Module 4: ToddlerCalm's unique approach

In this module we will explore some of the strategies that we use at ToddlerCalm to assist parents with their toddlers. At ToddlerCalm we do not give parents definitive solutions to their toddler's behaviour, sleep, eating or anything else. We do provide them with guidelines and strategies to work out how to better manage their lives with their toddlers themselves.

ToddlerCalm's CRUCIAL strategy

Introduction to the concept

The CRUCIAL strategy

CRUCIAL is the ToddlerCalm framework used by parents to generate their own ideas and solutions for parenting their toddler. It is designed to empower parents so that they can find a strategy to deal with any problems they may have with their toddler. Remember - there is no one correct answer for dealing with a toddler’s behaviour, as all toddlers and parents are unique, therefore each solution must be unique too. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ answers for toddlers (or their families).

It is vitally important that you understand that the CRUCIAL framework can be applied to any issue parents may come across with their toddler. We do not expect you to tell them “this is how to cope with biting” or “if your toddler won’t use the potty this is what to do” - they should always apply the CRUCIAL framework to their own unique situation and it is this we focus on in our classes. Remember though that these are not the only answers, just our starting point. The CRUCIAL strategy provides us with these headings:

Now we will look at these in more detail...

Control

Control

Toddlers lives are constantly being controlled by adults. If toddlers are not given any control over their lives, they may take back control in small ways - choosing not to eat the food prepared for them, choosing not to sleep etc. This is often the most common cause of toddler frustration and tantrums. If a toddler is displaying tricky behaviour, it is worth considering giving them more control in ways that are appropriate for them and you.

Choice

As parents we often choose what our toddlers wear, eat, where they go, when they sleep, and even what they play with.  It is important to let our toddlers have some choices in their daily lives. For example, you could lay out two different outfits in the morning and let them pick one, the same with breakfast cereal. Helping a toddler to feel more in control and a little more independent can work wonders. Ask your child for their ideas to solve problems too and make it fun.

However, it is important to understand that toddlers who are given endless choice without appropriate boundaries will feel "out of control" and their behaviour may reflect this. Offering a small number of options, as much as possible, is ideal.

Competence

One way that you can help your toddler to feel in control of their lives is to trust in their competence and therefore allow them to do things that they think they are capable of. Of course, there should be boundaries with this to ensure that you keep them safe but many parents are overly cautious with their toddlers, not allowing them to do things themselves for fear of them making a mistake. Toddlers are often more capable and competent than we give them credit for and with suitable guidance can do many things independently that you might be surprised about.

Consent

Everyone should always have control over what people do with their body. Toddlers are no different in this regard. Having body autonomy is an essential lesson for toddlers and teaching them about consent in the way that we treat them is a key factor in keeping them safe now and throughout their future. It is also an important factor in ensuring our toddlers feel in control of their lives. There are lots of ways that we can promote a consent culture in our toddlers but equally there are lots of things that many parents do, without thinking, that may be detrimental to helping our toddlers have body autonomy.

Rhythm

Rhythm

This is in some ways similar to "control" in that toddlers lives are often made up of a series of events that they do not choose and cannot predict. We interrupt their lives and their plans to take them to various activities that we choose for them or continue with our own lives. This is normal but it can be frustrating for the toddler.

Toddlers feel comforted and safe when they know what's coming next and what the plan is. It helps them to feel calm and to make sense of the world around them. Often this causes toddler experts to advise providing a strict routine for toddlers, and although this will help them to predict, toddlers are human beings for which things are not the same everyday and their needs are equally diverse. Prescribed routines may not suit the child or that particular day, and interruptions to their routine will cause great difficulty if they rely on it. Instead, we suggest that toddlers are given a kind of rhythm in their lives.

This may mean telling toddlers about the day (or week) plan in advance so that they are not surprised by the next event. It can also mean repeating a particular rhythm for certain parts of the day (like bedtime) or week (which days we go to grandma's) to enable toddlers to easily understand "what is coming next". 

Another aspect of this is pace. We often expect toddlers to live their lives at our pace, constantly asking them to hurry up and move from activity to activity. Sometimes this is necessary in order to make our lives work but often we do it unconsciously.  Toddlers are much more sensory than adults and their brains much more active than ours, meaning that they are constantly trying to take in and process a great deal of information and need time to do this. It is important to set aside time to do things at your toddler's pace sometimes (although it isn't always possible).

Understanding

Understanding

Toddler behaviour exists for a reason. To deal with it effectively and productively, parents need to understand the underlying reason for the behaviour. Sometimes understanding it is simple and obvious and sometimes it may take some work to figure out. No child is born inherently 'naughty' or ‘difficult’.

In general, difficult behaviour is there to try and communicate with us. Sometimes the behaviour is unwanted but the toddler just doesn't understand that yet, and sometimes toddlers display negative behaviour "on purpose" when they have big negative emotions. When this is happening, our toddlers are having a hard time and are trying to communicate their feelings, work through them and make sense of their world. They need our help and in order for us to help them, we must understand what is being communicated or processed for the toddler.

Parents can learn more about toddlers in a general way, for instance their psychology and biology, to gain a better understanding of the possible causes of some behaviours. Coming to a ToddlerCalm workshop or reading about toddlers may help parents understand brain developments and psychology in order to identify what is happening for their child (E.g. Schemas).

It is also important, and we will look at this in a minute, to look more deeply into what is happening for an individual child, at any particular time in their lives. It may be something that parents perceive to be quite small or it may be a more significant life event. Here are some common examples (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Arrival (or imminent arrival) of a new sibling
  • Losing a grandparent / other family member / pet
  • Moving home
  • Family breakdown
  • Starting or changing childcare
  • New people / practices in a childcare setting
  • Something simple that scared or worried them (e.g. scary dog in the street, the news)
  • Friendship problems

Communication

Communication

Communication is always the foundation of all healthy relationships and that includes our relationships with our toddlers. We established in Module 3 that reciprocity of communication was an important factor in the development of infants and toddlers and so this part of CRUCIAL is not only important, but needs breaking down into specific areas.

Communicate at your toddler’s level in more ways than one:

Literally crouch or squat down so you are at your toddler's eye level or even lower. This prevents them from feeling threatened which will activate the wrong part of their brain for them to listen to you. It shows them that you are communicating rather than reacting and can be calm even when they are not calm. It will encourage them to listen to you, and is a tool that is very simple for any parent to do, and often makes the most difference. 

Even an older toddler's language skills are not very advanced and if they are upset, even less so. Remember that when frightened, angry or sad they will almost definitely have activated the wrong part of their brain for processing complex language. Use simple words and phrases that are unambiguous and that they definitely understand. They won't be able to take in long descriptions of why their behaviour was unfair. They simply don't think like we do, so keep it short and simple. The 'say what you see' approach works well: “I see you are angry that your friend is playing with the toy you want.” 

Naming emotions for your toddler is an important modelling process. They will learn to identify their own emotions if they are presented with this format, which will help them develop good emotional intelligence in the future.

Keep communication calm. Speaking softly is more likely to elicit the reaction you would like. When children feel scared, they are not capable of listening because their reptilian brain is preparing them for fight or flight.

Toddlers often mishear instructions, their under-developed brains skipping negative words so "Don't run near the road" can sound like "run near the road". However, this can be easily rectified by making positive statements or instructions such as "stay near the fence" or "keep over this side away form the cars". Similarly it is a good approach to name the behaviour you want to see rather than saying what you don't want or even complaining about bad behaviour. For example "we use gentle hands" rather than "don't hit" or "please use a kind voice" rather than "I can't stand that voice you make".

Active communication

Sometimes with toddlers it is best to communicate through actions rather than words.

