Toddlers are a handful, no doubt about it. While kids will be kids, don’t let frustration lead to abuse of any kind. Emotional abuse in toddlers occurs when a child is ignored, rejected, verbally assaulted, isolated or neglected by a parent or caregiver to the extent that the abuse interferes with the child’s emotional cognitive or social development. Although it’s fairly complex to identify, emotional abuse in toddlers leads to insecurity, poor self-esteem, anger and even destructive behavior. Yikes! You don’t want that for any child. Employ strategies to avoid emotionally abusing toddlers to ensure they receive a balanced, stable lifestyle.
Don’t label a toddler with a term that demeans, such as stupid, dumb or annoying. Toddlers can be tough — they often (far too often it seems) make mistakes as they grow and begin to learn right from wrong. A toddler making a poor choice is still learning, not stupid. Malicious labels result in negative self-esteem and a feeling of insecurity. Turn stupid into stupendous and annoying into curious. Focus on the positive, leaving the negative label behind.
Say “sorry” to your little darling when you make a mistake. Apologizing shows a young child that she is worthy of respect. It also shows the type of behavior you expect when she makes an error, yells or has a tantrum — behavior that may be short-term, but the consequences you teach are long-term. If you forget your “indoor voice” and yell at your child, own up to it and say you are sorry.
Whether positive or negative, take the time to address the behavior of your toddler. Let the little angel know when he does something good, don’t focus only on the bad. If you don’t tell a toddler that what he is doing is a good thing, he doesn’t know that he should keep it up. Address negative behaviors using an age-appropriate technique. Short periods of time out or natural consequences are appropriate ways to discourage negative behaviors in toddlers. On the other hand, humiliating punishment may lead to inappropriate behaviors and nobody wants that. Support the positive and guide the negative with consequences that gently reinforce the learning process.
It’s okay to walk away from a situation if you feel that you are losing your cool. After ensuring that the child is safe, take a few minutes to regroup and consider what’s happening before you attempt to address it. Count to 10 and take a deep breath. Consider reasonable options for addressing the situation before returning to the little one. Ask for help to handle your toddler when needed. A toddler is certainly a handful, but it’s better to ask for help than blow your stack. Toddlers are learning and growing all the time; they generally want to make you happy and please you. For help in overcoming emotional abuse to your child or if you suspect emotional abuse is occurring, contact the Child Abuse Hotline at (800)422-4453.