Want to Enjoy Your Kids More? Ignore Them and Everyone Will Be Happier

The quickest way to stop behaviors like whining and tantrums is to selectively ignore them.

Most people decide to become parents because they envision the joy and fulfillment of raising children. They picture Sunday mornings filled with endless snuggles. They see dripping ice cream cones sprinkled with laughter.

In our parenting fantasies, our children are perfect angels. They put away their toys. They wake up smiling, eager to attend school and complete their homework with determination and focus. Our fantasy kids behave in restaurants and jump at the chance to try new foods. Additionally, the little figments of our imagination wear whatever outfits we pick out, and they go to sleep on time, sans argument.

The reality of parenting, though, is far different from the fantasies we all held before having kids. Sure, there are the snuggles and the dripping ice cream, but those moments are short-lived. More often, parenting is slogging through making lunches, sudden stomach viruses, rushing to doctor’s appointments, meetings with teachers, juggling jobs and work responsibilities, and figuring out how to fit in grocery shopping.

Parenting is a lot of work, and much of that work is unavoidable. It isn’t what we imagined, but it’s part of the job.

What is avoidable is what’s widely considered to be the most unpleasant part of parenting. It’s the tantrums and complaining and constant negotiating. It’s the teenager who is pushing our buttons. It’s the child who begs incessantly for a new pack of Pokémon cards. Or the one who complains about homework and dinner and even family vacations to Hawaii. It’s the toddler who screams and yells, no matter the location, when he doesn’t get what he wants. All of that misbehavior drives the joy of parenting way down.

So instead of enjoying our time with our kids, many parents admonish and lecture them. They discipline and allot endless time-outs, but the behavior refuses to cease. It doesn’t go away because the rewards and benefits of the behavior remains intact.

You see, any behavior that is reinforced will be repeated. If kids receive any benefit from whining and complaining and throwing a tantrum (even if it’s just a compromise or a lecture), they think their behavior is an effective way to get what they want. If throwing a fit allowed a child to avoid picking up her toys, you can bet she will repeat that behavior at the dinner table to avoid carrots or at bedtime to skip taking a bath. If a huge tantrum in the line at Target won a child a box of Goldfish, you can believe the child will act up similarly in Starbucks or at Grandma’s house. Why? Because those behaviors work.

But parenting doesn’t have to include these moments.

Take away the benefits for those awful behaviors and they ultimately disappear. Why throw a tantrum at the Great American Cookie Company if no fresh-baked chocolate chip delight arrives? Why curse out Mom or Dad if they convey no reaction?

It’s pretty simple, actually. The quickest way to rid your life of those behaviors is to simply ignore them. Or, to be more precise, selectively ignore them (the behaviors, not the kids). What I mean is whenever your kids are in a power struggle, displaying inappropriate or attention-seeking behavior or throwing a tantrum, just ignore the behavior. As soon as your child stops the unpleasantness, reengage immediately. Kids learn instinctively that those behaviors are no longer effective ways to obtain attention or treats. When it’s clear that they can’t avoid carrots or baths with this type of behavior, kids will cut it out.

Don’t waste all of your precious time admonishing your children or dealing with awful behavior. Instead, provide all the attention and rewards kids crave, but only for the behaviors you would like to see. So lavish attention on children who listen, accept chores without complaining, eat their carrots without negotiating, or offer support to parents instead of cursing them.

You want to be able to look back on your time raising your children with a smile. You want to enjoy the ride and soak in every last moment before they run off to college and leave home for good.

Sometimes this means having endless Sunday snuggles and going out for ice cream. Other times it means ignoring them.

Catherine Pearlman’s book Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction is available now from TarcherPerigee.

This Is Why Your Kid’s Not Listening to You

Whether we realize it or not, parents are often quick to dismiss or minimize kids’ feelings- a practice which stifles communication.

I’m awake earlier than usual and hiding out in bed for a few precious minutes of reading time when a wail interrupts me mid-paragraph. My three-year-old opens my door and throws himself at the bed.
I reach out for a hug. “What’s the matter?”
He ignores me and screams louder.
“Why are you so sad?”
He screams louder and swipes at me.
“Well, I don’t want to spend time with someone who is screaming at me.” I get up and walk into my bathroom.
He follows, screams echoing off the tiles.
I should know better than to ask why.
All parents should know better. We’re on the receiving end of so many whys that, like Louis C.K., we want to yell, “I don’t know any more things! Those are all the things I know!
But I should really know better, because the book my son just interrupted – Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s timeless “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” – warned me off asking why when dealing with an upset child.

Kids’ feelings are real feelings

In the foundational chapter of their book, originally published in 1980 and more recently in a 30th Anniversary Edition, Faber and Mazlish demonstrate the many ways in which parents minimize or reject their children’s feelings: A child complains about being hot, and a parent responds by telling the kid to put on a winter jacket. A child whimpers about a paper cut, and the parent dismisses it as no big deal.
For Faber and Mazlish, these brushed-off feelings are an early breach of trust between parents and their children. The bedrock of Faber and Mazlish’s approach to parenting is acknowledging children’s feelings. Not dismissing. Not minimizing. Not jumping to explain, or blame, or problem-solve. Just acknowledging.
Faber and Mazlish offer four ways that parents can acknowledge their children’s feelings. Parents can simply look at their children and listen. They can offer short acknowledgments like “I see” or “Uh-huh.” They can identify feelings. Or they can give their children their “wishes in fantasy,” like “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could wear shorts in the winter?” or “I wish we could built a paper cut healing machine!”

