Communicating Effectively with Your Toddler or Preschooler

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On Oct. 28, 2014, Carolina Parent hosted a live Facebook chat with the Montessori Children’s House of Durham on how to effectively communicate with your toddler or preschooler. Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

Carolina Parent Magazine: Welcome to the Carolina Parent and the Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited “Are They Listening? Communicating Effectively with Your Toddler/Preschooler” LIVE Facebook chat! Today we’ll be talking about toddler behavior with Cynthia Hughey, Assistant Head of School, former teacher and parent with 30+ years of Montessori experience, and Lyn Dickinson, current parent of a Montessori student.

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Welcome, experts! Onto the first question: What to do when your child has a melt-down in a store, say asking for candy or a present.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Good morning! We are excited to be joining you.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: We are also joined this morning by Kelsey Spaulding, teacher of our Summer Parent-Toddler Montessori Exploration class.
Carolina Parent Magazine: Welcome, Kelsey!
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Meltdowns are very normal for this age. Stay neutral, and keep your emotions in check. You can give the child (no more than) two if/then choices. (You may want to present your preferred choice second.) Also be sure you can accept either choice. For instance, “If you continue crying, we will go home. Or you can calm your body and we will finish shopping.” Be prepared to take your child home, even if this means leaving your groceries in the aisle.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: It is also crucial to observe your child’s routines carefully. Could this meltdown be related to tiredness or hunger? Let that inform your schedule next time.

mchd-facebook-chat-2.jpgMegan Toth Haven: Hi there! Any tips for dealing with a 17-month old’s tantrums? It’s so hard before they can communicate (and you can reason with them!), and we’re in the middle of daily battles to get him to do anything that he doesn’t want to do. Thanks!
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Thanks for your great question, Megan! First, acknowledge and identify his feelings. For example, “I see that you are feeling angry right now,” or “I see you want to keep playing, but It’s time to go. I can see you are feeling sad about that.”
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Offering choices is another helpful tool. See if our previous comments about that might help.
Carolina Parent Magazine: Great question, Megan Toth Haven!

Carolina Parent Magazine: Rebecca from Morrisville wrote in: “How long is the attention span of a two- or three- or four-year old? For example, if you want your child to follow a command, say clean up after you play with your toys, what’s the age-appropriate way to do that? I’ve heard that at certain ages, their concentration can only follow one or two steps.”
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: It is true that attention span develops as the child grows. One of the obstacles to concentration that our modern world presents is screen time. Current research demonstrates that children under 2 should have no screen time as it significantly undermines their ability to develop a healthy attention span.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Make sure your have your child’s full attention, and give only one step directions first, until you are confident they can follow that.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Then you can follow up with two step directions, such as “Bring the red block and the toy dog to me.”

Carolina Parent Magazine: What’s the best way to discipline a toddler?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: What an important and broad topic! There are some valuable principles to keep in mind.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: First, remember to treat your toddler like a person. The goal is not to “get” your child to do something, but rather to develop and maintain and trusting, respectful relationship.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Clear communication of expectations and boundaries is essential. Follow through with the limits you have stated so your child knows what to expect and trusts you.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: It is also important that you and your parenting partner have discussed these ideas before you need them and are modeling consistent behavior.

Beth Poland Shugg: When and why do 2-step directions become important? What is an example of a 2-step task a 2-, 3- and 4-year-old should be capable of?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Try to incorporate in your daily life multi-step directions. For instance, for a 2 year old during during diaper changes, you can ask the child to get her diaper and the wipes (2 steps).
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: An example for 2 step directions for a 3 year old could be to set the table by putting out the placemats first, putting out napkins second.
Carolina Parent Magazine: Thank you, Beth Poland Shugg, for the question.

meet-the-experts-revised-2.jpgErika Ripley: What signs might one watch for to gauge whether our communication style/level is in sync with a child’s developmental stage/level?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Hi Erika! Thanks for joining us. That’s a great question! Keen observation is essential to be sure you aren’t talking “over” or “under” your child’s level.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: What do you observe? Do you notice the child’s response is frustrated? Look for signs of engagement, such as responsiveness, eye contact, and interest.
Carolina Parent Magazine: Great question, Erika Ripley!

Carolina Parent Magazine: We just received this question from a parent: “Any tips on how to encourage a 3 year old to NOT quit an activity when it gets “hard”? Specifically she was using scissors and was having trouble cutting the template we had. She expressed frustration and then said she didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: We experience this kind of situation in our classrooms. One approach is to offer the child a lesson. Sometimes slowing the process down and demonstrating clearly enables success.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: However, sometimes, the child’s frustration should be honored and you can come back to this task at another time.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Be aware at this age that the process is much more important that the product.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Another detail to consider is the materials — does the child have actual tools that do the job? Do the scissors actually cut?

