When it comes to universal kid truths, the fact that toddlers have tantrums pretty much tops the list. On the flipside is another truth—handling tantrums can be tough for parents. The good news is, parents and caregivers can help our littles deal with their very big feelings, using specific strategies that can benefit everyone. So we asked the experts for advice, and here’s what they had to say.

Acknowledge (and Name) Their Feelings

The Situation: My daughter and I have spent a lot of time at the playground recently. If it were up to her, she’d play all day. Eventually, we have to go pick up a sibling from school or have lunch or do something else. She’s disappointed we have to go and isn’t afraid to show it.

The Solution: Julietta Skoog, Nationally Certified School Psychologist and co-founder of Sproutable, a company that supports parents in growing remarkable kids through classes, coaching, and video content, explains that tantrums are a form of communication. One that lets parents know our kids don’t feel understood. She suggests validating and acknowledging their feelings. Use simple phrases like “I can see you’re disappointed” or “I know you want to stay at the playground.” Neurologically speaking, when our kids are losing it, their feelings are on red alert. Naming their feeling triggers the amygdala (the part of our brain that processes emotions) and helps kids flip the switch to green. It reassures them, lets them regroup, and returns them to the rational side of their brain.

Bonus tip: If possible, let your kid have a situational do-over after they’ve recovered, like saying “bye-bye” to the playground.

Model Behavior

The Situation: I’ve had more than one night where I’m juggling making dinner while helping my big kids with homework when my toddler melts down. Whether she’s hungry, not getting enough attention, or just feels overwhelmed, she’s had enough and I’m feeling stretched.

The Strategy: Dr. Alison Scott, a Seattle-area pediatrician and founder of baby doc box, a curated subscription box for baby’s first year, offers a great reminder for situations like these. Toddlers don’t have the coping skills we do. Scott suggests parents show kids how it’s done by modeling appropriate behavior. Try saying something like, “I see you’re having a hard time. I’m having a hard time too.” Then take a few deep breaths or find a quiet place to sit down. Basically, do what you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Your kids will notice and eventually follow suit.

photo: iStock

Let Them Know What They Can Do

The Situation: If you know a toddler, you know how stubborn they are. Like Sinatra, they always have to do it their way. When my daughter wants to play with her sister’s off-limits toys or insists on going barefoot in the middle of winter, she’s not interested in being told “no.”

The Strategy: For these moments, Skoog explains that framing the situation as a positive—one you can say yes to—is a way to be firm but kind. So when my toddler melts down because her sister won’t let her play with her doll, a simple re-frame is in order: “Yes, you want to play dolls. Let’s go get your dolls so you can.” Similarly, letting her know “we can go outside when you’ve put your shoes on,” helps her see what she can do, rather than what she can’t.

Bonus tip: Be selective about saying no, and don’t give in to tantrums because it might reinforce unwanted behavior.

Remove Yourself or Your Audience

The Situation: If you haven’t had a toddler lose it in public, are you even a parent? For all the times I’ve been in the toy aisle at Target and my daughter spies a must-have toy I have no intention of buying, the tantrum potential is high.

The Strategy: Scott recommends an “extract and distract” approach. Skoog expands saying parents can remove themselves from the environment, or ask those you’re with to give you a minute. Finding a more private place lets kids know that you’ve got time and space to deal with whatever is going on. Once you’re out of the situation, it’s time to redirect or offer comfort. The goal here is “connection before correction.” Try softening your approach and getting down on the same level as your kiddo for extra impact.

Bonus tip: It’s natural to view our tot’s tantrums as a reflection of our parenting. But tantrums are a natural part of development, and when we remove our feelings from the situation, we can be more responsive, attentive, and attuned to what’s really going on.

Be Consistent with Routines

The Situation: Like all kids, toddlers love routine. But with two much-older kids, there are days my two-year-old doesn’t get to follow hers. She misses naps or stays up past bedtime on the regular, thanks so the noisy tween and teen down the hall.

The Strategy: If you have to disrupt the routine, be prepared. Watch for your kiddo’s cues, says Scott, and try to prevent the outburst. Pack extra snacks, bring along a lovey, or try to distract toddlers on the verge. The bottom line is, there’s no “secret sauce” to prevention. In that case, ignoring the tantrum is an option. Make sure your tot is safe and let it take its course.