Affectionate behaviour will help a child feel loved and valued in a difficult moment. Many parents worry that showing love or affection when "bad" behaviour has occurred will encourage the behaviour to be repeated. Remember that we are not permissive - we do enforce our limits firmly, but with love. The affection and love you demonstrate in these moments will mean they are more likely to remember the limit / behaviour-correction with positivity.

Modelling appropriate behaviour for your toddler is the best possible way to create the changes you want in your toddler (‘Monkey see, monkey do’). If you do not display the behaviour you want to see, your toddler will be incapable of learning that behaviour. Telling them is not enough. Equally, if you repeatedly display a certain behaviour, you cannot expect your child to learn that that behaviour is unacceptable.

Remember also that communication must be reciprocal - listening to your toddler when they speak is essential and trickier than you might think. We often think we are listening when actually we are thinking about how to correct behaviour, how to not "lose it" or what someone else is doing (where is the baby whilst I am dealing with this). And that is just at a difficult moment. What about the way we "listen" the rest of the time we are modelling behaviour for our toddlers? Many times that our toddlers are talking to us we are looking at our phones or reading a magazine (or whatever we do). Often we might say "just a minute" before listening properly but then we ask them to listen to us and expect their undivided attention immediately. We must be careful of the behaviour we display, especially around how we communicate with our toddlers.

Basically if you actively listen to your toddler, no matter what they are talking about, you will find they become better listeners themselves.

Individual

Individual

One size does not fit all. Your child is unique and each day is different for them. Keep your expectations individual - individual to your child’s age and development, surrounding environment and their personality. 

All parents have a tendency to compare their children to others' to check that everything is "ok". Your child is not the same as your friend's child, your cousin's child, or the various children being discussed on Facebook. This goes for toddlers described in books and on developmental charts too. You are unique and so is your toddler and we think that is great. When we talk to parents at workshops, we always learn something new about toddlers because, whilst there are recurring themes, we have not heard it all before.

This is why we consider parents the experts. They know their child and instinctively understand them in a unique way. We can help them with more general information about toddlers but we cannot apply it to an individual child. Just as WE are not experts on your family, neither is anyone else (mums on Facebook) but you.

When parents are devising a strategy using this framework, it is important that they look at what is happening for their toddler (as in understanding) at the moment. But it is also important that they look at the "solutions" and "tools" keeping their child's individual needs in mind. Be prepared to use individual and flexible approaches with toddlers - what works well and helps one toddler may not for another.

Advocacy

Advocacy

This part of crucial used to be called "avoidance" (as it is in the book) but having taught CRUCIAL for many years we felt that this was a bit of a negative word and doesn't encompass all that we talk about in this section.

As a parent you are your child's number one advocate. You are the person who is tasked with looking out for their needs, their safety, and their wellbeing now and for their future throughout their childhood, and potentially for the whole rest of your life. This you know. But have you ever stopped to think what this actually means? It is an awesome responsibility and it isn't as straight forward as you might think.

Be their boundaries

The first way that you can advocate for your child is by meeting their needs. A toddler who is hungry, tired, over or under stimulated, full of sugar or has the wrong part of their brain activated is unlikely to be able to stay calm and display desirable behaviours. These kind of "triggers" for difficult behaviour are best avoided. However, life happens and it isn't always possible (or desirable) to live without getting tired, hungry, over-stimulated, or eating a bunch of sugar once in a while. Your job is to create the boundaries for when living on the edge is acceptable and understand the consequences. The consequences are that you will likely have to deal with some difficult moments with patience and compassion.

Be flexible

Toddlers (and parents) find some activities more stressful than others. Doing things that you or your toddler find stressful together is not always the best plan. If you have the flexibility in your life to avoid doing those things, life will go more smoothly. For example, many toddlers and parents find supermarket shopping extremely stressful. In this case, consider doing the shop online, doing it in the late evening while your partner is home, or getting your partner to do it. 

This is just one example: examine the "stress" activities in your schedule (usually identifiable by repeated tantrums or you losing it each time) and adjust how you do them. If you cannot avoid them altogether, think about timing (is there a time that your toddler will be more relaxed for this?) and easy ways to make it more fun for both of you (can you make it playful?).

Another important way to advocate for your toddler by being flexible is to understand that things don't always go to plan and you might need to adapt on-the-fly. This means that if you are going about your planned day and your toddler is clearly struggling, you may consider abandoning your plans as much as possible. Your toddler may be feeling unwell, coming down with something, or may be feeling overwhelmed. It is difficult for toddlers to express this as they don't have the brain connections for emotional intelligence or complex language. If it is not possible to suddenly change plans (hospital appointment is a great example), be compassionate (see below).

Be their hero

Sometimes toddlers need someone to stick up for them because they are little and vulnerable. Often other adults in their environment (whether it's family members, neighbours, someone at soft play or even someone in the street) treat children, regardless of whether they know them, like second class citizens. This could take the form of them being "told off", expected to behave in a way they aren't capable of or are dismissed as unimportant or inferior. There is a huge problem with "childism" in the world and at ToddlerCalm we don't think it's ok and we advocate for toddlers (and all children). Keep reading for more on this.

Be brave

This is hard. Standing up to other adults can be very intimidating for some people. It is important to understand that you are your toddler's ONLY line of defence. If you don't stick up for them, no one will, and worse, they will not learn that they are worth sticking up for, or how to do it for themselves. Remember, when advocating for your child, be firm but stay calm.

Sometimes when we have to do this, we are advocating for our toddler by sticking up for our right to meet their needs rather than sticking up for them. Calm parenting can sometimes appear from the outside as permissive parenting (when we manage a difficult moment with cuddles) or even being irresponsible with our toddlers (when we trust their competence and other parents don't understand it). This can become uncomfortable when other parents around you are openly or quietly judging your actions with your toddler. It is sometimes so uncomfortable that we subconsciously may respond to our toddler in a way that we normally wouldn't and isn't in the best interest of our toddlers and our long-term goals for them. When another adult is judging you for doing what you know is right for your toddler - keep going. Do it anyway. When the choice is between looking like you're in control and being in control, do what is right for your toddler's future and use your parent-shields to repel the judgment from others. But don't get us wrong - it's hard.

Be compassionate

All of the above is the ideal. This is how we manage things on our best day and when it can be achieved. Sometimes we have to do it differently to this because we have to make life work. We may have to attend an appointment that cannot be moved, we may have to meet the needs of someone else in the family (a sibling for instance) or we may have to consider health and safety issues. For whatever reason, whenever we cannot achieve this we must be compassionate. If your toddler is clearly needing to go home, but you can't leave, expect difficult behaviour and meet it with extra empathy, extra compassion and extra love.

Love

Love

When we talk about "love" in ToddlerCalm, we are talking about two essential factors: loving our toddlers unconditionally (and showing it) and loving ourselves.

Showing that we love our toddlers

Ask any parent (pretty much) and they will say that they love their child unconditionally - and most do. However, we are not always good at showing that we love toddlers regardless of their behaviour. Actually we aren't very good at doing that with anyone, but it is the most important when we are helping our toddlers to grow into the adults we want them to be.

Always love unconditionally. Remember it is your toddler's behaviour you are unhappy with, not your child. Through the way that you parent you can help them to know that no matter what, your love for them will not waiver. Punishments where you withdraw your love, e.g. time out and the naughty step, can often deprive a toddler of love at a time they need it most. They are not trying to give you a hard time, they are having a hard time and need your reassurance.

Loving (and forgiving) yourself

Parenting unconditionally, calmly and mindfully is hard work. I'm serious. It simply cannot be done unless you ensure that you take good care of yourself. You must schedule time so that you can re-fuel and deal with your own emotions and frustrations. Whether you take a bath, do some yoga, practice mindfulness, go to the gym or WHATEVER, you need to ensure that you have the capacity - physically, mentally and emotionally - to support your toddler. You are an individual too with diverse pressures in your life that affect your behaviour (in fact, we can apply CRUCIAL to almost anyone).

