What are the best parenting methods for strong-willed/independent toddlers?

TRANSCRIPT

[Brent]
Welcome to the Intentional Family Moment. Take a moment with us as we discuss our thoughts on your family questions, then join us in our weekly challenge as we work together to be more intentional in our families.
This is episode 11, hosted by married Coriaria founders Brent and Michelle. This episode is brought to you by My Mindful Mat – Your intentional parenting tool. Now available at MyMindfulMat.com
[Michelle]
Today’s question is “What are the best parenting methods for strong-willed/independent toddlers?”
I think this is a trick question to some degree because toddlers are unique, each person is unique. It’s hard to just say “this is the best parenting method for your child” because your child is going to have their own unique personality, needs, and desires, and so are you.
In general, we already talk about our own specific experiences.
[Brent]
Something that comes to my mind in parenting of strong-willed children is that I myself was a strong-willed, independent toddler way back in the day. There’s an awful lot of advice on this subject, anyone is willing to be an expert on this subject – including us – to have this particular question in mind. I do think that everybody deserves a measure of respect. Whether they are a toddler, or an infant, or a fully grown adult. I think that sometimes it’s easy to treat our children in a different way, and to ignore or not extend them some degree of respect as an individual who does have their own opinions, desires, and interests. One tiny thing that has helped in how I’ve approached parenting has been seeking to validate and acknowledge what my child is interested in at a given moment. Certainly, that’s not to say that we end up doing things because our toddler says that they want to do those things. Instead, it’s saying, “I know that you want to color on the dog, the problem is…” and then answering however is needed for the situation. That madlib works well for the situation. “I know that ” and then responding “The problem is…” when you run into a conflict.
[Michelle]
I’ve been surprised at just how much our toddler is able to comprehend, and that they really are working through their emotions and their thoughts, and they really do listen to what we have to say in that regard. Sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes kids are throwing tantrums or whatever emotion they’re experiencing is so intense and new to them, and so it’s hard for them to grasp at, which is where My Mindful Mat came to be in the first place, helping our children work through those emotions together, as a team effort, to acknowledge them, and to get through them so that we can discuss future actions in that way. You and I have talked about systems thinking, maybe you can talk about how we help our kids go from that “out of control, emotions are too much to handle” stage to getting a grasp on it and then moving forward.
[Brent]
I think when you say “System’s thinking” are you talking about system 1 and system 2 thinking?
[Michelle]
Mmm hmmm.
[Brent]
To provide some context, we may be able to link to some things in the show notes. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize-winning psychology researcher who, to sum up decades of his experience (which is a pretty summary way to approach someone’s experience), found that there are roughly two different ways the brain handles different situations. This is a very rough way of looking at things, obviously the brain is very complex. There’s a system 1 approach, and a system 2 approach.
System 1 is more automatic, it involves more emotional reactions, more knee-jerk stuff, gut feelings, the instant responses and snap decisions that we make. You could say that it involves some fight or flight stuff as well. There are a lot of things that could be rolled into system 1 thinking. System 1 is great at getting us through our days. Instead of having to deliberate constantly over everything that we need to do, it is able to jump straight to the solution based on a set of patterns that it recognizes, and go straight to where it needs to go. It’s terrible at making really reasoned, intentional decisions.
System 2, on the other hand, is the opposite. It’s much slower, it’s more expensive, it takes more of your energy, more calories, more everything to focus, but it gives you the ability to sit down and reason through information. It’s more rational, more cognitive, more cerebral in that way. It’s what we use for making more intentional decisions.
We live with both of these systems. Neither one is better than the other, we need both of them. Frequently, when a child or when anyone is having a moment where they’re losing control, it’s because that system one is starting to go a little haywire. In younger children, they lack some of the proper training and the pathways in their body to be able to process different things that are going on. So, frequently you end up with tantrums. When you try to get a shift from system one thinking to system two thinking, which is what My Mindful Mat is designed to do, it helps process those emotions. My mindful mat is designed to help an individual re-center in a mindful way on the present moment so that they can step out of system one thinking and into system two thinking. We try to do that with some basic lightweight tricks that involve different senses and different activities that try to help the child (and probably the parent too) be able to shift into more of an intentional mode of thought so that you can then talk about the behavior the things that brought you to that point in the first place.