Kids may not understand their feelings

Faber and Mazlish add a special caution against “why.” Although some kids can explain their feelings in the moment, many cannot. For those kids, asking why just makes things worse:
In addition to their original distress, they must now analyze the cause and come up with a reasonable explanation. Very often children don’t know why they feel as they do. At other times, they’re reluctant to tell because they fear that, in the adult’s eyes, their reason won’t seem good enough. (“For that you’re crying?”)
What kids need, Faber and Mazlish argue, is for their feelings to be understood and respected, not questioned.
Imagine you get a call from someone you’ve known a long time, maybe a sibling or a dear friend. Just their tone of voice leads you to say things like, “You sound tired,” or “Oh no, you must not be feeling well,” or “You sound like you’re having a great day.”
But when talking to your child, who is in the room with you and offering plenty of clues as to how he’s feeling, you ask, “What’s the matter?” or “Why are you crying?” Even though we are trying to communicate empathy, these phrases make it seem as though we’re not really hearing our children.
Did I need to know why my son was sad in order to understand his feelings? I knew he was sad, but I didn’t acknowledge his feeling. Instead, I reflexively swooped in to solve the crying with whatever explanation fit his situation this time.
Maybe my son was crying because he was woken by the neighbors. Maybe he was crying because he’d had that nightmare with the turkey. Maybe he was crying because he was too hot or too cold. Maybe he was crying because that’s what kids do lots of the time. In reaching out for him, I was clearly trying to comfort. But did my “why” add to that? Did it matter why he was crying, or that he was seeking comfort from me?

“Why” sounds like an accusation

Once I started listening to myself, I realized that I often ask some version of “why?” in response to almost all of my child’s emotional outbursts. What’s the matter? Why are you crying? Why do you feel sad? Why are you laughing?
In our worst moments, “why” can become a parent’s accusation. Why didn’t you tell me you needed help with your homework? Why did you break all your pencils? Why didn’t you remember to take the dog out? Why did you do that to your little sister?
These kinds of why questions, Faber and Mazlish argue, put children in an impossible position. They either identify as inadequate or start getting defensive, placing blame on others. Neither position helps children solve their problems.

Turning off “why”

After reading Faber and Mazlish’s suggestion to avoid asking why, I resolve to start acknowledging my son’s feelings. My next chance comes later that morning when he runs into the kitchen and yells, “It’s raining!” before collapsing into sobs.
“Why are you sad it’s –” I catch myself and switch course. “You’re sad it’s raining.”
“Sometimes the noise of rain can be scary.”
My son dives in for a hug and asks if we can read a book. I pick Mo Willems’ “Are You Ready to Play Outside”, which seems appropriate given my son’s mood about the weather.

Turning “why” on ourselves

Faber and Mazlish make a compelling case for not asking “why” when our kids are wrestling with negative emotions. Although their focus is on children, their book also suggests even more important “why” questions:
Why are parents so quick to dismiss or minimize their children’s feelings? Why are we made so angry or uncomfortable by our children’s displays of negative emotion?
It’s incredibly difficult to consider the reasoning behind our own parenting decisions. People spend years in therapy answering that question. But it’s likely true that many of us are wound up in our hopes and dreams for our children. We want them to be happy, fulfilled, and successful. Their negative emotions seem like evidence that they are not thriving.
If we don’t want our children to crumple at the slightest provocation, to in fact flourish despite the difficult times, we need to help them identify and address their emotions.

A Family Stuck in the Autism Waiting Room

When you know something with your child just isn’t right, waiting on an autism diagnosis is nothing short of excruciating.