Parents who take a "mindful" or considered approach to their parenting are often very hard on themselves and feel that any lapse in gentleness will undo all the gentleness before it and damage their child. This is NOT the case. The gentle, mindful and calm approach only works if you start with yourself. Would you forgive your toddler for shouting at you because they had a hard day? Then you deserve that love too. Everyone screws up and gets it wrong sometimes - it's ok! In ToddlerCalm we are big advocates of modelling "I'm sorry". You must, must, MUST be kind to yourself, otherwise your toddlers will not learn how to be kind to themselves.

Name the three ways we can give toddlers more control

  • Give them lots of choices
  • Give them a few choices as often as possible
  • Ensure that your toddler has autonomy over themselves
  • Ask for your toddler's consent at all times
  • Understand your toddler's competence levels and trust them
  • Allow your toddler to do anything they think they can do

Describe the distinction between rhythm and routine

Identify any factors that can be underlying in toddler behaviour

  • Parental problems (divorce, separation, arguing)
  • New sibling
  • Change in childcare arrangements
  • Diet
  • Excessive use of screens
  • Pretty much anything to be honest!

Getting my toddler to listen

  • If you repeat, repeat, repeat an instruction or rule, your toddler will learn
  • Listening to your toddler will help them learn to listen to you
  • You must let your child know you are in charge; using a firm voice and standing tall helps with this
  • Get low and speak softly so your child is most capable of focusing on you
  • Telling a child they feel angry will likely make the anger worse
  • Hugging your toddler when they have displayed negative behaviour will tell them it's ok to do that
  • Showing love during a tantrum tells a child they are loved unconditionally
  • Naming emotions lets a toddler know their feelings are valid and not too scary for you to deal with

Describe a strategy you have used with a toddler that was individual to their needs

Now analyse some simple situations that might mean this doesn't work well for another toddler

Why do we talk about advocating for toddlers?

  • Because they are often treated as second class citizens and de-humanised
  • Because it is our job to protect them
  • Because they are vulnerable members of our society
  • Because it is out unique role to shape them into compassionate adults who will advocate for vulnerable people
  • All of the above

Identify ways we can advocate for toddlers

  • Set suitable boundaries that help them be mentally and physically healthy
  • Put you toddlers' needs first whenever possible, even if it means being flexible with your plans
  • Never let your toddler become tired, hungry, over or under-stimulated
  • Never allow your toddler to eat sugar or use screens
  • Stand up for your toddler firmly and calmly if another adult is treating them in a way you are uncomfortable with
  • Never upset your toddler as it activates the wrong part of the brain
  • Meets your toddlers' needs and parent compassionately, even if that means braving others' judgments
  • Be extra understanding and compassionate if you have to prioritise other needs above your toddlers'.

When I have utterly lost it with my toddler:

Please tick all the things that you could do that demonstrate love

  • I can find a way to re-connect with them
  • I can send my child to stay with a family member because I am an unfit parent
  • I can send my child to stay with a family member so I can look after my needs (after reconnecting)
  • I can apologise to my toddler
  • I can explain in detail to my toddler why I lost it with them
  • I can feel like I have failed as a gentle parent
  • I can look inward to identify why I found it hard to stay calm and work on that
  • I can wonder what I did wrong to create such difficult behaviour in my toddler
  • I can try to understand why my toddler is having a hard time

ToddlerCalm's CRUCIAL examples

Introduction to the section

Introduction to the examples

This section may feel a little repetitive. These examples of the use of CRUCIAL are a cursory glance and don't work brilliantly because each client and their toddler is different. I struggled whether to include these from the original manual, but decided on balance to include them. I have adapted them a little to reflect changes I made to avoidance but haven't spent long improving them and urge you not to spend too much time on them either. We will do some more work on this during our face-to-face training. Whilst the examples are repetitive, this is not the case when working through this with real clients; it will be less repetitive and more interesting to work through their individual challenges and parenting practices. It is also enjoyable when parents realise there are pretty simple things they can do to improve their lives with their toddlers.

The biting or hitting toddler

The biting or hitting toddler

Your client's toddler repeatedly bites/hits them/their partner/other children at playgroup. Here is an example of how you might create a CRUCIAL strategy with them. This is a very loose guide as each CRUCIAL strategy is highly individual to the client and their toddler.

Firstly it is essential that the toddler understand that hurting other people is unacceptable. We can use our language around body autonomy and consent to get this across, in an age appropriate way (see communication for details).

This is an important first step as with this particular behaviour, there is a safety issue and boundaries and limits must be set. Then we move onto a more strategic approach whilst continuing to set and enforce this limitation.

Control

There are two things to consider here. Firstly, look with the parents at areas where they could offer their toddler more control over their lives in general. Their toddler may be acting in this way because other parts of their lives are out of control. For instance, are the parents giving them choices as they go about their daily lives? Are they allowing them freedom to be independent and competent? Are they respecting their child's right to consent?

Secondly, if their child is feeling the need to bite or hit, they can offer them choices in order to achieve that; they could offer them a choice of alternative objects they can bite or hit, for instance a teething ring, a gumigem necklace or bangle or another toy that can withstand biting! Or a soft pillow to hit. Letting the child choose their ‘biting/hitting object’ can help them to feel a little more in control.

Rhythm

Rhythm is all about predictability, creating rhythm and patterns of the day gives child a sense of control over their day - to give more control gives the toddler more predictability, which in turn can help them to feel safer and more comfortable and less likely to result in anxious behaviour – such as biting and hitting. Discuss with them times when it might be suitable to low down the pace with their toddler.

Understanding

It is especially important in this example to gain some understanding. The parents must look carefully at their toddlers' lives and understand why their toddler is biting/hitting. There are many reasons why this could be happening. Perhaps he or she is teething and biting helps to relieve the pressure behind his/her gums, perhaps he or she is undergoing a very sensory period of development and the biting or hitting literally feels good and interesting to them, or perhaps the biting/hitting behaviour is indicating an unmet need, quite often biting/hitting is linked to the arrival of a new sibling, starting day-care, mum returning to work or similar. The toddler may be trying to indicate to you that they need more attention or exercise/entertainment. Always remember though that your toddler is not biting/hitting to be deliberately malicious, even if it appears that they are acting out of anger - this means they are having a hard time.

Communication

As with understanding, the biting/hitting can be a sign that your child is trying to communicate something to you, if their language capabilities are not strong they will have trouble doing so. Considering using basic sign language here can be very helpful. Similarly how you communicate with your toddler is vital, remember the ‘say what you see’ approach, but also think about the theory of modelling; if you are violent to your child (e.g. the commonly advocated ‘biting back’ or ‘a good smack’) all you are really teaching your child is to copy you as it will be seen as acceptable behaviour.

As mentioned at the start, our best form of communication here is in describing the effect of their behaviour (pain) and that it isn't ok to treat people that way. For example:

1/2 year old "Ouch that hurt mummy, please don't bite/hit"

3/4 year old "I cannot let you bite/hit me, it hurts"

Following this, we might help our toddler by naming their emotions for them (assuming they are acting from these).  “I know you are angry that little Johnny stole your toy but biting/hitting hurts”, and then offering an alternative, “We don’t bite people, but you can bite your teething necklace if you want to bite”. Or “Hitting people hurts, if you want to hit you can hit your special angry cushion”. Always keep communication consistent too; it takes time to change behaviour in this way. It is also particularly important that both parents take the same approach.

