Emotionally, they still rely on their primary caregiver for comfort and security, so maintaining consistent, positive and warm interactions is critical at this stage. They can also start to read facial expressions, so they can pick up on what you’re feeling without language or actions.
Developmentally, temper tantrums are an expected behavior because they haven’t developed frustration tolerance, and learning to establish control through trial and error is frustrating. Let them get frustrated. When we rescue them from frustration, we teach them that everything is easy and that the environment will give in to their tantrums.
Provide a safe and comforting response while validating their feelings, and reassure them that you love them and can help if they need it. Additionally, give them control through choices: Let them pick out their clothes, their foods, the books they want to read, and what bubbles to use in their bath. When they feel as though their opinions matter, they are less likely to tantrum with uncontrollable intensity and they learn problem-solving.
Topics to focus on in this age range include: body safety using anatomically correct terms, relationship rules such as taking turns and sharing, hygiene rules such as teeth brushing and hand washing, first aid rules such as telling an adult when they are hurt, and healthy nutritional choices including the importance of fruits, vegetables and exercise.
What you can do
Validate their emotions to help them identify their own feelings.
Talk about relationship skills such as conflict management.
Label emotions and emotion faces.
Play with them and allow them to lead the play; engage in their world.
Set rules and be consistent.
Show how to share and how to show sympathy.
Use their words to speak with them when focusing on important things.
Allow them to choose, when appropriate.
Teach basic body safety and social safety.
Use appropriate names for body parts.
Use a consistent response to tantrums.
Teach them how to identify safe adults.
Talk to them about the doctor and dentist, and their roles.
Teach them about physical safety: car seats, crossing the street, bikes, firearms, pools, etc.
Show them rules about clean personal hygiene.
Show them how to pick healthy foods and activities.
Provide authentic and specific praise of their effort in activities; avoid praising the outcome.
Allow them to feel frustrated in a safe and comforting manner.
“No one is allowed to touch the places your bathing suit covers. If a doctor or parent wants to do that, make sure Mommy or Daddy is with you.” (Label the body parts.)
“Sharing is taking turns to play with a toy. You get to play, then it’s my turn. If someone takes a toy from you, use your words to ask for it back. Or talk to them about taking turns.”
“When you see a friend crying, ask them if they are OK. Ask a safe adult to help. A safe adult is someone who keeps you safe and doesn’t ever make you feel scared.”
“This is my happy face when I feel happy on the inside. This is my sad face when my heart gets an ouchie.”
“I always come back when I leave for work or the store. My heart and your heart are always tied together by an invisible string.”
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