That feeling that there’s something “different” about your child is a familiar one to all parents. But when it becomes more than just an irrational fear, what we need most of all is honesty and support.
For too many families where the autism spectrum is concerned, however, neither of those are quickly forthcoming – certainly not based on the experiences my family has had over the last seven months.
There had been some early signs in my four-year-old son’s life that we’d largely ignored. He was slow to speak, he never really enjoyed playing with other children, and he struggled with noisy places.
But the trait of his that most powerfully pushed us toward talking to someone about it was his utter aversion to breaking from routines and expectations, and it all came to a head on my dad’s birthday.
We’d planned to spend some time at my parents’ house and then go to a shopping center so my wife could try on a new dress for a wedding. We ran out of time for the latter, so we headed for home instead.
Our son had no reason whatsoever to look forward to the dress shopping, a chore that meant hanging around in a boring clothes shop with a bored daddy. But when we got home, the change of plan led to a huge meltdown.
He screamed and lashed out when I brought him into the house from the car – loud enough so that people halfway down our road probably looked out of their windows, never mind our actual neighbors.
Once inside the house, he was clearly out of control, howling and kicking and punching and biting and, worst – and most dangerously – of all, trying to get back out of the house. I had to lock the front door. He tried kicking his way through it.
It was terrifying and heartbreaking for us. I can’t imagine what it felt like for him.
There had been other times before that, but never quite that bad or quite so obviously triggered by something that made so little sense. Some outbursts had probably just been the normal tantrums of toddlerhood. Some hadn’t.
That led to the first real conversation between my wife and I about whether our son may be autistic. That was over seven months ago. The question still remains unanswered by anyone who could officially answer it. This is why I’ve written this post with a fake name and haven’t named my wife or son. So far, we’ve told very few people about what we believe to be the case. How can we say that our son is autistic when nobody has formally diagnosed him yet?
We’ve decided that we’re not yet ready to discuss it with our own parents (for various reasons), but we’ve taken all the steps you need to take to obtain that all-important diagnosis. We live in the UK, so our healthcare comes from the National Health Service. What follows here is not meant to be a criticism of the NHS or socialized medicine, both of which I wholeheartedly support and always will.
However, autism diagnoses in the UK take far too long. They just do. We’ve been on the waiting list for an appointment to make some kind of progress in this direction, and so far we’ve heard absolutely nothing.
The timing is just plain awful because our son starts school in September. We’ve had to work with his playgroup and future school to prepare him and them for his arrival in the best way we know how.
Without the diagnosis, he doesn’t have the option of entering the class for children with additional needs. This adds an additional level of stress for what is a scary and emotional time for any family. So far, his school has been supportive, letting us visit and coming to see him at home and at playgroup. There’s been no sign of them “indulging the crazy parents who think their kid is autistic.”
That’s where the lack of a diagnosis leaves us. We think he’s autistic and can spend our time reading all about it and how to help him based on our experience, but we don’t actually know anything. Our son doesn’t deal well with the unknown, and we’re sending him out into it very soon.
Sure, we could pay for a private diagnosis, but an initial consultation costs £300. We can’t afford that much, let alone the cost of the full assessment, which can be around £800. For some families, that’s an option. For a family with two kids and only one working parent, no chance.
So, on we go. We have a son who is most likely autistic and do what we can to help him cope in a world that still isn’t made for people like him. This morning, his socks were too “curly,” so he wore his fake Crocs without any socks to go to the dentist, which was too noisy.
We’re learning every day how to be his parents in a way that makes his life easier. Sometimes we mistake things he can’t control for simple naughtiness, and quite probably, we do the reverse as well.
But we’re trying to do our best for him. What we really need is the clarity and support to help us know that we’re at least getting it right some of the time. Hopefully, that will come soon.
We’ll be waiting.

Why Talking to Kids About Emotions Early Matters

Research on emotional intelligence suggests kids are more likely to understand emotions when provided with early opportunities to reflect upon them.

Fostering kids’ emotional regulation is the latest trend in child development, and we can no longer ignore the positive impact of teaching kids to identify and manage emotions. But what does emotional regulation really mean?
Emotion regulation means assuming that much of kids’ behavior is driven by emotions. Tantrums, aggressive behavior, and violence in young kids are often – but not always – a signal of their inability to work out their emotions.
Emotional intelligence therefore means paying attention to kids’ emotions and assuming that kids understand and benefit when we talk to them about feelings and emotions. It’s not just about helping kids identify different emotions. It’s also about helping them understand that sometimes they have to deal with underlying issues, and other times they have to walk away.
Fostering kids emotional intelligence does not mean protecting them from difficult emotions. On the contrary, we help kids develop their emotional intelligence by showing them that emotions are a part of life – that everyone experiences them – and providing a framework within which they can safely express those emotions in acceptable ways.
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Why does emotional intelligence matter?

Much research has been undertaken on emotional intelligence. The studies have found that when we view our kids emotions as important learning opportunities, we help them develop emotional regulation. In this regard, Gottman’s studies have shown that when we validate our kids’ emotions, they are more likely to have better social, academic, and psychological outcomes in the childhood years and beyond.
Several studies have found that the earlier kids are spoken to about emotions (age three), the better they understand and deal with their own emotions and those of others. Other studies have found that even at the end of their second year, kids are able to use emotion-descriptive terms.
There is evidence that verbally explaining the causes and consequences of emotions has an impact on kids’ behavior. Moreover, when we are more empathic, kids are also likely to repair the distress they cause to others and display more altruistic behavior.
In one study, 41 sibling pairs and their mothers were observed when the second child was three years old. They were then observed again when the second child was six-and-a-half years old. One of the study’s objectives was to determine whether talking to kids about feelings and emotions would have an impact on their later ability to identify the feelings and emotions of others.
Although the study does not make it possible to conclude that early family discourse alone causes kids to be more emotionally intelligent, it highlighted interesting results:

  • Kids were more aware of emotions when they were in dispute with others. In other words, social conflict provides an opportunity for parents to talk about emotions. In families where little dispute was observed, kids learned less about emotion regulation.
  • The more frequently kids were spoken to about a range of emotions from age three, the more likely they were to identify the emotions of unfamiliar adults at age six. Kids who had not learned about emotions were less able to accurately identify those emotions.

Much of the available research on emotional intelligence suggests that kids are more likely to understand different emotions when they are provided early opportunities to reflect upon them.
There are, however, three important phases to keep in mind when teaching kids about emotions:

1 | Help kids identify emotions

Helping kids identify different emotions is the first step in helping them develop emotional intelligence. There are multiple ways to teach kids about emotions in fun ways.
When we verbalize different emotions, we help our kids learn to identify them. Being aware of kids’ emotions and giving them a label (e.g. “You look sad”) can also help. Characters in books or even pictures can provide an opportunity to talk about emotions (e.g. “He sure looks happy”).

