Why do we expect so much from toddlers?

Why do we expect so much from toddlers?

Why do we expect toddlers to deal with their emotions and challenges in the same way adults do? Is it fair to expect them to understand how they feel and concepts that even we as adults struggle with sometimes, like disappointment or anger?

It’s easy to dismiss a “tantrum” or to get frustrated by your toddler throwing themselves on the floor because you’ve asked them to do something or you say no to them. I’ve had to go and have a few seconds in another room while I’ve calmed down on more than one occasion. I’ve likewise got annoyed with others who’ve given their unsolicited parenting advice or judgement about what I think is perfectly normal behaviour for a two year old.

I’d like you to imagine a scenario.

You’re happily sat reading a book that someone has given you. They’ve told you it’s a good book and that you’ll learn a lot from it. They’re right. You enjoy it. The words and pictures make you happy. You’re glad they gave you the book.

Then something happens.

The same person comes and takes the book from you, takes your hand and tells you it’s now time to go into another room and eat. You’re not hungry but they insist. Words don’t come although you’re certain you are making sounds. The bowl is full of the grainy, green gloop they sometimes make you eat. You never eat it but yet they keep giving it to you.

They pick you up and strap you in a chair. There’s other people there now and the other girl is sat next to you who always cries. It makes you feel upset. You don’t know why but it’s frightening.

You try to wiggle from the chair. You don’t  want to be sat in the chair. You  like the other one by the window. You point to it but they just starting smiling and chatting to you like everything is perfectly normal. You’re tired and you just want to get down and go back to your book. Okay, maybe you’re starting to get a bit peckish but you don’t want to be in the damn chair. Can I just take the bread and go back to my book, you ask. But they’re just telling you to calm down and telling your it’s okay. Why aren’t they listening?

You throw the bowl of green gloop onto the floor and try screaming. They just bring more and begin stroking your hair. That’s better than them ignoring you like they did the other day you suppose.  Eventually you get tired and look at the fresh gloop but eat the bread. Your heart is racing and your eyes sting.

Do I need to go on? If that happened to me I’d feel anxious, frustrated, upset and probably a bit angry. Yet as adults we often get frustrated by our child’s frustration, making the whole thing worse. I’ve been there so many times, particularly in social environments which Small Boy can sometimes find challenging. Like many two year olds he isn’t keen on being told he has to do a particular activity at a specific time, and he’s not a fan of lots of noise or new people either. Some people have made me feel like it’s unusual but I know a lot of parents, and it’s not. He’s just two and some things are challenging.

I am NOT a perfect parent. I get plenty of things wrong, but I do know my child. If I’m completely honest I do understand why he gets pissed off sometimes. I feel like it’s my job to help him navigate these feelings and find ways to mitigate against them where possible. His Dad and I are both on the same page with this. Neither of us are particularly conventional and I’m a very unusual type of introvert, so we get it. We often talk about environment being important to adults, yet I don’t often see this raised as important for kids. It’s just always about rules and routines – not dissing those, but humans are complex, even children.

In our case, we need to help him prepare for transitions in environments or activities with a bit of notice. For example, we give him a countdown before bed, so he knows that we will do X, Y and Z and then it will be time to go to bed.  On the whole this works.  I ask him which seat he would like to sit in for his lunch. I ask him if he wants it now, or if he wants to wait five minutes until he’s finished that particular activity. He still has plenty of rules but since taking this approach we’ve really cut down on “tantrums” at home (I hate that word by the way).

We still have meltdowns – usually in nursery or loud social situations with lots of other kids. They’re pretty overwhelming for him and if you follow my Weekly Wins you’ll know how proud I am when he participates in a group environment.  This is a work in progress and has taken a lot of difficult conversations with our nursery to find ways to help him. I don’t believe in ignoring him, nor do I believe in giving in and giving him whatever he wants, but I do believe in acknowledging he’s hacked off and staying calm while we explain what’s going to happen next and why.

There still rules, but there’s also a shared understanding that his emotions do feel huge and very real to him. I have an occasional lapse and get frustrated myself but I don’t feel like it’s a battle anymore. In the words of a popular animation, you’ve got to find a way to let it go.

Does any of that sound familiar? I’m sure I can’t be the only parent who has thought this.

My Random Musings
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  1. tobygoesbananas
    4th April 2018 / 12:01 am

    We try and do similar things – like always giving warning that something is going to happen/change, and giving our sons a choice where possible. It’s much easier now the little one is two and a half and talking a lot more, and on the whole we avoid tantrums. It’s hard though, and I think we do need to try and be a bit more understanding of our toddlers’ feelings and emotions. #SharingTheBlogLove

  2. 29th March 2018 / 1:48 pm

    This is so true! Adults expect way more of kids in terms of behaviour than they do of themselves. And they cut children far less slack. 🙂

