When it comes to childhood experts, Dr. Tovah Klein is in a league of her own. She’s a child psychologist, mother of three boys, and is the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, so she basically speaks toddler and that’s why she’s called “The Toddler Whisperer.” Here are some of her top tips for dealing with and parenting kids ages two to five.
Put yourself in your child’s shoes - Dr. Klein says once you start seeing the world through your toddler’s eyes, you’ll be able to understand their reactions and concerns. Moving from an adult perspective to a child’s helps us see where they’re coming from, so we can guide them with love and encouragement without shaming or controlling them.
Where there’s acting out, there’s an unmet need - Parents get hung up on fixing their kids “bad” behavior, but we should be paying attention to the underlying need behind the behavior instead. Dr. Klein points out that toddlers don’t think ahead, she says they can’t because they’re so focused on the present and just feeling loved, safe, taken care of, and still independent all at the same time.
It’s not your kid, it’s his brain - Everyone feels emotions before reasoning kicks in, but for toddlers it’s that much harder because they often feel the full emotional response without ever having the ability to “think” their way out rationally. Every time we walk our toddler through a routine or comfort them, we’re helping them form the links between thinking and emotions. Dr. Klein reminds us that toddlers can’t manage intense or negative emotions at this age and it’s hard for them to stop themselves from doing something they shouldn’t.
Repetition is normal and absolutely necessary - Toddlers need the practice of doing something over and over, especially something as hard as managing strong emotions. When you respond to a frightened toddler with comforting words like, “Oh, that was scary ...the thunder was loud. I’m here with you. You’re safe,” you’re helping them build connections between thoughts, feelings, and soothing.
So you lost it and snapped at your kids. Here’s what to do next - We’ve all been there, so how do we recover? Dr. Klein says the conflict isn’t the problem, as long as you reconnect with your toddler in a positive way. She says coming back together again, without blame, lets them know you’re always here for them, even when bad moments happen.
Memorize these mantras for her path to positive parent-toddler relationships - Parents can…
- Mirror back a sense of safety and relative order
- Listen to children instead of always talking at and directing them
- Give children freedom to play and explore on their own
- Allow children the space and opportunity to struggle and fail
- Work to understand who each individual child is and what he needs at a given age
- Provide children with limits, boundaries, and guidance.