[Michelle]
So for those that don’t know what My Mindful Mat is, there’s our website. For us specifically, we do use our own product with our toddler. It’s been really cool how our toddler will be in some pretty typical toddler tantrum, or out of control for any other reason. We just used it yesterday, and you were able to take our toddler aside, take the mat out, and there are some activities that go with it, so you started doing some breathing exercises, some tensing and relaxing exercises, some observation exercises, and that is able to help our toddler switch their thinking over to be able to get a little bit more control over their body, and focus on what they can control. It was cool to see that, after that, they were able to get back with the rest of the family, get back with cousins, and be able to use that skill, to switch back to being more intentional for that moment.
[Brent]
We even used it today, actually, as well. One thing that was interesting with that was that, in selecting exercises and activities, I’ll select either randomly or just look at the situation and wondering “what’s something we haven’t done recently” or “what’s something that might help make that jump from system one to system two”, and as we walk through it, our toddler actually requested a specific activity that involves lying on your back and doing some different exercises that are accompanied with lying on the mat. It made a difference. It was interesting that our toddler has that significant of a preference towards the specific activities that we select.
[Michelle]
In general, from our perspective, we take a mindful parenting approach, where we take our toddler in those moments and we do some mindfulness activities (which don’t necessarily have to happen with My Mindful Mat, but we like the way that we use that). After that, that gives us the opportunity to talk to our toddler and to talk about things that we can do better, or a different direction, or gives us as parents the chance to calm down and re-center, and then to be able to listen to our toddler – to understand why are they acting this way, and what’s going on. It’s two-sided in that way as far as our parenting approach goes, where we’re still the parents but it’s also a team effort with our child.
[Brent]
Absolutely. I think that because it’s kind of audacious to try to answer a question this broad in the condensed format that we try to keep with this podcast, obviously there will be things that will apply differently to different family circumstances and from each child to each child, and certainly there’s no short supply to answering this question from other sources, but I do think that universally speaking, the respect that we can extend to our children in recognizing that they really are individuals, that they really do have their own opinions from a very young age, that they have their own desires and interests, and certainly parenting is about helping to shape and temper that, and helping them to learn and grow in the ways that they need to, there’s no shirking responsibility on any level in recognizing that they are an individual. Also, recognizing that mindfulness both applies to your child as well as to your parent, regardless of your situation with a child, trying to apply mindfulness, especially when it’s really hard in moments when things might be starting to boil over, that can be the difference between you having that center and things continuing to escalate. When a parent is able to have that firm foundation, even when a child is boiling over, it gives you the chance to model that safety for them. They understand that it’s a safe place, even when they’re having a hard moment. If you’re able to hold things together for yourself and demonstrate that, through mindfulness and other coping mechanisms that are healthy, that can help you to help them know that it’s a safe space for them to be themselves and work through that moment.
[Michelle]
What do you think would be a good challenge this week for us?
[Brent]
Trying to apply an intentional mindfulness practice in the moments of alarm with a child, when a child is having a challenging moment, trying to do something as simple as paying attention to your breathing, and being intentional about the breaths that you take – even if it’s five seconds, that can make a difference, and that will make a difference in how you approach parenting in that moment.
[Michelle]
In the case of your child, practicing some of your mindfulness activities with them – which we already do, so for a challenge for us, there are opportunities that we don’t take to do that. Sometimes it’s still hard for us, even though we invented a product that’s related to mindfulness and parenting mindfully, we still have moments where the easiest route is to just skip it and be frustrated. I think that we can be more intentional with our mindful opportunities as well.
[Brent]
Thank you for joining us. Now go home and change the world by being more intentional with your family.

My Mindful Mat

Challenge: Be intentionally mindful when your child is having a hard moment

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