2 | Identify the factors underlying difficult emotions

Much of kids’ behavior is driven by emotions. Helping kids understand why certain situations make them feel a certain way makes it easier to deal with their emotions. Even when kids are unwilling to talk about what triggers their own emotions, encouraging them to talk about others’ emotions might help them open up.
For instance, when reading a book or looking at an image, you could say, “Why do you think she looks so sad?” Or you could ask how they think a friend would feel in a similar situation. Talking about triggers helps kids reflect about different emotions and makes it easier to identify the appropriate action to take.

3 | Identify how to deal with emotions

The third step involves knowing how to deal with emotions. There are situations we can control. For instance, we can help a child whose constant anger is sparked by sibling rivalry. In other situations, it’s better to “walk away.” Giving kids appropriate tools, such as calm-down jars or boxes, can help them learn to manage anger by themselves.
The thing to remember about emotion regulation is that emotions are everywhere. You can use games to talk to kids about emotions or take advantage of outings to “analyze” the emotions of others.
When it comes to talking to kids about emotions, the options are limitless. The key is to take it one day at a time.

Five Ways to Smooth Transitions for the Whole Family

Looking deeper and changing how we approach transitions is essential for everyone’s wellbeing.    

Having four kids means it’s never simple to move from one activity to another. When we leave the house, we have to find shoes, bring snacks, and strap into car seats. However, more than the physical toll of transitioning from one task to another, the mental cost is what breaks me.

One of my children is an orchid child, a child who can be thrown off course completely by small changes, so that adds another layer to trying to move everyone from one activity to the next. If I’m going to lose my cool, it will likely be when trying to herd four kids away from playing with blocks and into the car to run errands. Those are never my shining moments.

There are tips and tricks for making transitions easier, and many of them start with understanding how kids work. Giving in because a child throws a tantrum about not wanting to go somewhere simply teaches her that having a fit gets her what she wants, but fighting every time we need to leave the park to go home for dinner is exhausting. That’s why looking deeper and changing how we approach transitions is essential for everyone’s wellbeing.    

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Share the plan

All kids need routine, and highly sensitive children thrive best when they know what to expect. Plan the next day and have a family meeting before bed to talk about what’s going to happen tomorrow. Every day is not going to be exactly the same, but try to keep some patterns in place, and alert kids early when the upcoming day is going to be out of the ordinary.

This is also a great way to give kids tools for how to handle change. Neuropsychologist Dr. Karen Spangenberg Postal says that we can teach our kids self-regulation by modeling it and showing them how to create cues for themselves. When we talk to them and help them prepare for a day of transitions, this gives them the skills to implement this practice themselves when we’re not around. They may be better equipped to look at their day as a whole and then view it in parts, making sure to notice the transitions that are looming so they’ll be better prepared.

Explain the why

When it’s time to move from one activity to another, my sensitive child doesn’t want to just be told to come on and shift gears. This child needs the why behind the change, especially if the activity being abandoned is a fun one.

Offering the why helps kids understand that parents aren’t just trying to mess with their time. Telling a child it’s time to put away toys and go to the grocery store can be followed with explaining that failing to go to the grocery store will lead to frustration when it’s time for dinner. Though that’s obvious to an adult, kids don’t always think that far out and need to be reminded of why we have to stop doing things we want to do to perform necessary tasks.

Ask about the actual concern

Any child can experience fear or discomfort when making transitions, but Katherine Martinelli points out in her article for the Child Mind Institute that kids with emotional or developmental problems are especially put off by transitions. A child who struggles with sensory issues, autism, or anxiety may feel overwhelmed by change in a more extreme way than a child who doesn’t.

For instance, my son hates it when I say it’s time to pack up his toys and go buy groceries. I assumed for months that he just hated not having his toys or he didn’t like to walk through the store. When I finally asked, he said the store was too cold and he was constantly uncomfortable, a particular issue for him because he is very sensitive to environmental triggers. We bring a sweater now and that transition is much easier.

The same thing happened when one of my children didn’t want to go to swim lessons. My kids love the pool, so I was stumped as to why any of them would whine about time in the water. Turns out the fear was in making new friends, not getting in the pool. Once a new friend was made, my more introverted child was fine going to the lessons. I just needed to ask to find out what was going on and address the real problem.

Offer a countdown

Kids need to be warned when a transition is coming. Things fall apart quickly when we’re rushed or when I say, “Okay, stop coloring and get in the car,” without giving prior warning.

Starting with a 10 minute countdown is good, but giving warnings at the five and one minute marks is wise. Kids forget, and they don’t always know how long 10 minutes is. Starting early gives them plenty of warning and allows them to wrap up what they’re doing, while checking in after the initial warning means they aren’t caught by surprise.

Offer loads of grace

Extending grace is easiest when we think of how our kids must feel. Parents should remember that kids often feel out of control of their lives since many decisions are made for them by others. I love reading, and if someone interrupts me in the middle of a book to move me to another activity, I’m not going to be pleased. Even if that other activity is eating ice cream or meeting up with friends, I still won’t like that I was forced to stop doing what I wanted to make a transition when I wasn’t ready.

Empathize with a child’s plight instead of simply nagging him into motion. The whole transition will be more pleasant for everyone.

The Terrible Twos in No Way Prepared Me for the Freaking Fours

Within that sweet, loving, happy child lies a “fournado” just waiting to be unleashed and wreak havoc on anything within a five mile radius.

