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How to Teach Coping Skills to Your Toddler
Help Your Child Respond to Hard Situations in Healthy Ways
If you’ve ever visited our Instagram account, you know we spend a loooooot of time talking about managing meltdowns. But knowing what to do in the middle of a meltdown is just one part of raising healthy, resilient kiddos.
The other part? Teaching your little one what to do instead of throwing themselves to the floor and shrieking loud enough to wake the dead.
In our online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, we talk about how toddlers have tantrums, in part, because their brains are still learning what “danger” is. So when they act like turning off the iPad is a life-or-death situation, it’s because their still-under-construction brain absolutely thinks it is. Basically, a tantrum is a primal, survival tactic.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative to that primal instinct: Coping skills.
Coping skills are healthy ways to deal with super hard situations. And they can be taught. BY YOU.
When to Teach Coping Skills
Timing is everything! It’s so tempting to try and teach mid-tantrum, but trust us—it’s a Very Bad IdeaTM and will just make both of you more frustrated. A ramped-up toddler is not ready to receive your teaching, no matter how much knowledge you have to drop on them.
If you want your child to respond to your teaching, you need to wait until they are calm.
We know, we know: Your toddler is the reason you can’t even remember what calm means. We totally get it! When you’re parenting a toddler, calm moments may seem few and far between. But if you’ll take advantage of them now (even if they’re only 60 seconds long), you’ll start to have more calm over time, which means you might actually be able to nap when your toddler naps, or at least squeeze in a shower or an episode of Housewives.
How to Teach Coping Skills
Using the script below, you’ll be able to teach coping skills in a way your toddler can understand. With just four simple steps, you’ll be able to seize the calm and teach the skills like a boss!
Again, do not have this conversation in the meltdown moment. Wait until the wailing has ended, the snot bubbles have dried, and everyone’s regained their composure. It might be a couple of hours. That’s OK! In fact, right before bedtime is a great time to reflect on the day.
Name the feelings.
Now, recall the event where your toddler experienced their big feelings, and name them.
“Earlier today, I noticed you were so mad when sister took your fire truck, so you yelled in her face.”
Identify tools for next time.
Introduce the idea of choosing a different behavior. By brainstorming ideas together, you’re giving your toddler the ownership and power they crave (the whole “I do it mineself” thing) and helping them make better choices.
“I wonder what you could do instead the
next time you feel mad?”
Once you’ve come up with some ideas, practice them together. So, if your little one says, “Ask you to help,” act it out. Literally, practice him asking for help.
Get comfortable with this process because, as toddlers tend to do, you will be given many an opportunity to use it.
Along the way, be sure to keep your expectations reasonable. Just because your toddler doesn’t immediately start using a coping skill doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It can take many repetitions outside of the meltdown for them to start choosing the coping skills instead of the meltdown.
Teaching coping skills is all about progress over time, so don’t give up! You’ve got this!
What Coping Skills to Teach
Coping skills are not one-size-fits-all. Your little one may prefer to use “angry chalk” and go to town on the chalkboard in the middle of a rager, while another child may prefer to pound fists into a pillow.
Plus, having more than one go-to skill also comes in handy because our preferred coping accessories aren’t always around when we’re having a big feeling. (But raise your hand if you think all offices should stock “angry chalk.”)
The bottom line is, so many of the skills you teach will depend on your child and their needs. By allowing your toddler to brainstorm with you, they are more likely to:
1. Buy into using coping skills in place of unhealthy responses. 2. Choose skills they’ll actually use.
If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, our online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, is packed with mix-and-match coping skills to try with your toddler. And it gives you step-by-step instructions for teaching your kid how to implement each of those coping skills - because honestly, they really and truly change the game.
Don’t Forget Your Own Oxygen Mask
Being a toddler parent is no joke, and you need your own set of coping skills for guiding your kiddo from age 1 through 6. Our best-selling online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, will teach you how to deal with all.the.things:
Preventing tantrums Dealing with discipline Bedtime battles Picky eating Hitting, biting, and pushing (oh my!)
We even have an entire section called BREATHE (see what we did there) to help you be the cool, calm parent you want to be, no matter the situation. You don’t have to simply survive; you and your little one can thrive.
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