—Allison Sutcliffe

 

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Gone are the days where having a strong vocabulary only matters on the SAT. Kids today—more than ever—need a good vocabulary not only for success in school but also to express themselves in a way that empowers them to make an impact on the world around them—a world that has been rocked by a worldwide pandemic.

According to Boston Children’s Hospital, the most important thing you can do to help a child experiencing heightened stress and anxiety is to listen to them. And if they have the vocabulary to express themselves, you’ve equipped them to take control of that stress and anxiety. So whether you’re motivated to grow your child’s vocabulary for school success or for social and emotional reasons, you’re winning the parenting game. Keep reading for tips and strategies from experts to help grow your child’s vocabulary in an organic way.

Read Together

According to Sandra Gatlin, a fourth-grade teacher with over 30 years of experience, “The key to a broad vocabulary is to foster a love of reading in your child. Whether from reading together as toddlers, or listening to them read to you as they develop their abilities, you cannot find a better way to expand your vocabulary.”

Extra Credit: Don’t stop reading to your kids, even after they can do it on their own. Choose a book that interests them that’s above their reading level, and “talk about what you’re reading, so you can work on comprehension, too,” adds Gatlin.

Go Hunting for Sight Words with Nerf Guns

“My son doesn’t want to look at a workbook or sit still after he’s been at school all day,” mom and educator extraordinaire Anne Hart says. So she wrote sight words on Post-It notes and stuck them on the ceiling, near the baseboards, and behind doors throughout her house. Now, her son picks up a Nerf gun and gets prizes for shooting the right word that Hart calls out.

Extra Credit: Don’t stop at sight words. You can play this game with vocabulary words and definitions. Just write the word on the Post-It note, and read the definition out to your hunter, who’ll go “hunting” for the correct word.

Match and Go Seek

Another great game for active kids, match and go seek also involves Post-It notes. Make two copies of each word, then give one stack to your child, and place the other notes on corresponding items. For instance, give your child a Post-It note with the word “tree” written on it, then place another one on the trunk of a tree in the backyard. Get more creative and advanced as his or her vocabulary grows.

Extra Credit: The National Center on Improving Literacy reports that “remote literacy learning includes a mixture of literacy learning experiences that are teacher-led, family-led, and student-led. Parents have an important role in helping develop your child’s literacy skills.” Your involvement in growing your child’s vocabulary has never been more important.

photo: iStock

Talk to Your Children

Tracy Cutchlow, author of Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, says three-year-olds with whom parents regularly engage in contextualized conversation have IQs 150% greater than those whose parents don’t talk to them. And, since your child’s vocabulary can quadruple in their second year of life, you can’t start too early when it comes to talking to them.

Extra Credit: “It’s hard to know what to say to someone who doesn’t talk back,” says Atlanta preschool director Nancy Hill. “But I used to talk to my daughter so much when she was an infant that I’d be startled when my husband would come home and actually talk back to me!” She suggests listening to the sounds around you—like a bird tweeting, a truck rumbling, or a dog barking—then repeating the sound and labeling it as “bird,” “truck,” or “dog.”

Introduce Sneaky Synonyms

When your child tells you something, respond in a way that introduces a synonym for the word they used. For example, if your child says that the dog was “really big,” you might reply and say it sounds “gigantic.” Reading Rockets, a website dedicated to helping kids learn to read, suggests that parents keep new words active since kids learn by repetition and practice. Don’t just say it once. Instead, find ways to work it into your conversation multiple times.

Extra Credit: Kids love telling stories. Give them a topic and have them tell you a story about it. This gives you ample opportunities to introduce sneaky synonyms in an organic way.

photo: iStock

Use Word Play in Favorite Songs

Rhymes have always been used as a tool in learning, so it’s no surprise that kids love changing the lyrics for favorite songs. “When ‘Old Town Road’ was being played all the time on the radio, I changed the lyrics to I’m gonna take my mom to the grocery store, she’s gonna shop like she can’t no more…My kids caught on, and every time the song came on we’d make up a new grocery list, instead of singing the song’s actual lyrics,” said mother of four Renee Stafford.

Extra Credit: Along the same lines, you can kill plenty of time on long car rides by making a collaborative poem. One person starts the poem, then the next person adds a line, and on.

