Has your child been acting pouty lately? Perhaps they’re talking back with attitude more often? Do they think they know what’s best? Now ask yourself, are they a toddler or are they a teen? Because children from both age groups are learning new skills and figuring out how much decision-making power they have, both toddlers and teens are prone to exercising their agency with … plenty of personality.
While you want to respect your child’s age range and what identity they’ve grown into, some parenting tricks just never go out of style. Here, we’ll review some of the tactics of dealing with toddler behavior that (surprisingly) work just as well to help your teen grow up.
It’s easy for teens to panic under the pressure to do well in school, enter the dating atmosphere, shoulder new professional responsibilities, and deal with hormonal changes. Every obstacle feels insurmountable, kind of like having to eat mushed peas or make peace with nap time.
While you may feel the urge to want to solve your child’s problems for them to get it over with, managing anyone in an emotional spiral takes time, patience, and care. Sometimes it means having to affirm your teen’s point of view, going the extra mile to make their favorite meal, or coaching them to meet challenges with optimism. Other times, it might not mean doing anything except for being there to listen to your teen when they need to vent.
Another way that Teens and toddlers can deal with emotional turmoil is through empathy. Children in both age groups have a great capacity to pick up on how other people are feeling. You may want to try sharing some of the difficulties that you’re dealing with to create a sense of solidarity. This can inspire your teen to focus on external problem-solving or convince your 5-year-old to master their vocabulary words without complaint.
Ask any teen or toddler, they know the right way to do it. Your years of experience don’t apply to this new day and agebecause the alphabet was reinvented last year, and no one’s had intimate friendship problems until Facebook. While it’s true that there are obstacles unique to your child’s generation, their enthusiasm to exercise full autonomy can lead them to make mistakes. So how do you help guide your teen through new challenges while sidestepping the sass?
One tactic you can use is to let them know you’re there to help them as opposed to telling them what to do. Sometimes a little encouragement reads differently than having to follow an order. You also might want to take the focus off your teen or toddler. Yes, their world revolves around them, but sneaking in sayings such as, “When I did it, ____ is how it worked for me,” can point them indirectly to solutions. It might be hard to believe, but even in their teens, kids look up to you as an example.
Another way to deal with teens who are overzealous with their independence is to let them fail. Sometimes stumbling and falling is just as good a lesson as trying out that blue crayon.
Along with figuring out their autonomy, toddlers tend to try to take on more risk. This can mean wanting to graduate from a crib, venturing onto the big-kid monkey bars, or fighting tooth and nail to subsist on dessert alone. Unfortunately, teens might also try to push their boundaries without much serious consideration given to the consequences.
If your teen is wrapped up in the moment, they might make impulsive decisions that lead to injury, emotional turbulence, or substance abuse. It might be helpful to prepare your teen for social pressures or exhilarating new experiences with a brief checklist: “Who am I doing this for? Will this make me happy? Will anyone get hurt by what I’m about to do?” This can calm your child’s impulses, make sure that what they’re doing is actually something they want to do, and can help them set personal boundaries.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.