Empathize and verbalize your toddlers' BIG emotions for them.
It goes without saying that toddlers have big feelings and they are known for expressing them in a big way! Whether it be through tantrums, meltdowns, screaming, or acting out, toddler behaviour is often just plain BIG!
(What Mama hasn't wanted to crawl away and hide when her toddler decided to act out in front of the Pastor or right in the middle of an hour-long grocery trip? not me.)
I remember when I first read about this tip. Ellie (10) was about 4, Nathaniel (7) was 2, and Noah (5) was an infant. I tried it and found instant success! Since then I have used it with all of my toddlers with equally great success.
Here's how it works: Toddler starts getting upset (screaming, fussing, falling to the floor in tears, etc). Instead of instantly disciplining the child, get on eye-level with them by either picking them up or kneeling down in front of them. Then verbalize what they are unable to say. Ask questions. Offer empathy. Finally, gently redirect the child to whatever you need or want them to do next.
Seriously. I know this sounds really simple. But it REALLY WORKS!
I'll give you a practical example from one of our Bergey Bunch toddlers, Ethan (2).
----At the end of a family shopping trip to Sam's Club, we pushed our
Ethan was not happy. :) His little bottom lip started to stick out and he started to whine and fuss.
(This is the point at which, before discovering this tip, I would have immediately disciplined my first two toddlers for whining.)
I picked him up and whispered into his ear. "Ethan, are you very sad because you liked that train book?" (EMPATHY)
A slightly whimpered, "Yes!"
"And you really wanted to read it, didn't you?" (VERBALIZE HIS FEELINGS)
"It looked like a fun book to read, didn't it?" (MORE VERBALIZING)
Now he was starting to calm down. "Yes!"
"Well, we can't read it this time because it's time to go bye-bye now. But next time we come to Sam's, I will let you look at that train book, ok?"(EMPATHY AND REDIRECTION)
Completely calm and starting to smile at this point, he said, "Ok! Thank you Mommy!" and wrapped his sweet little arms around my neck. :)
"Ok, buddy, why don't you help Mommy with the groceries now?" (GENTLE REDIRECTION)
He sat back down in the cart and we didn't see an ounce of attitude after that.
I could have handled this situation more confrontationally ("Stop that whining right now!") but have found that, often, toddlers fuss, whine, or scream because they lack the necessary communication skills to act otherwise. If a parent can help them work through their big emotions by verbalizing them for them, the toddler feels understood instead of frustrated.
This simple tip has helped me tremendously in parenting my toddlers!