Individual

As with understanding there are so many reasons why toddlers bite and hit, it is impossible to give one answer as your toddler is an individual; therefore it is important you consider their situation when deciding what to do. Some triggers or challenges in a toddler's lives can be fixed, worked on or avoided but not all. For example, if they are struggling in a childcare setting it is possible to change it or work with the childcare's, but there is not really a way of changing that a new siblings has arrived. There are ways of helping a toddler with the feelings surrounding that too though.

Advocacy

If your toddler bites or hits at playgroup, they may be struggling with playgroup particularly. You can advocate for them by investigating why this might be, and it may be prudent to avoid the playgroup for a while and see if things improve. This can be applied to any time, activity or setting where this occurs.

Avoiding the setting/activity that seems to trigger this behaviour might also introduce the idea of natural consequences to your toddler “We can’t go to playgroup today, because the other children don’t like it when you bite/hit them”. Natural consequences are one of the best ways for a child to learn and intrinsically motivate themselves to change their behaviour.

Love

As always remember it is the biting/hitting you dislike, not your toddler. They are not doing it to deliberately annoy you. Remember to love them unconditionally, when you do, the behaviour is less likely to occur because they in turn feel loved and supported. Here also it is important to try to not pay attention to what others may say about your toddler, don’t let their opinions/advice worry you/change your response/how you feel about your toddler.

When your toddler repeatedly behaves in this way, it can be hard not to take it personally and let it trigger our own issues. Makes sure that you look inward and manage your own emotions so that you can support your toddler.

Please note here anything that you might add to this worked crucial strategy for a client

The toddler who throws everything

The toddler who throws everything

Your client's toddler throws everything (and often at other people/and breaks lots of things). Here is an example of how you might create a CRUCIAL strategy with them. This is a very loose guide as each CRUCIAL strategy is highly individual to the client and their toddler.

Firstly we need  to set a limit here. Throwing is a tricky one for toddlers because it is acceptable sometimes with some things and in some places but sometimes it is not. Parents need to be clear and specific about the limit (see communication). 

Control

There are two things to consider here. Firstly, look with the parents at areas where they could offer their toddler more control over their lives in general -their toddler may be acting in this way because other parts of their lives are out of control. For instance, are the parents giving them choices as they go about their daily lives? Are they allowing them freedom to be independent and competent? Are they respecting their child's right to consent?

Secondly, if their child is feeling the need to throw, they can offer them choices in order to achieve that; they could offer them a choice of alternative objects they can throw, for instance a soft ball or beanbag. You could also give them the option to go outside if they want to be more vigorous with their throwing or throw something a little harder – i.e. a football. Letting the child choose their ‘throwing object’ can help them to feel a little more in control.

Rhythm

Rhythm is all about predictability, creating rhythm and patterns of the day gives child a sense of control over their day - to give more control gives the toddler more predictability, which in turn can help them to feel safer and more comfortable and less likely to result in anxious behaviour – such as throwing.

Understanding

It is important in this example to gain some understanding. The parents must look carefully at their toddlers' lives and understand why their toddler is throwing. There are many reasons why this could be happening. Perhaps he or she is developing a new schema (the trajectory schema is the number one reason a toddler will repeatedly throw) and is being a typical ‘little scientist’ learning about the world through his or her actions (think about how much throwing teaches us about gravity, weight and so on), or perhaps the constant throwing is indicating an unmet need. It is possibly linked to the arrival of a new sibling, starting day-care, mum returning to work or similar, your toddler may be trying to indicate to you that they need more attention or exercise/entertainment. Always remember though that your toddler is not throwing things to be deliberately malicious, even if it appears that they are acting out of anger - this means they are having a hard time.

Communication

As with understanding, the throwing can be a sign that the toddler is trying to communicate something to you. If their language capabilities are not strong they will have trouble doing so. Considering using basic sign language here can be very helpful. Similarly how parents communicate with their toddler is vital; remember the ‘say what you see’ approach. Encourage parents to keep it age appropriate:

1/2 year olds - "Oops, let's throw this instead" OR "Let's see what we can throw outside"

2/3 year olds - “I know you enjoy throwing but we can’t throw heavy things inside” and then offering an alternative “You can throw this beanbag inside, or we can go outside and throw your football”. Following this, we might help our toddler by naming their emotions for them (assuming they are acting from these).  “I know you are angry at mummy but when things hit me, it hurts -please don't throw", and then offering an alternative, “if you're feeling very cross, you could hit this pillow instead"

Always keep communication consistent too; it takes time to change behaviour in this way. It is also particularly important that both parents take the same approach.

Individual

Again here, it is impossible to give one answer as your toddler is an individual; therefore it is important you consider their situation when deciding what to do.

Advocacy

Firstlyyou can advocate for your toddler by giving them appropriate opportunities to throw.This will help them a great deal if they are working on their schemas or have a compulsion to throw. 

If your toddler throws things at other people’s houses on playdates (or in any other specific situation), these might be too stressful for them at the moment. You can advocate for your toddler by being flexible about whether you continue with the stressful activity or change the circumstances in which it occurs. Avoiding, for example, the playdates for a while could be a good idea or changing where they happen. This also introduces the idea of natural consequences to your toddler “We can’t go to Johnny’s house today, because they don’t like it when you throw things”. Natural consequences are one of the best ways for a child to learn and intrinsically motivate themselves to change their behaviour.

Love

As always remember it is the throwing you dislike, not your toddler. They are not doing it todeliberately annoy you. Remember to love them unconditionally, when you do, the behaviour is less likely to occur because they in turn feel loved and supported. Here also it is important to try to not pay attention to what others may say about your toddler, don’t let their opinions/advice worry you/change your response/how you feel about your toddler.

When your toddler repeatedly behaves in this way, it can be hard not to take it personally and let it trigger our own issues. Makes sure that you look inward and manage your own emotions so that you can support your toddler.

Please note here anything that you might add to this worked crucial strategy for a client

The toddler who doesn't share

The Toddler Who Doesn’t Share Anything

Your toddler refuses to share toys at playgroup – or anywhere else!

Your client's toddler refuses to share toys (either at playgroup or in other social situations). Here is an example of how you might create a CRUCIAL strategy with them. This is a very loose guide as each CRUCIAL strategy is highly individual to the client and their toddler.

Control

You can help your child to have a little control by giving them choices here, ask them to pick another toy to share with the other child instead, or perhaps use a little egg-timer which they can (importantly) control, “when the sand runs out you need to let little Johnny play with the toy”.

Rhythm

Rhythm is all about predictability, creating rhythm and patterns of the day gives child a sense of control over their day - to give more control gives the toddler more predictability, which in turn canhelp them to feel safer and more comfortable and less likely to result in anxious behaviour – such as biting and hitting when another child wants their toy.

Understanding

Understand why your child doesn’t want to share. Firstly it may just be that they are so fascinated with the toy that they don’t want to give it up, but perhaps most importantly is the knowledge that toddlers are incredibly egocentric, they literally can only see the world through their own eyes, therefore they do not understand that by not sharing they are making someone else sad, they just don’t think like adults do. Sharing is actually quite a mature concept and skill to grasp and one that comes later in life.

Communication

Remember how you communicate with your toddler is vital. This is a good time to use the ‘say what you see’ approach and also think about the theory of modelling. Model kind and sharing behaviour yourself and name your toddlers emotions “I can see you love that toy and I know that you are really sad that little Johnny wants to play with it too”. Empathise with your toddler and show them you understand how they are feeling. Once you have shown empathy and named feelings then refer to the ‘control’ examples above.

Individual

As always remember your toddler is an individual, therefore it is important you consider their situation when deciding what to do. This may not be the right day for teaching them about sharing (when a new sibling has arrived, their birthday).