Before I even had kids, I knew about the “terrible twos.” I had heard tales of tantrums and legends of toddler destruction. I had witnessed meltdowns of small children in restaurants, the grocery store, and the middle of the toy aisle in Target. I knew what to expect.

When I had my first child, I read the chapters in parenting books about two-year-olds, learning about their brain development and what is normal. I researched how to cope with their unruly behavior. I was armed and prepared so when the twos happened, I was ready. And I survived, as did my kids.

I threw out the parenting books, certain I would no longer need them. Ha! I was a “terrible two” survivor! I was on top of the world. I’d prevailed. I was certain that I could handle anything my kids dished out, at least until the teenage years. I was laughing, but so was the universe. Clearly I should have kept reading.

Four-year-olds are fun. They’re sweet, adorable, and say really smart and funny things. Most of the time you just want to squish their cute little cheeks and listen to their silly stories. Be warned though, within that sweet, loving, happy child lies a “fournado” just waiting to be unleashed and wreak havoc on anything within a five mile radius.

On a routine trip to the grocery store, my son turned into a raging lunatic. He was not provoked, thirsty, hungry, or tired. He was just four and very passionate about a sugary cereal on the grocery store shelf that he’d never actually tried but that had a picture of Star Wars on it, so it must be good. So good, in fact, that he could not possibly live without it. To emphasize that his very survival was 100 percent reliant on said cereal, he took off his rubber boot, threw it down the aisle, and refused to go on until it was safely ensconced in his ironclad grip. Needless to say, I was having none of it. Neither was he. He proceeded to have a very vocal sit-in protest in the middle of the breakfast foods aisle. A sit-in that, thankfully, ended in his surrender.

That was the day that I learned that four-year-olds invest themselves, body and soul, into random, weird things. Like cereal.

I have also learned that they have really strong opinions. About everything. The food they eat, the clothes they wear, or how to brush their hair. They know what they like, what they don’t like, and they’re not afraid to let you know. Loudly. Whenever. Wherever. They speak in full sentences, understood by all, at an incredibly high volume. Sometimes they even say things that they probably shouldn’t, like “you’re a big dumb poopy-head.”

Similar to their former two-year-old selves, four-year-olds are still capable of turning into a writhing pile of Jell-o on the floor, but they have the added bonuses that they now possess more stamina, are less easily distracted, and have their minds wired to do whatever it takes to bend matter to their will. They’re also a lot heavier than they were two years ago, making it difficult to haul them out of potentially embarrassing situations.

Another fun fact? Four-year-olds know everything. You? You know nothing. There is no point in arguing with them. You will, because they’re the harbingers of alternative facts and it’s your job as a parent to teach them right from wrong. Even things that are absolute will be questioned, turned upside down, and put back together to suit their alternate reality.

An example: that big yellow thing that rises in the east every morning since the dawn of time is known as the sun by all, except for my four-year-old, who declared one morning, “That is not the sun. It is the moon.”

I responded, “It’s the sun. The sun rises in the east. That is east.”

My four-year-old disagreed. “It’s not the east! And that is not the sun!”

There is no winning in an argument with a four-year-old.

Yup, four-year-olds are crazy. They lose their minds over ridiculous things. Like cereal. Or pants. Or that one tiny piece of Lego that has disappeared forever. They will make you feel like you are losing your mind, your sanity unraveling thread by thread. They question everything and will make you question everything too. They are frustrating and exhausting. They are also amazing little people who are just trying to figure out how this whole big world works and how they work in it.

Here’s to being four! (And hoping five-year-olds are somewhat saner.)

This was originally posted on Sammiches and Psych Meds.

5 Things You Shouldn't Expect From Your Two-Year-Old Because, Well, They're Two

Some of the things we struggle with are actually normal behavior for toddlers.

Kids act according to specific development stages. Some of the things we struggle with are actually normal behavior for children. At age two, kids are just learning to connect to their world but still haven’t grasped many concepts adults take for granted. Here are some of the things we need to stop expecting of two-year olds.

1 | Stop expecting your two-year-old to share

Sharing does not come naturally to kids. According to a recent study, although kids can learn the basics of sharing from age three, it is only from around age seven that they fully understand the concept of sharing. Even at age three, the concept of ownership is hard for kids to grasp. They don’t understand that what they own is theirs, and that they will eventually get back what belongs to them when they share.

What you can do instead

Rather than force your kids to share, let them see you sharing stuff. Share books with your partner, share cookies with the kids, teach your child about sharing by being a model.

2 | Stop expecting your two-year-old to stop throwing temper tantrums

The reason why temper tantrums are common at age two is because young children don’t have the words to express themselves yet. Young children are often unable to differentiate between different strong emotions and therefore react to them in the only way they know how, i.e., by acting out and throwing tantrums.

What you can do instead

One of the worst things you can do when dealing with tantrums is to fail to be consistent. The second is to give in. When we give in, we teach our kids that tantrums will get them what they want.
Tantrums, however, can also point to your child’s inability to verbalize emotions so it’s important to know when to ignore them (unless if your child risks putting herself or others in danger) and when to hold your child close to show her she’s safe. Remember that it is also at around this age that your kid will start experimenting with independence.
It’s never too early to familiarize your child with the different emotions and coping mechanisms she can use. When your child knows that a hug will help her calm down, she is more likely to come to you for a hug, rather than throw a tantrum when she’s sad.
Avoid situations that trigger your child’s tantrums.