Carolina Parent Magazine: When should I stop redirecting my child’s attention and just say “no”?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: The time is now. Be confident! Distraction doesn’t teach appropriate behavior. Children need simple, truthful, empathetic, but direct responses, especially when they are testing and learning limits. The parent who confronts situations honestly, acknowledging the child’s point of view and probable displeasure may worry about being the “bad guy” but this will be the “trusted, genuine guy”, the brave person the child feels closest to and safest with.

Carolina Parent Magazine: What are warning signs of a toddler’s language delay?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: First, is your child communicating at all? (Communication in this includes verbal cues and nonverbal cues.)
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Next, consider developmental milestones. For instances, is your two year old still limited to one word questions or statements? Can he follow simple instructions? If you are concerned, act early and talk with your pediatrician.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Our 2-year-old is shy and we’re worried about whether she can handle preschool. What should we do?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: It is important to find a preschool that understands differences in temperament. For instance, our school seeks to develop a community in the classroom that respects and nurtures each individual child.
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Also, it is natural for a young child to be attached to her primary caregivers. It may take a while for her to feel safe in a new environment, but trust that the process works and she will bond with her teachers. It is also important that you communicate your trust and confidence to the child.

Carolina Parent Magazine: How do I get past my toddler’s endless “no, no, no’s”?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Realize that it is normal, appropriate and good for a child to say no because it means the child is becoming his own person and identifying his own separate ideas. This is a good thing! Try to phrase your requests as statements, not questions. Watch your tone in this. This will help limit their opportunities to say no. For instance, say “It’s time for bed. Come upstairs with me” rather than “Are you ready for bed?” or “It’s time for bed, ok?”
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Don’t give them a choice unless they really have a choice in the matter. Also, only give them 2 choices, and try to give them your preferred choice second.

Carolina Parent Magazine: My toddler won’t sit down and eat for more than a few minutes. I don’t have time to make pin-worthy presentation of snacks. Any ideas on how to get him to sit?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Parents in our Toddler classes frequently ask this kind of question. In a neutral moment, explain that you expect each member of the family to sit while eating at mealtime. (Be sure every member of the family actually is modeling this.) If your child gets up while eating, remind them of this expectation. If they do it again, you can say “I see you are standing up. You must be finished eating. I’ll take your plate away.”
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: If they are hungry, remind them that they will be eating again soon. Make sure you provide another snack (and another opportunity for success) within a couple of hours.

Lauren Isaacs: What should I do when my toddler has a fit because I used the wrong color bowl?
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: Acknowledge the child’s preference. (Feeling understood is a powerful thing.)
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: If the item is available, you can acknowledge the child’s feelings by saying something like “I see you want the red bowl but I gave you the blue one.”
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: On the other hand, if the preferred object (in this case, the red bowl) was not available, state that clearly to the child and give her 2 new choices.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Thank you so much Cynthia, Lyn and Kelsey!
Montessori Children’s House of Durham – AMS & SACS Accredited: We have enjoyed discussing these important topics! If you have further questions we can help with, feel free to call us at (919) 489-9045 or visit mchdurham.org. If you are ready to consider your child’s toddler or preschool education, we would welcome the opportunity to share more with you.
Carolina Parent Magazine: Thanks so much for your time! Wonderful chat, great answers!

And here is one question that we didn’t get to in the chat, but that our experts had an answer for:

How do I get my toddler to start talking?
There are 2 key principles. The first is to consider how often and what kind of language you use. Speak to your child often, using real vocabulary, clearly enunciated. Remember that they are absorbing their whole environment, including their verbal environment. Speak to your child before they can developmentally speak back, and read together regularly. The second principle is to ensure that you offer the child opportunities to speak for himself. Remove language obstacles, like pacifiers, when possible. When your child points to something she wants, give her the language for it and encourage her to use it. Provide real, sensory experiences as these are the foundation for language development. Describe what you see, feel, and experience together.

Additional Resources:
Finally, we’d like to mention another valuable resource for parents of infants and toddlers to which we refer frequently in our Toddler classrooms and Parent Education. janetlansbury.com is an amazing resource of respectful parenting practices. Her books “No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame” and “Elevating Child Care” ?are incredible and dovetail so well with the Montessori philosophy and child development research.

Categories: Baby, Baby Health, BT Development, BT Early Leaning, Early Education, Health and Development, New Parent, Preschool Development, Preschool Early Learning, Preschoolers

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