Advocacy

You can advocate for your toddler in this situation in a few ways:

Firstly it is important that you stick up for your toddler if other adults are expecting them to be able to spontaneously share when they are not developmentally ready. Secondly, it is your responsibility to decide whether or not sharing is appropriate in the circumstances. Thirdly you can advocate or your toddler by avoiding situations in which your toddler finds sharing particularly difficult or stressful until they are ready for those challenges. Whilst your toddler finds sharing difficult avoid any situations with your child’s own toys (particularly their favourite ones) by not taking them out in public or putting them away when a friend comes over for a play date.

Love

As always remember it is the behaviour you dislike, not your toddler. With this behaviour, parents often feel that they have done something wrong or have failed to teach their child how to share. They feel this reflects on their toddler's personality and therefore their own. This is not the case and parents need reminding that this is simply about brain develoment and good modelling will result in good sharing later in childhood. Toddlers are not doing it to deliberately annoy you. Remember it is important to try to not pay attention to what others may say about your toddler, don’t let their opinions/advice worry you/change your response/how you feel aboutyour toddler. Don’t be tempted to force your toddler to share just to please another parent.

Please note here anything that you might add to this worked crucial strategy for a client

The toddler who won't get dressed / let you change them

The toddler who won’t get dressed/let you change their nappy

Your client's toddler is incredibly uncooperative when it comes to getting dressed or changing their nappy. Here is an example of how you might create a CRUCIAL strategy with them. This is a very loose guide as each CRUCIAL strategy is highly individual to the client and their toddler.

Control

This is perhaps the most important point for both of these scenarios. You can help your child to have some control (which often results in much more cooperation) by giving them choices and autonomy. The first and easiest thing to do that works with some toddlers and not others, is to let them dress themselves independently as much as possible.

The next choice they can make is to let them choose their own clothes. There are two situations to consider the first is  giving them a few selected outfits wo choose from. This works well if they don't have a very fixed idea of what they want to wear or in situations where you need to retain some control over their appearance (your going to a wedding for instance). 

The other option is to literally let them wear what they want to; is it so bad if they go to playgroup in a fairy outfit or to the beach in the wellington boots? Parents will be keen to ensure their health and safety by controlling what they wear (coats in cold weather) but it may be worthwhile to allow control even with this. Allowing a toddler to go outing inappropriate clothes for the weather may be a good lesson for them regarding dressing appropriately in the future and about natural consequences; you don't wear a coat, you get wet/cold. It is worth reminding parents that it isn't meant as a punishment and therefore they might consider quietly taking a suitable change of clothes (putting their coat in the car) where possible so that the toddler can change their mind when the consequences occur.

 In the case of changing a nappy, the choice cannot be whether it happens for their own health and wellbeing. However there are a number of choices than can be offered; when there nappy change takes place (within reason), “we need to change your nappy, shall we do it before Peppa Pig comes on or during the adverts?”, they could also choose where the nappy change takes place, or perhaps even choose their own change mat. In terms of autonomy, they cannot change their own nappy but you could give them little jobs to help; putting their nappy into the bin/nappy bucket after the change, going to fetch the mat.

Rhythm

This is a great time to introduce a ritual, you could make up a ‘nappy changing song’ and sing it together whilst the changing is happening “this is the way we wipe the poo, wipe the poo, wipe the poo” (to the tune of ‘here we go round the Mulberry Bush’). Your toddler could name parts of their body whilst they are getting dressed – Parent: “where do your knickers/pants go?” – Toddler: “mypants/knickers go on my bottom” – Parent: “where is your bottom?” – Toddler: “Here!” – “Can you put your pants on your bottom then?” – make it a game, make it fun!

Always doing nappy changes before or after certain events (before their nap, after their lunch) will make it more predictable for them so they are not caught by surprise. Similarly getting dressed in the morning can be done at a certain point in the getting ready sequence so that you toddler knows that is the next step. Many toddlers are keen to get to breakfast so it might be helpful to make getting dressed come before this. The toddler will come to understand that getting dressed is a precursor to having breakfast (this is importantly different than a if/then bribery situation).

Understanding

Understand how your child is feeling, having a nappy changed must feel pretty yucky (and cold). Having to lie still on the floor when you’d rather be playing or running around will also make the toddler feel unhappy. Having to get dressed when it feels so good to have the wind on your naked body – you get the jist!

Communication

Remember the ‘say what you see’ approach “I see that you are busy playing, but your bottom is very smelly and if we don’t change your nappy it might make you sore”. Also think about effective praise here. “I’m so proud that you let me change your nappy, I know you were busy playing and it was hard for you to leave your game and lay still on the floor” also think about self-modelling, when you get dressed in the morning you could say “I’m really proud of myself for getting dressed each day, even though I find it quite boring doing it.” You might feel very silly but this is a great way to teach our children about self-esteem.

Individual

As always it is important you consider your toddler’s situation when deciding what to do, maybe he or she doesn’t like nappy changes because the wipes are cold or laying on the floor is itchy? Maybe he or she doesn’t like the scratchy label in the back of their vest? Some children have unique circumstances such as eczema which can make any clothes uncomfortable.

Advocacy

You can advocate for you toddler here by respecting their choices even if they don't meet our standard for social acceptance. It is more important that your toddler is happy, feels comfortable and feels trusted and love by you than what people think at the park. 

We cannot avoid getting dressed or changing a nappy, but you can pick your battles. It doesn't necessarily matter if your toddler goes out in red trousers, green shoes, a pink top and a blue hat? We might be embarrassed at their lack of colour coordination, but if it avoids having a stressful morning does it really matter?

Love

As always remember it is the behaviour that you dislike/find difficult to live with, not your toddler. They are not doing it to drive you mad (even though sometimes they enjoy running from you).

When your toddler repeatedly behaves in this way, it can be hard not to get very stressed and easy to let it trigger our own issues. Make sure that you look inward and manage your own emotions so that you can support your toddler in the calmest and happiest way possible.

Please note here anything that you might add to this worked crucial strategy for a client

The toddler who tantrums constantly

The toddler who tantrums

Your client's toddler throws temper tantrums often. Here is an example of how you might create a CRUCIAL strategy with them. This one assumes a certain scenario to assist with giving proper example: "Your toddler throws themselves onto the floor wailing in the middle of the supermarket – what can you do?" This is a very loose guide as each CRUCIAL strategy is highly individual to the client and their toddler.

Control

Tantrums usually stem from frustration and so giving toddlers control over some aspects of  their lives will certainly assist in preventing tantrums  IN the case of the toddler who often tantrums in the supermarket, you can try to give your toddler as many choices in the situation as possible. "Would you like to sit in the trolley, carry a basket or walk and hold the trolley?"

Similarly you could give your toddler a ‘special job’ to do in the supermarket, picking the items off of the shelves, using the hand held scanner or packing (non-breakable/squashable) items. You could also let your toddler have some control over when you go, for instance: “I can see you are busy playing now, we need to go to the shops to get some dinner, would you like to go now or in 10 minutes when you have finished your jigsaw?”

Rhythm

It must be strange for a toddler not knowing what comes next in their life. Helping them to understand that ‘Tuesday is shopping day’ can be really helpful, perhaps by using a pictorial calendar showing“what we are doing today”, or by discussing and planning the shopping trip at bedtime the night beforeand reminding them in the morning “we are going to the shops today”.

Rhythm is all about predictability, creating rhythm and patterns of the day gives child a sense of control over their day - to give more control gives the toddler more predictability, which in turn can help them to feel safer and more comfortable and less likely to tantrum in the first place.