3 | Stop expecting your two-year-old to be patient

Children’s ability to delay gratification predicts their success as they grow older. Problem is, two-year olds “want it all and want it now.” That’s just the way it is. Although kids (from around age five) can be taught distraction techniques to help control behavior, these techniques just don’t work with toddlers.

What you can do instead

When kids have to wait too long, they’re bound to become agitated and frustrated so don’t keep them waiting for longer than is necessary.
At this age, your kid has a short attention span so you can try distracting her by proposing an attractive alternative. Remember, however, that young children seek immediate gratification and tend to consider that the longer they have to wait for a reward, the less the subjective value of that reward (gifts, hugs, special treats, etc.).

4 | Stop expecting your two-year-old to want to play with other kids

At age two, kids rarely play with other kids – they play alongside other kids. Parallel play occurs at around this age, and it involves children playing next to each other without trying to influence one another’s behavior.

What you can do instead

Every kid goes through parallel play before transitioning into a social player, so don’t force your kids to play with other kids, especially if they seem comfortable playing by themselves. Remember that at age two, behavior is self-directed. Moreover, playing alongside other kids helps children’s development. Although kids may not play together, by looking at each other and adjusting their behavior, they learn important social skills.

5 | Stop expecting to “save” your two-year-old

There’s a common misconception that two-year-olds are helpless, yet it is at this age that they start experimenting with independence. It is also at age two that kids also start trying to act like their parents. Moreover, children gain confidence when they’re able to do things by themselves.

What you can do instead

Remember that kids at this age want to imitate their parents so let your kid help you out with age-appropriate tasks. Even at age two, children can participate in simple chores. Give her a diaper to throw away. Ask her to pick up her toys. Ask her to put her clothes in the laundry basket. And so on.
You’ll be surprised at how much your two-year-old can do when provided with the right tools and the right environment.
Kids at age two are frustrating, but the “terrible twos” are a normal, and (hopefully) short-lived phase. While you shouldn’t allow your kids to get away with inappropriate behavior, knowing that “this too shall pass” can make the parenting journey easier.

How to Keep Your Kids from Freaking out at the Doctor's Office

No kid likes going to the doctor’s office. It’s a terrifying experience for a little person. But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

No kid likes going to the doctor’s office. It’s a terrifying experience for a little person. It’s one of the first times that they’re forced to trust some strange big person who isn’t Mom or Dad with something really serious – and it almost always ends with them getting hurt.

I’d like to say that I’ve raised a perfect child who does nothing but beam smiles when it’s time for a doctor’s appointment, but I haven’t. My son was born with a complete and abject terror of shots and stethoscopes unlike any the world has ever seen. He kicks. He screams. He cries. Sometimes he has to be pinned down.

Or, at least, he used to. We’ve had to work hard to calm our boy down but with a little care and a little help, we’ve managed to get our little screamer to keep from freaking out at the doctor’s office.

Here’s how.

Be honest about what’s going to happen

Honesty really is the best policy, especially when it comes to stopping a little one’s tears. It might be tempting to tell your kid that you’re just going to get ice cream and then drop them off at a Walk-In clinic with a band-aid and a thumbs-up for luck, but it’s not going to save you any tears.

Let your kid know exactly what’s going to happen, including that, if they have to get a shot, it might hurt. When the needle punctures their skin, you don’t want the feeling to be a surprise. You want them to be ready for it and to know how to handle it.

I let my son come with me to my doctor’s appointment, and it worked wonders. He got to watch Dada get a needle in his arm before he had to go through it himself. He got to see that he isn’t the only person who has to go through this.

I didn’t lie. “The needle hurt a little bit,” I told him afterward. “But when I felt it, I just took a deep breath – and when it was over, it didn’t hurt anymore.”

Role play before the visit

In your kid’s imagination, the doctor’s office is a torture chamber of horrors. They blow the experience out of proportion and, when they have to go again, they convince themselves that they’re about to step into an absolute nightmare. Our job, as parents, is to tone that fantasy down to reality.

A great way to get your child ready for what’s to come is to role play the doctor’s visit before they do it. Let them know everything that’s going to happen and what it’s going to feel like. That means letting them know that stethoscopes are cold, tongue depressors are uncomfortable, and shots hurt, but only for a second.

Reading a book is another way to get kids ready that works wonders. Kids love to play out things they see in stories. After our son read “Corduroy Goes to the Doctor,” he was actually eager to make his visit and to prove that he could be every bit as a brave as a patchwork stuffed bear.

Help them take a little control

Part of what makes visiting the doctor so scary is the feeling of helplessness. A child really has to let go and just let things happen to them. That’s not easy to do. It helps to give them something they can actually control.

We talked to our son about why he needed to get shots before he went in for his vaccinations, and when asked, “How do shots keep me from getting sick?” we realized a way we could give him a little initiative in the room. Instead of just fumbling through a weak explanation of vaccinations, I just told my son that I knew they worked and encouraged him to ask the doctor.

He did. When we went in, he asked the doctor how vaccines worked. It gave him a feeling of taking charge that made him a lot braver.

If you know your kid isn’t the type that’ll ask the doctor questions, there are other things you can do. Let your child pick out a band-aid to bring to their appointment or anything that gives them a little power. It’ll go a long way in calming them down.

