My youngster became irritated with me and yelled, "I don't love you." I was thinking, "That makes me sad because I love spending time with you, I enjoy our fun, and I really love you," but then I got to thinking about the long term. I don't want my kids to feel that they have to hide their emotions in order for other people not to be unhappy, especially when it comes to dating. I don't want kids to be taught that they should avoid hurting others' feelings if they don't reciprocate love. How can I reply to this type of remark in a way that encourages my toddler to be sympathetic while still allowing him to express his feelings appropriately?
Your thoughtfulness in the trenches of toddler parenthood has inspired me. I frequently acknowledge how much of my early childhood mothering fell well short of my "precious moments" expectations of parenthood. In fact, my son went through what seemed like an endless phase of yelling at me in moments of distress, "Time to put on your shoes, honey!" "I don't love you!" says the speaker.
Now that I'm past the toddler stage, it's much simpler to recognize all the opportunities to turn toddler foolishness into growth. You've already arrived! You now have a strong knowledge of the short-term and long-term consequences of your responses to your toddler, so I'm convinced the following steps will fall into place effortlessly.
Think about Theory of Mind.
A youngster developing empathy relies on skills related to "theory of mind," which refers to the ability to comprehend another person's experience and perspective that differs from one's own. Despite appearances, toddlers are not greedy jerks; they are supposed to be self-centered and actually do not understand how to see things from someone else's point of view.
Although toddlers do not yet have the brain development for theory of mind, what others model helps them get there when their brains are ready, which is usually around the age of 4 or 5.
During the Meltdown
It can be difficult to remember not to take toddlers literally during a meltdown, but their bold assertions serve a purpose: they express powerful emotion. The basic processes for responding to big words and big sentiments are as follows:
1. Maintain as much calm as possible. (I know, it's much easier said than done, so reward yourself with a gold star every time you achieve!)
2. Reflect back on their likely emotions for the scenario to demonstrate empathy and perspective-taking: "You look angry that we have to leave the park now." Maybe you're also saddened by the fact that you had so much fun on the slide."
3. Without disregarding their experience, assist them in putting into words what they may genuinely mean instead of not loving you. Instead of saying, "I know you love me!" you may say, "You said you don't love me." I'm curious if this suggests that playing in the park is so enjoyable that it's difficult to leave."
Your use of empathy in these situations, as well as being calm in their storm, achieves two key goals: It assists your children in regulating their strong emotions throughout the outburst and models empathy. The more kids see you do it, the more they will do it when they are older and competent.
The first step of being cool can help people work through their huge feelings more quickly; when we become reactive (yell back), everyone's emotions remain high and the dispute lasts longer. Translating their statement into a different approach to express the same emotion provides them with a template for doing so in the future, even if that future is at least a few years away.
The Control Panel for Emotions
If we could peer into the mind of an agitated toddler, we would see a swarm of lightning rods sparking about their limbic system, which is the brain's emotions control panel. The difficulty is that the other regions of their brains that contain the lightning to prevent a full-fledged storm have not formed. Starting now makes a difference in helping your child express emotions appropriately, but you may not see improvements for a few years.
Nevertheless, the nature of early childhood brain development implies that newly gained skills appear to evaporate during times of heightened emotion because they simply need more work. Keep going: I promise that every time you reply calmly by describing emotions for them, it is soaking into those synapses and ultimately they will do it on their own.
Why It is important how you respond.
No pressure, but the interactions we make with our children from the start form what psychologists call a person's "internal working model." How parents relate to their children in the early years sets the tone for future relationships, which you can already see as you worry about how your reaction to your children's emotions may effect the health of their relationships later on. Validation and compassion are two important gifts that any parent or caregiver may give to their young child.
Validate their experience (however bizarre it may seem). A child's perception that their parent actually understands them begins at an early age and powerfully predicts eventual well-being.
Show compassion for your child's whole range of emotions by emphasizing that all feelings (even if not all acts) are appropriate. The greater children's freedom in experiencing and expressing challenging, unpleasant emotions, the better their overall psychological health.
These two presents not only help your child's emotional skills and well-being, but they also help your youngster develop a sense of self-worth. This self-esteem assists them in finding healthier connections in the future, which appears to be your ultimate goal, even in these everyday interactions now.
There is no way to make every interaction magical, or even nice, during the toddler parenting season. We are on our own learning curve, just as toddlers are continually learning from us. I frequently advise parents of these little explosives that having the big picture of their eventual development in mind can help us respond more effectively in the moment, but it does not have to be 100% of the time.
Just as you embrace your child's emotions in order to educate them about love and safety in relationships, you should be able to accept your own learning as part of your own parenting development. Your children will undoubtedly love you forever and always, regardless of what they say now.