Understanding

Understanding the it is normal for a toddler to tantrum is helpful. When we understand how the brain develops and what they are physically capable of doing and understanding, we are better able to manage our toddler's lives. We can understand that toddlers do not have the ability to regulate their emotions and behave as we do. Take a look at this video from Dan Siegal regarding temper tantrums. He describes how when toddler's reptilian/mammalian brains are triggered, their under-developed neocortex temporarily stops working at all (they "flip their lid") and even if they wanted to control their feelings and calm down, they can’t.

Communication

Tantrums are signs that your child is trying to communicate something to you, usually big overwhelming feelings, whether that be hunger, tiredness, boredom, fear, or sadness. It could be them unconsciously telling you "I don’t like all the people", "This person/situation is making me feel uncomfortable". In the scenario above they may simply be trying to tell you that they want to be more involved and sitting in the trolley is making them feel passive and not in control of their day.

Try to help your child tocommunicate to you wherever possible. Remember the ‘say what you see’ approach (“I can see you don’t like it here, let’s try to get what we need and get you out of here as quickly as we can.”) and try to describe the behaviour you want from your toddler e.g.: “we use our soft voice here” rather than what you don’t want e.g.: “stop whining”.

Individual

As with understanding there are so many reasons why toddlers tantrum, it is impossible to give one answer as your toddler is an individual, therefore it is important you consider their situation when deciding what to do.

Advocacy

You can advocate for your toddler in many ways to help manage their lives and avoid difficult feelings that lead to tantrums. You can do your best to meet theirs needs so that they don't find themselves in situations where they are tired, hungry or over-stimulated for example. You can provide suitable boundaries and limitations to ensure that they don't get themselves into situations that might be too much for them to manage.

However, avoiding big feelings isn't always possible and helping toddlers manage them is also advocating for them. When tantrums occur it is your job to help your toddler through it compassionately, containing their feelings to make them manageable and naming their feelings so that they can gain understanding over time. We must also ensure that we don't respond harshly to a tantrum simply because it is embarrassing to us (and socially acceptable to be tough with toddlers) and that we stick up for our toddler with other adults. Saying to a grumpy onlooker "he is really struggling with his feelings today" rather than "he is always a nightmare when we shop" sends a positive message to your toddler, saying that you understand and accept him.

In the scenario above, if you can find a different time do to shop when your toddler is not there (order online, go late in the evening, get your partner or friend to go for you) then this may be an option. If you cannot avoid it then try to ensure you time it well and are compassionate with your toddler's struggles.

Love

You toddler is not having tantrums to annoy you and the most important (and difficult) response to their scary feelings is love. Many mainstream parenting "experts" would have us ignore our toddler or send them away form us during a tantrum. They believe this prevents us from rewarding bad behaviour. However, we know that our toddler is simply struggling with big emotions and if we run away form those or they make us "lose it" it tells our toddlers that those bog scary feelings are so scary than even grown ups can't handle them. What they need is our support, so instead of ignoring your toddler during a tantrum, or sending them away, comforting them and containing the emotions they are struggling with will reap benefits later. 

A tantrum is a scary experience for them as they can’t control their emotions like we can. A big hug is often much more effective and positive in the long term and helps toddlers to know that you always love them, no matter what. Staying calm and comfortng your toddler during and after a tantrum says “it’s OK, I’m here for you, I love you, and I am strong enough to cope with your big feelings”.

Please note here anything that you might add to this worked crucial strategy for a client

The toddler who will not use their potty

The toddler who will not use their potty

I am dubious about including this example as I think that learning to use a toilet is a more complicated thing to understand than can be covered here and should really have it's own section within ToddlerCalm in the future (like sleep, eating and play currently do). However we haven't written that section yet and probably won't until later in 2017 or even 2018 so I have left this one in, in it's current format, for the time being. 

Your toddler is really difficult to toilet train. He or she will not poo in their potty and frequently wees in their bedroom – what do you do?

Control

This is perhaps the most important point for both of these scenarios. You can help your child to have some control (which often results in much more cooperation) by giving them choices here. You could let them choose their own potty and knickers/pants, they could also choose where the potty should be, and perhaps they would like one in more than one room? Problems with potty training can also indicate problems with lack of control in other areas of the toddler’s life, so think about wider control you can give them. Also think about giving your child the ultimate control – deciding when is the right time to potty train, if it’s a struggle the chances are the decision to toilet train was all in your control and your toddler simply isn’t ready.

Rhythm

Rhythm is all about predictability, creating rhythm and patterns of the day gives child a sense of control over their day - to give more control gives the toddler more predictability, which in turn can help them to feel safer and more comfortable and make toileting easier. You could sing a toilet related song that the two of you make up, you could let your toddler watch you going to the bathroom so they know what to expect and you could read potty related story books with your toddler.

Understanding

Understand why your child refuses to use the potty. Could it be that it hurts them to do so? They might be constipated (previous constipation issues can lead the toddler being scared to poo in the future),the seat may be uncomfortable (it always helps if the toddlers feet are on the floor as it helps the muscles around their bottom to relax), they may be scared (particularly in the case of a seat on the big toilet), they may be embarrassed (if you refer to “yuck, stinky poo” when you change their nappy for example), often frequent accidents (or deliberately weeing somewhere) are a sign of stress in the toddler’s life, or perhaps they just are not ready yet!

Communication

Remember the ‘say what you see’ approach, but also think about the theory of modelling (hence the letting your toddler see you using the toilet idea above). “We don’t wee on the floor, we goes in the potty or the nappy”. Never chastise your toddler for a toilet related accident.

Individual

It is impossible to give one answer here as potty training is so unique for each toddler. Don’t be tempted to rush potty training because your nursery/preschool tell you that they would like your toddler out of nappies/they really should be trained by now. Each child is different.

Avoidance

Does your toddler REALLY need to be potty trained now or could they stay in nappies for a bit longer?

Love

As always remember it is the behaviour you dislike, not your toddler. They are not doing it to deliberately annoy you.

Please note here anything that you might add to this worked crucial strategy for a client

Supporting toddler-CALM

Introduction to the concept

Introducing CALM

In this section we introduce some tools that can help parents to achieve their strategy. This is a new concept for ToddlerCalm; although we have talked about many of these things in ToddlerCalm in some way in the past, there wasn't a formal structure to teaching it. To help us as consultants talk about ways that we can introduce a greater sense of CALM to toddlers and parents lives, we have created the following:

  • C onnection
  • A tmosphere
  • L oving touch
  • M ovement

Let's look at these in more detail...

Connection

Connection

We have mentioned "connecting" with your toddler quite a lot through our psychology module and throughout CRUCIAL. So how can we connect with our toddlers? Well there are literally infinite ways of doing this because we are unique and so are our toddlers. However, we have highlighted here a few ideas of things that research has shown can improve our connection (or healthy attachment) with our toddlers.

Carrying

This one is so important that we have dedicated an entire module to it and will be training you to support parents in carrying their toddlers. In short, it is natural for humans to carry their young and this does not end at 12 months. All carrying is wonderful whether slings are used or not and regardless of the type of sling or carrier. Obviously we think good quality, ergonomic carriers are ideal and recommend sling libraries as a great place to try a wide range. Carrying (also known as babywearing when using slings) has been shown to support healthy attachment in children and can be a great source of reassurance and comfort to toddlers in difficult moments.

Playing

Again, there is a whole module dedicated to playing in ToddlerCalm because play is essential to toddler development. We must understand that connection can only be achieved when we play with our children. We must be child-led and we must give them our undivided attention when we do it. It isn't as easy as it sounds but you may be surprised at the extent of the positive effect of just 10 minutes of this type of play per day. Child-led play teaches our children that we are willing to cooperate with them, be compliant and that we love them enough to put them first. Their sense of belonging and wellbeing will increase in all areas of their life when they have this protected time, promoting a deep sense of connection.

