Toddlerhood | How to be a Calm & Respectful Parent
When toddlers throw tantrums and push boundaries, it can be hard to respond calmly. Mum Blogger Amy Collins has been guided by the respectful parenting approach since her baby has transitioned into a toddler. She says this has had a profound impact on her parenting and has changed the way her toddler responds to her. Here she shares her top advice and gives insight into what it means in everyday life.
Guest Post by Amy Collins
If I had to sum up my experience of respectful parenting in one simple sentence, it would be that I simply consider how I would like to be treated and spoken to and apply this to my son. Although he might be little, he is still a person and if I keep that at the forefront of how I parent him it makes a huge difference! I truly find that the way my toddler responds to me is often a direct reflection of how I respond to him.
About the author
Amy runs the website ‘Amy Jane & Baby’ and accompanying social media where she documents her experiences of motherhood so far. On a journey to live more sustainably, Amy shares her tips for making small, sustainable swaps in all areas of life including investing in toys that have longevity and are multi purpose. On her website you will also find hacks, honest motherhood posts and simple play ideas. Amy is mother to a two year old boy.
Put yourself in your child's shoes
Whenever I feel that my toddler is being unreasonable, I try to put myself in his shoes. Honestly, ninety percent of the time I realise that the way he is feeling is justified. That doesn’t mean it’s rational or that I should give in. However it does give me a greater insight and affects the way I react to him!
For example, when he throws a tantrum because we have to leave a play area we go to frequently. When you stop and consider the situation, doesn’t it make sense? If I was somewhere I loved going and having a great time and then someone told me it was time to leave I think I’d be pretty cross too!
Or when I have to remove a toy from him because he is ramming it into my foot. That seems pretty reasonable of me doesn’t it? However from his perspective he had a pretty fun game going on. He was pushing the boundaries and wondering what would happen, it was all quite exciting. I’ve just ruined his game! You can see why he’s annoyed.
Of course this isn’t going to stop the tantrum or act as a magic wand but understanding your child’s behaviour is key to working through it. By considering situations from their perspective, it will help you to understand them far better.
Acknowledge their feelings
This tip is absolutely key to the respectful parenting approach and it’s something that immediately changes the way my toddler responds to me. If you were upset or angry, what would you want? Would you want someone trying to manically distract you or tell you to stop being upset or ignoring you? Personally I wouldn’t respond well to any of the above!
With that in mind, it’s really important to acknowledge how your child is feeling. Keep it simple, toddlers don’t hear long explanations or wordy sentences especially when they are feeling cross or upset. I usually say something like ‘I took your plane away, that’s upset you’ or ‘We’ve had to leave the park, I can tell you feel angry.’ Obviously only do this if you can truly tell that your toddler feels that way! It has to be sincere, toddlers can tell when you don’t mean it.
This works really well with my son. Last week he was screaming his head off in the car. He didn’t want to be in his car seat and had become really angry! I waited a while to allow him to express how he felt and then I said ‘I can tell you’re angry. You don’t want to be in your seat. What would you like me to do?’. He stopped crying straight away and focused on me instead because I had acknowledged how he was feeling. It wasn’t an instant fix but it was enough to deescalate the situation so that I could suggest a couple of ways I could help him to calm down.
Identify triggers & prepare yourself
It wouldn’t be healthy for your whole world to revolve around avoiding things that your toddler finds tricky. Life has to continue and you can’t avoid every potential trigger! However it is a good idea to identify what might trigger your toddler into having a tantrum or exhibiting strong feelings. By doing so, you are anticipating the situation might be tricky and it helps you to stay calm and prepare.
An easy example would be leaving somewhere you know your toddler enjoys being. It’s going to be hard for them to leave, they are having a good time and are likely to want to stay! So I identify that and prepare for it. I will start to tell my son that we will need to leave soon. I then remind him a couple more times before it’s time to go! Depending on your child’s age, giving time limits may not work but I have found Freddie to understand what I am saying even if he doesn’t want to believe it or acknowledge me. So I might say ‘You are really enjoying the park. We need to leave soon, maybe you can have one more go on the slide?’ As we are leaving, I might say ‘You didn’t want to leave the park, you were having a good time. I understand, we will come back again.’ Followed by ‘Shall we see the ducks on our way out?’
Lately, my toddler has been refusing to wear his summer shoes. I anticipate it’s going to take us longer to leave the house so I make sure I can stay calm and not become stressed by allocating more time than we need. That way I won’t feel frustrated with him and I can be calmer because I know we don’t need to rush!
It's not your job to fix strong emotions
When you release yourself from the responsibility of trying to ‘fix’ your child’s strong emotions, it’s so much easier to stay calm. Part of the respectful parenting approach is about acknowledging your child’s feelings but not trying to fix them.
When your child is crying or having a tantrum our instinct as parents can be to make them stop. We might want to say ‘Stop crying!’ or ‘Come on, you need to calm down now’ but neither of those responses are likely to help. It’s normal to want to stop your child crying, we don’t want them to be upset. It can also be embarrassing when they are having a tantrum and people stare or comment! However if your child is having a tantrum or screaming it’s likely because they need to express their strong feelings. It’s healthy for them to express how they feel and it’s not down to us to stop them or solve the problem for them. It’s our role to make sure they have a safe space to express how they feel, acknowledge their feelings and help them to work through it!
So when my toddler is having a tantrum I might say ‘I can see you’re feeling angry/upset’ and then I will wait. I will sit with him whilst he expresses how he feels and when he has calmed down I will comfort him and we will carry on with our day. Sometimes he might want me to give him a cuddle and sometimes just sitting nearby works. If we are at home and he’s in a safe place, I might carry on with what I’m doing letting him know that I am here if he needs me!