Don’t let your anxiety rub off on your kid

If your child has gone through hell at the doctor’s before, there’s a good chance you’re dreading the next appointment every bit as much as they are. But you’re going to have to get that under control because that anxiety rubs off.

Do whatever you can to keep yourself calm before taking your kid in. That might mean talking to the doctor beforehand and going through all the steps here yourself. Find out what’s going to happen, play it out in your mind, and find a way to take a little control.

Or, if you can’t get it under control, it might just mean you need to stay home. If you’re the parent who thinks they need to protect their child from the doctor, you might just need to let your spouse take over on this one.

Celebrate afterward

There’s definitely such thing as spoiling a child with too many rewards, but a child can’t possibly be more deserving of a prize than on the day he overcomes his biggest fear. Bribe your kid for a good doctor’s visit. After all, they’ve earned it, and you want this to be a positive experience.

Just make sure it’s clear why you’re rewarding your child. Let them know they’re being rewarded for their bravery, and highlight any of the strategies they used to keep from freaking out. Let them know you’re proud of them for tackling something that scared them without breaking down into hysterics and they’ll start associating that kind of bravery with good things, like ice cream.

Try again

I’d like to say that I tried all of this once and my son was never afraid of the doctor again, but that’s not exactly what happened.

My son started off tough. He asked the doctor questions, looked away from the needle when it was time for his shots, and, when it went in, he took a deep breath and didn’t cry. He was incredibly proud of himself. A little smile appeared on his face and he told us proudly, “I did it! It’s all over, and I didn’t cry!”

Except he still had three more shots to go.

When the next shot went in, he started crying. “I thought I could do it!” he screamed. “I thought I could do it but I can’t!”

By the last one, he was trying to fight off the nurse while she pinned him down and forced a needle into him like a scene straight out of a horror movie.

It wasn’t exactly a perfect doctor’s visit, but it was a huge improvement. That’s what counts. No child is going to overcome their fears overnight. It’ll take a few tries to get used to going to the doctor without freaking out, but it will happen.

5 Reasons Your Toddler is Freaking Out, According to Science

Tantrums are a normal part of development and, in a way, they’re actually good for our kids. Here are some of the reasons toddlers blow up.

When my son gets dressed in the morning, he puts his socks on last. They must be white, he admonishes when I hand him the wrong pair. They must be long. Above all, they must be worn over his pants, pulled all the way up to his knees.

I’ve tried to talk him out of it. I’ve tried explaining to him that it’s just not a good look, but the second I tuck them in it’s like I’ve pulled out the wrong wire on a live bomb. He explodes into a fury of kicks, screams, and tears. Within moments, he’ll collapse on the ground, moaning through heavy sobs that his socks don’t look “piratey.”

For some reason, this is a huge trigger for my son. He isn’t just a crybaby – he can bash his head into a chair and hold it all in, but the second I tell him how to wear his socks, a tantrum ensues.

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There doesn’t seem to be much logic to a toddler’s temper tantrums, but there is a science to them. There are reasons why kids freak out over something as silly as how piratey their socks look, and it makes more sense than you’d expect.

Sure, it can feel like your child is the only one in the world who freaks out this badly, but every child has tantrums. They’re a normal part of development and, in a way, they’re actually good for our kids. Here are some of the reasons toddlers blow up.

They think we’ve stopped loving them

When my son was three, I explained to him what unconditional love meant. “It means Mommy and Daddy will always love you no matter what happens,” I told him.

I’d always imagined he got this instinctively, but he didn’t. He was absolutely amazed to find out that our love for him wasn’t some brittle thing that could fall apart at the drop of a hat.

And that’s how it is for most toddlers – they think that they can lose our love at a moment’s notice. According to Professor Alicia Lieberman, toddlers take our disapproval as a sign that we’ve stopped loving them. Some will think, “When mommy is angry with me, does she still love me?” Others will even say it out loud.

When we show our disapproval, toddlers don’t always see it as just getting in trouble. They think their whole relationship with their parents is about to fall apart and they go into total panic mode.

Babies don’t understand that they’re just babies

Kids usually start having tantrums around the time we start setting rules. That’s no coincidence.

As parents we see ourselves as caretakers, people who are responsible for keeping our children safe. The thing is, toddlers don’t see us that way. They see the world as something open and free that they’re invited to explore.

For the first time, our children are finally free to do what they like and, as far as they can tell, we’ve spontaneously decided to go on some weird power trip to stop them from doing anything they want. They don’t understand the reason behind our rules and it makes them furious.

Being a toddler is confusing and terrifying

Children’s brains aren’t fully developed. Specifically, a toddler’s frontal lobe is still underdeveloped, and that changes a lot about how they perceive reality.

For one thing, toddlers use magical thinking instead of logical thinking. This means that they accept crazy ideas like “Santa is real” and “my uncle just stole my nose” as facts, because it appeals to their emotions.

This puts them on the edge. The tiniest thing that adults never even imagined as scary can cause toddlers’ bodies to release fight-or-flight chemicals, priming them to freak out. Since they don’t understand the concept of time, those freak-outs can be bad. They’ll throw toys across the room, be damned what comes of it tomorrow, because they don’t fully understand that right now will end.

They don’t know how else to express themselves

When our kids have tantrums, we often think they’re trying to manipulate us. We often worry that they’re starting to outsmart us and take over the house, but that’s rarely true.

