Parents of toddlers are familiar with statements like, “I don’t want to!”, “Let me do it!” or “NO!”. Children may suddenly breakdown into tears, they might scream, throw or even hit. These are just some of the things I have experienced with my daughter and why I decided to bring my professional knowledge into our personal life.
I am a speech-language pathologist. In my job I assess and treat children with language disorders and I take behaviour into consideration on a daily basis. I know from my training that language and behaviour go hand-in-hand. Let me explain.
Behaviour regulation is the ability to have control over the way we act. It involves managing our feelings and attention, even during stressful environments. This skill develops over childhood and environmental stressors may affect each child differently. One child may do nothing if their toy is taken and one child may hit.
Studies show a strong connection between children who can regulate their own behaviour and their language skills.
- Toddlers who have larger vocabularies are better at self-regulation
- Preschoolers with strong behaviour regulation skills show better literacy and vocabulary skills
- Kindergarteners with language delays have poorer behaviour regulation skills
This research suggests that children with strong language skills are better able to cope with their environment in more socially appropriate ways.
Sounds good! So, how EXCATLY do I help my child? Here are a few things that have worked at our house.
1) Teach vocabulary to express emotions
Simple words like ‘mad’ and ‘sad’ are a good place to start. Teaching this vocabulary does not mean flash cards. It means labeling these feelings for children in the moment.
2) Follow daily routines with clear expectations
Children find situations more stressful when they don’t know what comes next. You can alleviate some of this stress by following daily routines and clarifying your child’s role. At our house we do this using visual schedules for morning and bedtime. I printed pictures of items my daughter uses for each task (e.g., bedtime pictures – bathtub, pull-up, pjs, toothbrush). They are Velcroed to a strip of cardboard and hung so she can see them easily. As we go through our routine she follows along with the pictures and guides herself through the tasks she needs to do.
3) Practice with pretend play
Sometimes when we play together I pretend to encounter problems similar to what she experiences (e.g., I get sad if something spilled or frustrated if I can’t do something). She isn’t stressed because the situation’s not real, which gives us a chance to talk about what we can do for these scenarios in real life.
4) Learn your child’s triggers
My daughter’s a gentle girl, however, at one point she started hitting. After some observation I noticed she would hit if someone took something from her. Having identified her trigger I could help by providing support during those situations. I stayed close during play with peers so if a toy was taken I could help her use language to solve the problem.
5) Be a good behaviour model
This would be what I find the most challenging but the most effective! During stressful situations I try and label my feelings for my children to hear. I overtly take deep breathes so they can see me try and cool down. A couple of times I have even said “I feel so angry I need space” and left the room for a few minutes.
Please don’t think that I used these strategies and everything was perfect because that would be far from true! However we have seen many positive changes in my daughter and I am proud of how far she has come!
Read the article in Mommy Connections West Toronto newsletter