Whether we as adults want to believe it or not, toddlers are scared.
You read that right, they have their own set of fears that we don’t often understand or even acknowledge. Many times we just chalk things up to being the ‘TWOPOCALYSPE” stage or being a “threenager” when it’s neither. I like to believe that children, especially toddlers want to love everyone and everything. From the old lady who lives on the corner to the giant python that may be lurking somewhere, it’s just in their nature to be loving, kind gentle souls.
That is until their own fears get in the way.
If you’ve ever taken your child to the park and they bring their own toy, then you know what I am talking about. There can be lots of things running through a child’s mind “are they going to ask to play with my toy?”, “is someone going to try and TAKE it from me?” or “is mom going to make me share?”. All of these things can lead to anxiety in kids and when this occurs, often times it leads to what we think of as kids having tantrums and resorting to doing things that while we think they should know better, they really don’t.
This is because toddlers don’t necessarily have all of the skills and tools they need yet to interact socially. It’s our job as parents to introduce them to our kids.
How do I help my toddler learn social skills?
1. Start early on teaching the children the words they need use in order to properly express themselves.
This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but as parents, sometimes we focus too much on their age, without realizing, hey my kid might actually understand this! Just because your child is 18 months, that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to show/teach them the proper ways to express themselves through words. While they may not be able to say them, being consistent with it, will not only help them to remember this is what they are supposed to do when they get upset, but it will also increase their vocabulary. Which is a win/win.
2. Don’t force them to share.
Personally, I have always thought telling kids not to share is a bit ridiculous. But after actually sitting back and thinking about how this affects kids overall, I have realized, okay–maybe we shouldn’t force them. Kids want to feel secure knowing that they can make the decision to let someone play with their toy or another object. They don’t want to feel that every time they get something they love, that they must give it away just because another child wants it. Try framing this as taking turns; let your child know when they are done, they have the option to let another child play with their toy. If and only if they want that to happen.
3. Don’t rush them
If you are requesting that your child takes turns, then let them decide when they are done with the toy and are ready to pass it on. Don’t make them feel as if they should hurry up, just because someone else wants their property.
On the flip side, if your child is on the opposite side of this and has to wait for another child to finish, and they are having a rough time; then it would be a good idea to start teaching your child about patience. Do this by modeling good behavior and using comforting words, if they are having a major meltdown. If you’ve ever stood in line at the DMV then you know most adults don’t have patience, so we shouldn’t expect that kids act accordingly 100% of the time. Start teaching them early, so they won’t be that person we’ve all encountered standing in a line.
5. Address any signs or actions of physical aggression
We have to remember that they are toddlers. They are still learning how to expression themselves in a healthy manner. Sometimes, they may decide to get physical in the middle of their anger. While it’s important to once again empathize and let them know it’s okay to be upset, you must also remind them that it is never okay for them to put their hands on someone else, no matter how angry they are.
Love of impromptu dance parties, 80’s cartoons, and horizontal life pauses (aka naps); Natasha Brown is a stay at home mom of 4 kids, and wife to one lucky guy! In her spare time, she is co-editor of Grits & Grace, as well as editor for The Mother Hustler Blog and Creative Director for the Mother Hustler podcast.