  3. Kirsty - Winnettes (@winnettes_)
    28th March 2018 / 11:21 am

    It is definitely a difficult one that gets easier as their communication increases. It is a tough balance between needing them to eat lunch, in an appropriate manner (as in learning how to eat with manners for the future) and wanting to let them finish what they are doing. It is hard when they are so young because you know it shouldn’t matter but you also know that at preschool or school, lunch time is lunch time and they have no choice but to eat then and do so according to the school rules. By teaching them that at home it makes any childcare settings less of a strange environment. You are right though. All these things would cause anyone serious frustration and we would so better to remember that sometimes.
    Thank you for joining #ThursdayTeam

  4. 27th March 2018 / 11:09 am

    This is so true and I think that adults forget what toddlers are like and that it is all particularly normal behaviour. They are learning how to deal with and control their emotions. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

  5. 27th March 2018 / 6:56 am

    Fab blog post! And I completely agree with everything you say here, and it’s made me realise that maybe I should stop forcing my daughter so much into situations or to eat that piece of broccoli. Thanks for linking up at #fortheloveofBLOG. Claire x

  6. 26th March 2018 / 9:13 am

    Really great reminder of things from their perspective! I think I would have a major strop if I had so little control over what happens in my life! #sharingthebloglove

  7. 25th March 2018 / 10:08 pm

    I think it’s so important to acknowledge others and try to see things from their perspective so that you can help them. #mg

  8. 25th March 2018 / 6:23 pm

    I think this is such a great post. Navigating emotions and how to express them is so difficult for toddlers and it’s a long journey to get them under control. I think people often do expect too much from their toddlers, and a lot of the time, normal toddler behaviour will definitely get you some dirty looks from strangers or even family and friends. Learning how to empathise with your own toddler when they’re struggling with it is so important – they’re all different and they need different things and by putting yourself in their place you do get a different perspective on it all and a better understanding. I’m so pleased that we’re gradually coming out of this phase now! Thanks for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

  9. nightwisprav3n
    25th March 2018 / 3:49 pm

    I love your take on this. You really encourage people to see it from your son’s perspective. Too many adults these days don’t try to see things from their children’s eyes. It’s sad to see. Thanks so much for sharing this:) #mg

  10. mummy here and here
    23rd March 2018 / 3:10 pm

    Parenting is do tough and you always question what you doing as a parent. I don’t think there is any universal answer you just to go with what feels right for you as a parent X #Thursdayteam

  11. 23rd March 2018 / 1:33 pm

    There is something going around facebook at the moment about frustrations being a toddler. Being expected to feed themselves but then at times parents dont have the time or patience so feed the kid their food. Its all mixed messages and no wonder the toddlers get frustrated!!
    I’ve been trying to not give mixed messages but its hard due to him being looked after by his Nan aswell so there are two kinds of parenting going on!
    Thank you for sharing this with us at #TriumphantTales, I hope to see you back next week!

  12. 23rd March 2018 / 11:57 am

    Thankfully N was always quite compliant. He’s more stubborn now and takes more time to respond to requests (then moans I nag! I blame youtube and tv distractions). But as a child we were fairly child led, although he was in nursery during the week so I probably missed out on a bit of this. #sharingthebloglove

  13. 22nd March 2018 / 7:28 pm

    Yes! I’m so sick of being told my toddler is “difficult” “demanding” or worse! I personally don’t think she’s any worse then any other toddler. Yes I’m shattered but I don’t understand why some people expect her to be a good as gold, robot who does everything asked! she’s not yet two and just learning the rules of the world!

  14. Tales From Mamaville (@MamavilleTales)
    22nd March 2018 / 4:43 pm

    I’ve thought about this often. In fact, now when my pre-schooler throws a massive tantrum or just acts difficult, I try and see his point of view and 7 times out of 10, I calm down (a bit) and find a mid-way solution rather than shouting/ screaming/ time-out etc. Sometimes we do expect too much from them, but their brains are not yet capable of handling certain types of emotions/ situations. Great post.

  15. 22nd March 2018 / 2:23 pm

    YES! It is so hard to have patience and try to think of what could be going through their mind and what is causing their behavior. My little one is 16 months and just heading into the “tantrums”. I am constantly reminding myself to breathe and make my expectations of someone who is still considered a “baby” to be a little bit more reasonable. Fabulous post!

  16. mackenzieglanville
    22nd March 2018 / 8:23 am

    I have to say i am so relieved those days are over and mine are old enough to clearly communicate with me, it is such a hard stage to go through as a parent and you have captured it so well here just how difficult it is for the poor child. I personally would hate someone stealing away my good book and strapping me in a chair to eat green stuff. Brilliantly written! Thanks for linking up xx

  17. minihumanresources6
    21st March 2018 / 9:47 pm

    Im in a middle zone at the mo with my 4 year old now out of this frustrated stage but my baby yet to go into it. I guess every new stage brings fresh challenges with it though doesn’t it. It’s a great way of looking at it though, and is easy to imagine how frustrating life as a toddler can be. #triumphanttales

  18. 21st March 2018 / 7:26 pm

    This is my life! I just published a post on my newest approach to handling tantrums, but basically it hinges on my new understanding of exactly what my 2 yo is going through when she throws a tantrum. She’s also unhappy in loud crowded spaces with lots of kids. Thanks for sharing this scenario. It really helps to open your eyes as a parent.

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