This is part 2 in a series of Diverting Anger in Toddlers. In part 1 we talked about staying in control during a tantrum and working with your child an outlet for his anger.
Part of why this tactic works for him is he feels validated. Validation involves listening to your child, then reflecting back to him what he is feeling.
We all feel sometimes like we are speaking a foreign language. We’re trying to talk, but the person we are talking to just doesn’t “get it”. If it’s someone very important to us, this can lead to a rainbow of very ugly feelings like frustration and despair. To a child experiencing this, those feelings can quickly escalate into rage and hopelessness.
This is true from birth. Crying is the only language that infants possess. Picking up our babies to comfort them is the earliest form of validation.
When our babies grow into toddlers, their ways of communicating have evolved a little bit, but not that much. It’s still a rare child who can always rationalize what he is feeling and communicate his needs. Many adults haven’t mastered that skill! It is still up to us to help them recognize what they are feeling, identify it and work through it.
To a baby, it is enough to pick them up and change their diaper when they’re wet. They learn that “Oh, I was uncomfortable because I was wet. Mommy fixed that.” They not only get a clean diaper but two added bonuses: they learn why they were unhappy, and they learn that someone cared enough to see it and fix it.
Knowing that someone cares enough to do that for you is one of the basic emotional needs of humanity. Relationships of all types are won and lost in that regard.
A two year old is just entering the real meat of the emotional arena. Some see their constant need for emotional reassurance as manipulation, or a weakness that must be toughened up. But humans are hard-wired to seek out validation at any age. We must know from someone that we are OK as we are, cared for, and loved. A toddler especially is in an age of discovery: so many new challenges and things he is learning to do, and having trouble doing, and things he can’t or isn’t allowed to do. It can all tie in to a child’s sense of self-worth. The newness that a toddler finds themselves suddenly experiencing leaves them needing more reassurance.
Most of the time, it is relatively easy to validate a child. All you have to do is pay attention, and reflect back what you see. ”I know you’re mad, (sad), (frustrated), (you’re smiling, are you happy today?)” A validated child feels loved and in sync with the world.
Continued in part 3