Write Stories

“Verbal and written vocabularies often don’t match up, with verbal vocabulary being stronger for many years because of the help of context clues within sentence structure,” says Prof. of Early Childhood Education and Literacy Meredith Cristofferson. One way to help bridge the gap? Have your kids write their own stories. It’s like working your back muscles to improve your abdomen’s strength. Creating context for words helps you develop your use of words, and helps you look for new ways to represent ideas.

Extra Credit: Give your kids a word bank and ask them to write a story using the words you’ve given them. Be sure and provide them with a list of verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

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Parents of young children all know that the most important thing for everyone to function happily is sleep. My first child didn’t sleep consistently well for the first year of her life so throwing any kind of monkey wrench into our (finally!) successful bedtime routine was unthinkable. Yet some children are ready to make the big transition from crib to toddler bed as young as 15 months, according to co-founder and CEO of Happiest Baby, Dr. Harvey Karp. The timing largely depends upon your child’s physical skills, he says. Once your kiddo is starting to make their escape plan out of the crib you’ll know it’s time to say goodbye to it. And most kids do this by age three. So how can you do this without losing out on sleep? Here are six quick tips for making the transition.

Plan ahead.

Don’t buy a big kid bed on a whim. Take your time to figure out when the transition makes the most sense and space it apart from other big life changes, like starting a new daycare or school, moving homes, or welcoming a sibling. If you’re pregnant, Dr. Karp recommends introducing the toddler bed a few months before the baby arrives.

Have a family meeting.

Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and Child Behavior Consultant Renee Wasserman, P.T., M.P.H., of SleepyHead Solutions recommends calling a family meeting to talk about the importance of sleep. You might discuss where everyone is expected to sleep and why it’s good to stay in your own bed.

Set up the room for success.

Get your child excited for a “big kid bed” with a stuffed animal or fun new sheets, Wasserman says. This kind of novelty might excite your child about the upgrade. That said, toddlers generally hate change and some may do best when they keep their familiar bedding, Dr. Karp says. Stick with your child’s sleep routines and cues, like a lovey, white noise, a special bedtime story or song. And keep in mind that you now have a free-range toddler who can pop out of bed at any moment, says Dr. Karp. Be sure to childproof the room by placing soft blankets or pillows near the bed in case your tot rolls out, covering electrical outlets, and securing heavy furniture to the wall.

photo: iStock

Act out together.

To prepare for all potential scenarios, Wasserman recommends role playing options that include staying in bed. Ask your child what to do if they wake up and it’s still dark in their room. “You can hug your teddy bear and go back to sleep, or you can stretch your arms and legs and go back to sleep,” she says. Similarly, Dr. Karp recommends having your child practice putting a toy or doll to bed. You can also use the new bed as a place to bond as a family. This could mean cuddling, playing with stuffed animals, reading together, taking naps, giving massages.

Stick with it.

It’s important to manage disruptions in the same exact way each time. Be calm and consistent if your child comes out of bed. Simply walk your child back and tuck them in so there is no incentive to get out again, Wasserman says. You can do this with silent empathy or you can validate your toddler’s feelings using Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule: “You really, really, REALLY want to sleep in Mommy’s bed,” while still setting limits, “Now it’s time to sleep in your special cozy bed, but I’ll come tuck you in nice and tight!”

You might consider installing a gate at the door to encourage staying in bed, just be sure to make it fun and not seem like a punishment. Let your toddler help decorate it with stickers and such so it can be the door to their castle, Wasserman says.

Tricky tot? Try a clock!

If your tot is coming out of bed early in the morning, try using an “OK to Wake” clock that will indicate when it’s morning. Remember that these clocks are only as consistent as parents are at using them, Wasserman adds.

Ditching the crib for a real bed is like taking a little leap of faith. There’s really no telling whether you’ll lose lots of sleep during the transition or if it’ll work like a dream. “Every child is different but with the right amount of preparation and lots of consistency from parents, kids can be successful within a few days, if not from the start,” Wasserman reassures.

My daughter made the transition when she was about 2.5 years old and I was heavily pregnant. We kept her old bedding, she picked out a new cuddle buddy at the toy store, and we set expectations from the very first night. Of course, not long after she settled into her new sleep space I gave birth to her baby sister and we all lost a lot of sleep once again. But we’re hoping to make up for it when they’re teenagers.

––Whitney Harris

 

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