especially after the event has passed. I do try to teach her strategies to deal with feeling upset. One of my favorite board books for toddlers is called Calm Down Time, so we read that together sometimes. Yoga is another great way to provide calm-down strategies for toddlers! It has also helped to give her words/signs to use when she needs something such as “help”, “eat”, “up”, and “please”.

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Those are some of our tricky toddler behaviors and strategies for dealing with them! I am sure some of you have similar issues and others of you have entirely different ones. Feel free to reach out! I’d love to do a part II. ;)

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of these links, you won’t pay anything extra, but I will get a small commission, which helps keep this blog going. Thanks for supporting Montessori in Real Life!

A Respectful Intro to Toddlerhood

Theresa

Despite my wishes for D to stay a baby forever, she has other plans in mind. The toddler is emerging. It turns out you can have toddler 'tude without toddler steps. ;) The most recent "tricky" toddler behaviors we've been seeing are: throwing food off the table, pinching or hitting us, tantrums when something isn't available (like our dog's water bowl), or not getting what she wants (like being picked up right away).  

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Unsurprisingly, I've found that the easiest and best way to deal with difficult behaviors is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Providing a predictable schedule, making sure she's slept enough, eating frequently and nutritiously, and giving her plenty of one-on-one time to help her overall happiness. I also find she gets less frustrated when she is in a "yes" space (we've tried to make most of our home that way), meaning minimal dangers or off-limits, giving us little reason to say "no" to her. The more toddlers hear the word no, the more they say it right back. ;) 

D is also more content when she is able to participate in our activities. Little things like giving her opportunities to pick out her diaper before changing, hold onto the grocery list in the shopping cart, or help unload the spoons from the dishwasher often (not always) prevent a meltdown. Limited options (just 2 at this age) also give her a small sense of autonomy which can be really helpful for both of us. Examples: "Do you want to read the truck book or the color book?", "Do you want to drink your water or start with your zucchini?", "Do you want me to pick you up or crawl over to me?" At this point she can usually point or nod to indicate preferences. 

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Of course even if all her needs have been met and we've given her opportunities for autonomy, she is still entering toddlerhood, where emotions are high, impulse control is low, and the need to exert her will is just beginning. She is at the age where she is learning to be her own independent person, and tantrums and testing are part of the process! And after working in a classroom of toddlers, I know this is just the beginning of a wild ride. She just needs to know I love her through it all. 

Most of my reading on this topic has been Janet Lansbury's respectful parenting philosophy and Positive discipline techniques we used in the Montessori classroom. No Bad Kids and Positive Discipline are both useful books if you're going this route. Based on these ideas, when D does exert her toddler will, these are some of the steps we take at home. 

  1. Remain calm. I've found this is one of the most important (but difficult) components. I have to remember not to take D's behavior personally. She is trying out behaviors with me because she trusts and loves me, and therefore feels safe to experiment. When I remember that, it's easier to stay calm and let the storm pass. We try to avoid reacting with "ow!" or "no!" unless she's in danger (or when she hurts us and it's instinctive!), because those give her the reactions she's hoping for.

  2. If throwing/hitting/etc, stop the behavior with my hand or remove her from the unsafe situation gently. Let her feel her feels.

  3. Acknowledge, accept, and respect her feelings and frustrations without trying to fix or distract. Keeping the wording simple seems to be best when she's worked up. We try not to focus too much attention on the negative behavior. I usually say something like "I know you really want to ______ and I couldn't let you _______ because _____. I see you are very upset/sad/frustrated about that."

  4. Once she has (hopefully) calmed down a bit, provide comfort and offer safe/acceptable alternatives. See specific examples below.

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Respectful Ways to deal with Specific Tricky Toddler Issues:

Pinching/hitting: Again, I have to remember not to take this personally, because she is simply testing and looking for reactions. Toddlers want attention, good or bad. She often pinches when she's overtired and I'm holding her. When she does, I take her hand away and hold it. I say "I won't let you pinch me because that hurts", and leave it at that as to not draw too much attention to the negative behavior. I might demonstrate a nice pat or hug. If she keeps trying to pinch/hit, I'll ignore the behavior and place her down on the floor for a minute so she can't keep going. Of course this makes her upset but she soon gets the point. 

Throwing Food: This requires sitting with D throughout mealtimes. When D begins to throw food, I stop her hand and say "I can't let you throw that food. Food stays on the table." I then show her how to put her food in a different small bowl on the table, or let her hand it to me. She usually wants to throw food she doesn't want to eat, so offering an alternative place to put it can be helpful. If she throws and I don't catch it, I just try to ignore it. If she keeps trying to toss her food on the floor, it shows me she isn't that hungry so we sign "all done" and end mealtime. Additionally, we give her other throwing opportunities with balls, etc during playtime. 

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Tantrum over not getting to play with something: The most recent example of this is a large box fan we had in our living room. She really wanted to play with it, but it wasn't safe for her little fingers. When she started to touch it, I picked her up and took her away from it, saying "I can't let you play with the fan, it's not safe." She arched her back and squirmed and cried. I acknowledged that it made her upset when I removed her from the fan and let her be upset for a few minutes. I offered snuggles and a book. Then I showed her a couple of other toys to choose between. (I also relocated the fan so it wouldn't be an issue again. With objects that can't be removed, it might take quite a few reminders before they are able to stop trying to touch it, but it will eventually happen.)

Tantrum over wanting to be held: This is a really common one for us while I'm trying to prep food for D. I start to cook or simply put food on her plate, and she throws herself on the floor at my feet, wanting to be held or eat the food immediately. I can sometimes prevent this by wearing her on my back so she can see the food being made. Better yet, my husband is going to build her a learning tower so she can watch and participate more, which will likely help a lot. In the meantime, when she starts to melt down, I let her feel the feels and explain that I need a few more minutes to finish prepping her food. (I hurry) and when I'm ready to pick her up or give her the food, I then remind her of the signs for "help", "up", or "eat", so she can at least learn to communicate in a more effective way than screaming. 

Who knows what the next phase of toddlerhood will bring! Luckily I love this one to the moon and back. 

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What strategies do you find helpful (or not) with the toddler 'tude?