The toddler years are firmly upon us at our house, and Elliott is acting every bit of his nearly 2 years old! While a lot of this time can be lovely, a lot can be tumultuous. One thing that can be especially frustrating for tots is that their language and cognition skills have yet to catch up with their physical abilities, and their more grown up desires. This is one of the big things that leads to temper tantrums and “acting out” at this age. For a toddler, they are having the equivalent of an Italian vacation after having taken Italian 101 in high school. Even the things they do understand can be confusing when they are combined with things they don’t understand. And imagine how frustrated you would feel if you were in Italy and everything you tried to tell someone was misinterpreted, or at least required lengthy clarification through gestures, limited words, and facial expressions!
There are some strategies to help children through this time, though. While it is important to use a broad vocabulary with children throughout their lives, when trying to negotiate a specific point with a toddler, use specific, simple words. Be clear and concise. Ask questions! Use gestures and show instead of just using words. Point at things and ask, “This one?”
Another really important point to remember is that the word “don’t” is kind of lost on toddlers. Most of them are just cognitively not at the point of being able to register and understand this word in the early years. Plus, saying “Don’t XYZ” doesn’t tell them what they should be doing. Instead, as my children know well these days, tell them what you DO want them to do!
In fact, telling kids what you DO want is a good idea at every stage. Actually, it is just a good tip for communicating in general. Even my husband likes it when I tell him what I DO want him to do instead of just nagging about what I don’t want him to do.
So, remember, don’t say don’t!!!