Stories

This is also covered within the module for play and development as it has multiple benefits. It is essential to highlight it here as an important tool for fostering a good connection with your toddler. Not only is the time parent and toddler spend together with stories important, but also the shared experience, shared adventure and a shared perspective of the world. For years to come you will reflect back on key stories with your child whether it's with fond memories or because there was a lesson to be learned that is relevant to their difficulties. Having experienced the story together, there is a deep sense of connection and understanding between you.

Exploring

Following on from the above, shared experience breeds strong connection. You know how your best friends have stories that you share that don't age? It is important that we build these experiences into our lives with our toddler. They do not need to be huge; travelling the world or building an epic treehouse but they do need to include discovery. When your toddler feels that you are discovering things together (a new spot in the forest, how to bake a cake, which household items float) this will build a connection between you.

Singing

Children love the sound of their parents voices and have done since before they were born. Singing to babies aids language development and creates a great sense of calm. In toddlers, singing familiar songs not only assists in establishing and reinforcing a rhythm in their lives (when sung at particualr times) but fosters connection with parents as they know and repeat the same songs together.

Responsiveness and reciprocity

This is just here to really highlight that all of the above involve you having a reciprocal exchange with your toddler. If you both go about your daily lives in unison and only interact when you feel a correction needs to be made, without responsiveness and without reciprocity in your daily relationship, you will not achieve a meaningful connection or attachment and your toddler will be unlikely to feel calm and happy, either now or in the future.

Atmosphere

Atmosphere

The atmosphere or environment in which your toddler is operating is also key to a feeling of calm. We all have places and situations in which we feel calm and those that make us feel quite anxious or unsettled. Sometimes  we know when this is going to happen and other times coming into a "stressful" environment is unexpected. As toddlers have little control over their environment they cannot prepare themselves for, or avoid, atmospheres that they find more difficult. As the parent we can help our toddlers by being aware of what we are doing with their environment and being responsive to their reactions to it. We can also use toddler-friendly techniques to help them when their atmosphere is troubling them.

Senses

In the neuropsychology module we discussed how toddler's senses are more acute than adults'. Whilst this can be difficult for them in terms of environment (unfriendly noises and smells can be harder for them to cope with), it can also be used to help parents. Familiarity in the senses can create a feeling of comfort and safety but also there are common themes for sensory stimulation that are calming to most toddlers.

Sound

Toddlers will always find their parents' voice a comforting sound and particularly respond well to them singing (even if they think they suck at it). Singing with your toddler is great but sometimes singing to them can be a fantastic tool. If parents aren't comfortable with singing, reading to toddlers is also a great way of using voice to calm them, particularly poetry due to the rhythm.

Another tool that is fantastic and particularly helps with calming in preparation for and in promoting sleep is alpha music. Alpha music is simple music that is timed to match alpha waves in the brain; 60 beats per minute, bringing the heart rate down to a resting rate and bringing a feeling of calm and rest. There is lots of information to be found on this here. The ToddlerCalm CD plays Alpha music and is a good product for you to promote to parents. We are currently in the process of updating this and are looking at the possibility of creating a ToddlerCalm app as an accessible way for parents to use Alpha music.

Scent

Scent is  one of the most powerful senses to stimulate, particularly in relation to memory. This means that it is useful for creating a familiar atmosphere. Recreating smells that they smell often will help them to feel safe. The most powerful of this will still be the smell of their mother (or primary caregiver). This is why comforters work well. Having a blanket, toy, muslin or specific comfort item acts as a "mother substitute" and it mostly does this through scent. It also helps when they are soft and cuddly - see below.

Further to this we can use this knowledge and that of classical behavioural conditioning to help our toddlers feel calm. If we use a particular smell (for argument's sake lavender) at time when we are being calm with our toddler, after a prolonged period our toddlers will associate that smell with feeling calm and just the smell with make them more calm.

Please note that conditioning anything takes time - weeks at least!

Touch

Touch is the first sense that develops in the womb and something that we rely on more that you might think. It is also the key factor in building and maintaining attachment. Think about Harlow's monkeys; The soft mother was the desirable mother. The benefits of touch are so important that it has it's own section in CALM (See "Loving touch").

When parents cannot provide their toddler with loving touch, a soft comforter can be helpful in maintaining calm toddler behaviour.

Taste

This is a slightly tricky one. Whilst we don't advocate trying to placate your toddler with nice food (this may result in them trying to squash difficult feelings with chocolate in the future - you know what I'm taking about!), there are two important factors to consider here. If your toddler is hungry, nothing will calm them. Often toddlers graze and so if your toddler is agitated, consider if they might be genuinely hungry or thirsty, even if it's just a quick healthy snack. 

The second factor here is breastfeeding! It can be sensitive one in classes as those parents who have chosen not to, or been unable to, breastfeed their child into the second year of their life and beyond may have strong emotions around breastfeeding. However, this is not a good enough reason not to talk about it.  It is both recommended by the highest authorities in the world that "babies" are breastfed until past the age of 2 years and biologically normal. In ToddlerCalm whilst we never shame or judge any parent for not choosing to breastfeed we will also unashamedly promote it's worth and normality. Breastfeeding past 12 months is actually less about nutritional value (though that remains at it's optimum with human milk) and more about connection, attachment, comfort and general wellbeing. A quick feed is an awesome tool in calming toddlers. 

Make a change

Sometimes we cannot make the atmosphere we are in work for our toddler at that particular time; what is needed is a change. When out and about your toddler may simply be over-whelmed and need to go home but what about when you are at home?

Move rooms

This may seem a little crazy but sometimes it works. If your toddler is anxious, agitated, angry, whinging or being destructive, moving to another part of the house for a time can sometimes be enough to change the atmosphere around your toddler and therefore their mood.

Go for a walk

If all else fails many toddlers calm down the minute they hit the open air. Sometimes it takes a little longer and they don't improve until half way through the walk but generally it happens at some point. Whether this is because of fresh air, other things to focus on or movement/excerise, it can work well.

Go for a drive

This is an individual thing and works very well with some toddlers and terribly with others. If your toddler is ok in the car this can be a great way to give yourselves a break from each other without actually being apart. Go for a drive somewhere with the music playing and give your toddler and yourself a chance to reboot.

Loving touch

Loving touch

This is a new thing to talk about at ToddlerCalm but something that I feel is an essential topic to cover within a considered parenting approach. We are looking at ways of developing the program to include more information about massage with toddlers as this is not currently covered in the workshops or the course.

Toddlers can be very busy little people and so time for physical contact can seem limited. However, the key thing is to take your opportunities as they are presented to you. You need to be spontaneous and flexible, creating opportunities to use positive touch to have a calmer and happier toddler.

Body autonomy

Before we get into opportunities for, and methods of loving touch, it is important to just recap on consent and body autonomy. This area of calming is actually a fantastic opportunity to teach our toddler about the importance of them having autonomy over their bodies (which will help to keep them safe now and in the future) and to teach them about consent (will keep them and others safe too). Remember that toddlers learn most effectively through modelling, so when they witness you respecting their autonomy and gaining their express consent and complying with "no". You will literally be wiring their brain to do the same with others and to instinctively know that unwanted touch is not ok.