Kids freak out because they don’t really know how to do anything else. A toddler can’t sit down and explain what’s troubling him, what path he thinks you should take, and why he feels it would be in your best interest to take his suggestions.

All toddlers really know how to do is take all those emotions they’re feeling inside and get them to the outside. Usually, they don’t even try to do it, the emotions just spill out uncontrollably. Pretty soon, they’re screaming and crying, which is exactly how they’re feeling on the inside.

Of course, if they start to notice that having a tantrum lets them get their way, they’ll start doing it deliberately. As we long as don’t reward them for freaking out, they won’t do it on purpose.

They learn from it

It’s a pain watching your child freak out in the middle of the grocery store, but it isn’t entirely a bad thing. Your child is learning a valuable life lesson from this meltdown, and it’s one she’s going to have to learn sooner or later: life is sometimes hard.

Frustration is a part of every person’s life, something we realize for the first time when we’re toddlers. That’s why kids freak out so badly. It’s not just that you didn’t buy them cookies. In a way, they’re struggling with the existential realization that life is not going to give them the things that they want.

They’ll have to learn this sooner or later. As long as we comfort our children and show them we still love them when the freak-out is over, they’ll learn that even in their darkest moments, they’re not alone. Their family will love them and will be there to support them – even when they’re not getting their way.

Delayed Gratification is an Ancient Skill to Teach Your Kids

We’re so used to the instant access culture of the internet, smart phones and fast food, that waiting has become really difficult.

I’m not proud to admit it, but when my WIFI takes too long to load a page, I shout at my screen. When a car drives too slowly in front of me, I shout at the driver from behind my steering wheel, and get really agitated when I can’t immediately overtake. When I get to a coffee shop and there’s a queue in front of me, the wait makes me antsy and irritable. I’ve actually offered to pay the barista extra to bump me up the queue.  
I’m so used to the instant access culture of the internet, smart phones and fast food, that waiting has become really difficult for me.
Even though I grew up in a time when we had to post letters and wait for a reply! I had to wait around at home (sometimes for days) for a phone call I was expecting. I would have to wait to get taken to the library to look up something that I wanted to know. 
Imagine what it’s like for our children who have been exposed to our instant access culture from day one. You want to know where granny is? Phone her right now on her cell phone. You want pizza for dinner? Let’s order one and it’ll be delivered to our door. Are you feeling bored? Here, take my phone and play a game.
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If you’ve ever heard about the Stanford marshmallow experiment, you’ll know that this really isn’t a good thing at all. In the experiment, researchers ask children to wait in a room with a marshmallow. They’re told that they can either eat the marshmallow right away, or wait until the researcher comes back, when they will be able to eat that marshmallow plus another one. The researchers went on to study the participants in years to come, measuring their levels of success and happiness in later life, and relating it back to how they handled the marshmallow situation.
In a nutshell, instant gratification potentially leads to a lack of self-control, a lack of perseverance, and ultimately lower levels of success in adult life.
This may or may not hold true, as there are usually grey areas with all of these studies, but what I know to be true as an educator is that I can quite easily tell apart those children who are used to waiting patiently, from those who aren’t.
The ‘waiters’ are more respectful of theirs teachers and peers. They’re gracious and less anxious in a group situation because they’re not focused on having their needs met instantly. They understand working consistently towards a goal because they don’t expect instant results. They show perseverance and tenacity, and put less pressure on themselves to do things perfectly the first time.
I want my own children to learn how to be “waiters.” 
I’ve come up with a couple of tips to help us all improve our delayed gratification skills. 

1 | Teach distraction

Most parents are masters at distracting their children from something they want but can’t have. The trick is to teach your children to distract themselves. Like when they really, really want to play on the iPad but they know that they have to wait another hour, teach them the skill of going to play with a ball or reading a book to pass the time, instead of lying on the floor screaming for the iPad, or moping around trying to make their bad mood ruin everyone else’s day.

2 | Be intentional about it

Make a cake and let it stand on the counter all day waiting for tea time. Wait half an hour before handing over your phone. Let your children experience the feeling of being hungry for that hour before dinner instead of giving them another snack. Encourage them to save up for something you would usually just buy for them. Make them wait until Friday to watch the DVD they’ve borrowed from their friend. Does this sound mean? I’m pretty sure it’s how we all experienced childhood.

3 | Just deal with the tantrum and sulking

What is with this idea that we have to quickly put an end to every bit of unhappiness or sulkiness? It may have something to do with our own instant gratification issues.  We just want the uncomfortable feelings to go away quickly! Our generation of parents really needs to learn to be okay with our children’s unhappiness because, believe it or not, it’s not our job to make them happy.
It’s actually our job to teach them how to be decent human beings who can cope with their own (sometimes uncomfortable) feelings. Letting your children experience that bit of unhappiness in the safety of their own family is one of the best things you can do for them. They come out the other side realizing that the world didn’t end because they didn’t get what they wanted. They will learn that they can survive feeling frustrated and unhappy, and everything is still okay because those feelings will eventually pass.
As uncomfortable as the past half hour may have been, they can get up and get on with life. Next time it will be shorter, and eventually they’ll realize that being grumpy doesn’t get them what they want, so they might as well just not bother with it.

4 | Model good waiting behavior

As always, children learn much more from what we do than from what we say, so work at become a good ‘waiter’ yourself too. It’s not always easy… but I’ll try if you will.
This article was originally published on fitkids-sa.co.za