Giving Toddlers Choices In Difficult Situations

Sarah Ong Blog, emotional well-being Leave a Comment

The past two days was Hari Raya celebration madness. We were at my in laws on the eve and first day. Came home that night. Left first thing in the morning next day to see my 85 years old grandma in Kuala Pilah. Obviously there were many relatives who came to visit and to my 3yo daughter, it triggered her stranger anxiety.

I see how some families make their young child salam (kissing the hands of the elderly to show respect) even when they don’t want to. To me, it is disrespect to the child for making her do things that she doesn’t want to do and doesn’t understand in the first place. For a 3 year old, my daughter understands why she needs to salam when she meets families but that’s where she would put a stop – families that SHE is familiar and used to seeing on a regular basis.

When we balik kampung, I understand how my relatives are eager to see us again and can’t help themselves to talk, touch and carry my children. This I cannot control and I can’t tell them how they should talk or interact with my children. Instead, I let my children handle these uncomfortable situation in their own ways. I know my eldest is old enough to overcome her shyness and discomfort with non-familiar relatives. But my youngest was obviously not handling it well. In fact, it stressed her out.

She was clingy and very, very moody. She needed an outlet to cry and release her stress, so she ended up throwing tantrum by flipping chairs down to the floor. I probably made it sound so dramatic but no, she literally did push them chairs down >,<

This was the point I had to step in. I attended to her, picked her up and placed her on my lap while she cried and sweat. I remained calm and allowed her to express her emotions freely without anyone else interrupting. I told her I knew how she felt – being touched and carried by people, and she didn’t like it all. She nodded in between her sobs and quickly calmed down soon after. Then I asked if she wanted to go play with her sister or get a drink of juice. She chose to get a drink and then looked for her sister. She never came back to me being the clingy and moody toddler anymore for the rest of the day. She was happy, confident and initiated salam by herself when we were all leaving to head back home. 🙂

I could have chosen to force her or scold her for her “misbehavior” or even ignored her behavior. It could have been easier that way. But I would have not project calm leadership to allow her the freedom of feeling and reacting to difficult situations and at at the same time, gently and firmly set limits to her choices of action and behavior.

Magda Gerber warned, “A parent’s ambivalence, guilt feelings, and areas of confusion in his or her role will be picked up and used amazingly fast by young children. They seem to have a sixth sense for it. Any ambivalence from a parent will produce a nagging response.”

“Is this what we want for our children? Absolutely not.  Our kids are going to resist our agendas, explode and meltdown on us regularly. That is the freedom they need most. So, our job is to be a solid leader who can remain calm and empathetic in the face of our child’s storms, and not waver, get angry or pitying, or take his or her feelings personally.” – Janet Lansbury

It is never easy to strike a delicate balance between giving our child the freedom and setting boundaries, but boundaries make them feel safe and loved – even though they may not show it while we enforce them.