So how do I make sure I am doing this with my toddler? Here are some ideas:

  • If you are going to start more formal/organised touch (like massage) always ask permission to touch your toddler; not only at the beginning of the massage, but each time you move to another body part. E.g. "That leg is done, I am moving to the other one now, is that OK?"
  • If you are engaged in any kind of touch with your toddler (tumble play, tickling, massage, cuddles) and they decide they want you to stop, respect their choice. Sometimes this means checking that they mean what they say. Toddlers often say "no and stop" when being tickled when they don't mean it. You should still ALWAYS stop. They will soon tell you if they want you to start again.
  • For younger toddlers, look at their facial expression and other cues. You will know your toddler pretty well and can usually tell if they are engaging and enjoying their experience. If you are thinking maybe they are not, give them an opportunity to end the game/session.
  • If your toddler has a tendency to say no when asked any question ever (like some do sometimes), try giving them two choices instead of asking a yes/no question, to avoid getting an automatic no but still giving them a chance to opt out. E.g. Would you like a massage now or maybe later? Would you like a massage or to play with the puzzles?

Cuddles

This is the simplest form of loving touch you can provide for your toddler and is something you are probably already doing pretty often. Toddlers will usually come and get quick cuddles every so often before going back to their busy lives. They also become much cuddlier in times of need. However, what we are suggesting is more "active cuddling" than parents sometimes allow for. There are two ways to do this:

  1. When a toddler requests/demands/initiates a cuddle parents actively engage with their toddler, rejecting other distractions. It is common for parents to be busy and wrapped up in their own activities and so don't engage with their toddler, or only half engage which their toddler initiates a cuddle. Try to be mindful that your toddler is showing you a need in that moment and responding to it with enthusiasm will be beneficial.
  2. Parents take appropriate opportunities to initiate cuddles (whilst being mindful of body autonomy).This tells your toddler that you want to cuddle them and don't just put up with their demands for attention. 

Toddlers who are actively cuddled will feel more unconditionally loved and therefore calmer and happier.

It is also worth considering that hugging and cuddling causes the release of oxytocin (the love hormone) which research tells us increases the activity in the social areas of the brain, increasing social bonding. Two factors which studies have shown increase the release of oxytocin are the length of the physical contact and whether skin-to-skin contact is involved. This doesn't mean you and your toddler have to strip (though things like co-bathing are great for this) but putting a hand to your toddler's bare skin during these moments could be good, if it feels right for you both.

Breastfeeding

I don't want to dwell on this too much as I know it's a sensitive subject but it is important for parents to know that breastfeeding toddlers is more significant than a nutritional benefit. The connection that this continued close physical contact brings does wonders for the developing brain and a toddler's sense of belonging. In most cases, feeding can bring calm to a toddler when nothing else can. Whilst this information isn't helpful to those who either had to stop or chose to stop, it may be useful information for those who believe (as I once did) that there is no point to continuing after 12 months, or for those that will have subsequent children and may make different choices with different information in the future.

Tumble play

Tumble play, often called "rough and tumble" or RTP,  has many benefits for toddlers according to research. It is a form of play that stimulates pleasure centres in the brain, promotes bonding and attachment through physical contact and teaches important lessons about reading people's body language, consent, limiting force and aggression, and reciprocity. Some parents show concern that "rough" play promotes aggressive or violent behaviour and encourages children to become "wild". Research shows that where parents are modelling appropriate behaviour this type of play actually does the opposite, allowing toddlers to work out their naturally wild behaviour in a socially appropriate way. It is also a great way to get toddlers moving. We will talk about this in the next section.

Massage with toddlers

Massaging toddlers is a lovely continuation from massaging babies though it has further challenges. Many parents will come to ToddlerCalm having never massaged their babies and will feel that starting with massage during the toddler years would be too difficult. We want to make it easy for them.

The fact of it is that the strokes don't really matter too much. What is important is that you stimulate the skin in a loving and nurturing way and that you and your toddler enjoy the experience. Many toddlers will not sit or lie down for prolonged periods of time to receive a massage but this doesn't mean they won't enjoy massage. Here are some suggestions for making massage work with toddlers:

  • Use songs and rhymes to make it engaging and fun
  • Be spontaneous (have oil to hand for when the right moment presents itself)
  • Adapt strokes you are used to using to accommodate any position your toddler chooses (don't make them move to accommodate your needs)
  • Make massage seem like a "big kid"'s activity or relate it to something they aspire to (super heroes, sporting professionals)
  • Be flexible with how much you do in one session and which body parts you do when. Just doing one arm is ok if that's all that's wanted
  • Use stories or games to engage their imagination
  • Let them choose what to wear, if anything. Massage over clothes is better than no massage at all
  • ALWAYS be mindful of body autonomy and consent so that it is a positive, nurturing, loving experience.

Movement

Movement

You might think that it isn't necessary to encourage toddlers to move, as many toddlers never seem to stop. However, as parents we do spend a lot of time putting restrictions and limitations on the way our toddlers move. We, understandably, don't allow them to run around our houses in most cases or jump on our furniture and whilst these are completely reasonable limitations for our toddlers, sometimes we forget that they have a need to do these things and it is our responsibilty to give them the opportunities in which they can do these things. If we do this, they may be more capable of meeting our expectations of calm behaviour at other times.

Get outside

Granted this can be difficult in the UK as the weather is unpredictable and often cold or wet but it is not impossible. If dressed correctly, toddlers don't mind the weather much in most cases and actually enjoy wet weather a great deal. Getting a good amount of daily exercise in which they can run and jump to their hearts content will improve your toddler's wellbeing across the board.

Classes

There are two factors here. Firstly, there are situations in which the above is not possible. Secondly, some toddlers need more exercise than others and more than can be satisfied with the above. In these cases finding a suitable activity that your toddler can do may have a positive affect on their sense of calm at other times. Whether it's a sport, martial art or dance class, some toddlers, especially older ones who can follow instructions well, can benefit from this kind of intensive physical activity.

Dancing

Recent research has shown that dancing is beneficial to more than just physical development. Although it is a wonderfully fun way of your child moving (exercise produces endorphins which improve overall mood), that is not why we are talking about it here.

Dancing has been found to promote psychological health, giving toddlers an opportunity to express their emotions and use creative movement for self-awareness. Furthermore dance offers an opportunity for social interaction, cooperation, reciprocity and communication that is very physical, which will appeal to toddler's brain development. Toddlers will learn about working together and reading other people in a fun and cooperative way. 

There have also been studies showing that the spontaneity of dance movement can increase cognitive development, particularly in the problem solving parts of the brain.

Lastly, when thinking about "playful parenting", funny and silly dancing can be a wonderful way to get yourself and your toddler through difficult moments. Sometimes, loud music and "kitchen dance moves" definitely promote toddler-calm. 

Yoga

So if you are not into yoga and think it's too ... I don't know what, but if it isn't your thing, then look away. However for those that are keen on optimising their toddler's wellbeing, doing some stretching to improve their flexibility, balance and understanding of their body, coupled with breathing techniques to promote calm and toddler-friendly mindfulness that will help them to regulate their emotions and grow their self-esteem, this is the section for you. Yoga helps people to create a sense of inner peace (calm). 

At ToddlerCalm we are looking at ways of developing the program to include more information about yoga with toddlers as this is not currently covered in the workshops and course. At the moment, pointing parents in the direction of Relax Kids classes seems like a great plan.

What is the most overriding factor in connecting with toddlers?

  • Playing
  • Singing
  • Stories
  • Responsiveness & reciprocity
  • Carrying

Highlight some of the key ways that parents can manipulate their toddler's atmosphere to promote a sense of CALM

Identify the three most important things for parents to understand about "loving touch":

  • Respecting a toddler's body autonomy and getting appropriate consent
  • Making sure they know how and when to massage your toddler
  • Giving toddlers cuddles whether they want them or not
  • Being spontaneous
  • Being careful not to play rough games
  • Being enthusiastic and engaged
  • The benefits of breastfeeding

How do you think we could improve the ToddlerCalm program to include movement with parents and toddlers?

Please answer this as a short essay. No more than one side of A4. It may be worth writing it in word processing software and copy and pasting your answer.