We all need to let out strong emotions sometimes. I’m sure we have all had times where you just need a good cry or to let off some steam. Children are no different! They also need to express how they feel and sometimes it might come out in response to something that seems insignificant to us.
For example, a tantrum that starts because your toddler isn’t allowed another biscuit and then escalates into a situation when they are really cross or upset could actually be about something else. Maybe they are adjusting to a new childcare setting, perhaps they have a new baby brother/sister on the way, maybe they didn’t sleep well the night before or they’re teething. Whatever the reason, it isn’t our job to fix those feelings for them. Our role is to let them know we are there for them and support them to express how they feel.
Adjust your expectations
One of the sections of a book I read on respectful parenting stayed with me and I think about it often. It was a response to a parent who was asking how to deal with her toddler not behaving in a restaurant and needing to be taken outside to calm down. The response was that the parents expectations were unreasonable! The restaurant was not an ideal place for a toddler for so many reasons and that taking them outside was actually the respectful thing to do. Not because they were having a tantrum and the parents were exasperated, but because it was respectful to take the toddler somewhere private to express their strong emotions.
I now try to keep this in mind all of the time. Last week, we went out for brunch. The first place we went to had great reviews and my husband was excited to take me there. On the way into the cafe, there was a great deli with loose fruit and vegetables at eye level. My son instantly gravitated towards this and wanted to explore everything. When I managed to get him into the cafe part, things became very stressful. It was a cramped space with no high chairs, the menus were paper and my toddler ended up ripping one in his keenness to be grown up and read his menu. He started to whine and with no space to explore and in sight of the fruit/vegetables he had been interested in, the situation quickly escalated.
My immediate instinct was to feel embarrassed, to feel the weight of other people’s stares and wonder why he just couldn’t behave. And then I stopped myself and I thought about my own expectations. I was expecting my toddler to sit at a table that was too high for him, surrounded by distractions and items that he wanted to explore but couldn’t touch. Was it any wonder that he had reacted in this way? We left because it wasn’t the right environment for our toddler and we wouldn’t have enjoyed our brunch whilst attempting to wrangle him. We wandered down the street to allow him to stretch his legs and visited a local bookshop before attempting brunch again! My expectations were different this time. We needed somewhere outside or with space, with menus Freddie could pretend to read and we had also purchased a small book and a puzzle for him to explore. The second experience was totally different! It wasn’t us ‘giving in’ or sacrificing what we wanted to do. It was us adjusting our unreasonable expectations in order to enjoy our time together!
So the next time you are out with your toddler and they have a tantrum or are being challenging, consider whether your expectations are fair. That doesn’t mean you stop doing the things you want to do at all but it does mean adjusting your expectations! For example, if you are bringing your toddler to a wedding make sure you have lots of snacks, entertainment and that they can have regular walks to stretch their legs and have some time away from the festivities. If you are travelling on a plane, know that remaining in their seat could be hard for them and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Take a breather
Parenting in this way can be hard sometimes. It’s not always easy to stay calm or rationalise your child’s behaviour! Toddlers are very good at pushing our buttons and working out what to do to rattle us. Remember toddlers are supposed to challenge us and to test boundaries, it’s how they make sense of the world around them! As Janet Lansbury would say, a toddler who is pushing boundaries is doing their job!
With that in mind, it’s important for us to recognise when we need a break. It’s okay to let your toddler know that you are going to sit on the stairs with a cup of tea or are leaving the room for a breather. That doesn’t mean your child is going to simply accept that of course! However you don’t need their approval, you are entitled to take some time to calm down. If my toddler follows me whilst whining when I do this I simply remind him ‘I am having a cup of tea now, I’ll play with you again afterwards’. It takes a few occasions of doing this but now he usually wanders off to find something else to do.
I notice I find it much harder to be calm and patient if I haven’t had any time to myself or don’t feel fulfilled generally. Likewise if I’m tired or rundown! I know it’s not always easy or even possible to carve out time for you to do the things you want to do. However I really try to work hard at finding time for myself whenever I can! With a young baby, it might just be going to the supermarket in the evening alone. Or I occasionally take myself out for a coffee and a browse around the shops! My husband will take our toddler out for a few hours early in the morning on a weekend and it just gives me some peace to think things through. It’s really important to take those chunks of time for you whenever and however you can!
I really hope these tips help you to parent your toddler! It isn’t always easy, but I truly believe that using this approach has made me feel much calmer and more equipped to parent my son in a way that I know will only impact him positively as he grows.
Thank you so much for reading,
So what is Respectful Parenting?
‘RIE parenting could be summed up as an awareness of our babies. We perceive and acknowledge them to be unique, separate people. RIE parenting also makes us more self-aware. Through our sensitive observations we learn not to jump to conclusions; for example, that our babies are bored, tired, cold, hungry, or want to hold the toy they seem to notice across the room. We learn to differentiate our children’s signals from our own projections. We become more aware of the habits we create (like sitting babies up or bouncing them to sleep), habits that can then become our child’s needs. In short, RIE parenting asks us to use our minds as well as our instinct, to look and listen closely and carefully before we respond.’ Janet Lansbury.
📚 Book Recommendations
- “No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame” by Janet Lansbury
- “No-Drama Discipline: the whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child's developing mind” by Janet Lansbury
- “Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting” by Janet Lansbury
🌍 Online Resources