Everyone knows that talking to their teens is important for a healthy relationship and building a lasting bond, but what about communicating with toddlers?
Talking with a toddler and building a bond may seem especially challenging in some high-tension moments. Most parents probably remember a not-too-distant meltdown occurring when they cut their toddler’s sandwich in half vertically rather than diagonally. At times, toddlers can seem almost impossible to work with and can respond in ways that seem irrational.
How can parents talk with their toddlers to create a strong bond with them? And what can a strong bond with your toddler really do for your relationship?
Begin by Establishing Trust
Building a bond[i] with your toddler begins with establishing trust. Parents generally seek to create a bond with their children that allows them to explore and learn, while being safe and following house rules. As a parent, you don’t want a toddler that can’t function without you or gets into everything as soon as you look away. You want a relationship where your little one knows they can count on you when they need you and are confident and obedient to the rules even in your absence.
Toddlers seek the trust that comes from being reassured that you are there and will come back when you leave. Letting your toddler know where you are going and giving them time to prepare for you to leave may be helpful. If you need to run to the grocery store and use a babysitter or friend to watch your toddler while you are gone, tell your toddler where you are going and when you will be back. This simple communication can ease their worries and create confidence in you—especially when you are consistent at following through and coming back when you told them you would.
By learning to communicate well with your toddler your child will be more likely to learn healthy strategies to handle their emotions, which can improve your relationship and have a lasting effect on how they handle challenges in the future.
Being consistent and predictable helps your toddler see in tangible ways that they can trust and respect[ii] you. That trust means they will be more likely to spend time with you and enjoy being in your company. With your support, they are more likely to be secure, explore their surroundings, and be set on a course for healthy development.
Teach Life Skills
Another way to build a strong bond with your toddler is to focus less on behavior and more on teaching new skills[iii] when things go wrong. If a child spills milk at breakfast, breaks a treasured family heirloom, or gets into the pantry and smears peanut butter on the walls, your reaction counts. Knowing this is typical behavior for a toddler, you can let them know that it’s not the end of the world, while helping them take responsibility where they can for helping to clean up.
Toddlers usually don’t want to upset their parents, but they are still learning how their little bodies work and have a deep need to explore the things around them. You can support exploration and build a greater parent-child bond when you take the time to teach them better behavior rather than instantly resorting to some form of punishment.
In instances where you might be tempted to lose your cool during tough toddler moments, remember that this might be a prime opportunity to model[iv] the emotional regulation and compassion you hope they will imitate one day. Especially in those difficult moments when they feel your disapproval, your toddler still needs to feel loved. These calm and controlled interactions teach them to keep a level head when they are upset and learn that yelling or throwing a tantrum does not help. While these skills take time to master, these lessons can take root in their young years with the presence of a good parental role model.
In happier moments, frequent communication can lead to a stronger parent-child bond, though creating many positive interactions with a toddler takes time and effort. A toddler’s world may seem small and simple, but they love to talk about things that are important to them and to feel like they are heard. For them, the topics that come to mind can change quickly and randomly. Keeping up with toddlers can be challenging since they have not yet developed adult capabilities to have deep conversations. Stay focused on keeping things simple[v] and seek out those opportune moments when they want to talk and don’t feel they are being interrupted or interviewed. Talk to them about something in their world rather than yours and keep conversations going that allow them to communicate effectively within the limits of their developing vocabulary.
By learning to communicate well with your toddler, you’ll note many benefits. Your child will be more likely to learn healthy strategies to handle their emotions, which can improve your relationship and have a lasting effect on how they handle challenges in the future. Their language development will flourish and your relationship as well. Though challenging, find consolation in those many beautiful moments when they say with a twinkle in their eye and in their innocent little voice that they love you. Then, all those moments when you took time to care and sacrifice for them will seem to fade as you look into your child’s eyes and know that they see a hero in you.
[i] Healthy Families BC. (2014, November 30). Why Talking is Important. HealthyFamiliesBC. Retrieved from https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/articles/why-talking-important-children
[ii] Raising Children Net (2017, June 5). Building Good Parent-Child Relationships. RaisingChildrenNet.Au. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/connecting-communicating/bonding/parent-child-relationships
[iii] Morin, A. (2019, June 24). 8 Ways to Discipline Your Child Without Spanking. Verywellfamily. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/alternatives-to-spanking-1094834
[iv] Markham, L. (2014, April 29). How To Change Your Child's Behavior—Without Punishment. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parents-happy-kids/201404/how-change-your-childs-behavior-without-punishment
[v] Coleman, P. A. (2017, February 1). 7 Ways To Change How You Talk So Your Toddler Will Listen. Fatherly. Retrieved from https://www.fatherly.com/parenting/discipline-and-behavior/7-ways-change-talk-toddler-will-listen/