I have been asking my colleagues about why so many working couples seem to be struggling with toddler behavior issues. Initially, I was thinking that the shift between nanny/daycare routines and parent routines was creating inconsistencies. But I found too many situations where that wasn’t the case. There is a common speed bump for dual-career parents, for whom the evenings and weekends are both desirable and stressful. It is the same issue for long-distance dating couples. No one wants to have conflict when they are together, and yet giving in to whining and demanding inevitably sets up greater conflict. I would like to share a solution that is not a quick fix, but it is an easy fix. You just have to accept that juggling work and family means that how you react to toddler demands will determine how much fun you have at night and on the weekends.
Toddlers are 100% reliable in that their ability to self-calm and change routines is limited by their brain development. Just like you can’t toilet train a 6 month-old (you get trained instead), disrupting a toddlers nap routine to go have a full weekend of fun will give you a brain that cannot and will not go easily to sleep.
Now combine that with the difficulties that toddlers have with limits and patience. They don’t have to greatest ability to wait or to handle “no” unless they have been taught to do so, and practiced this skill frequently. Setting limits or building a toddler’s patience is possible, but it isn’t usually fun, and it definitely is work for a parent. Just at the moment that you wanted some hugs and smiles, you are doing the hard work of parenting, not getting the good stuff. It is sooooo easy to just give in and hand over the phone so your child can play on it.
You can choose to use your long game at that moment to teach patience stretching Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! , self-control, and communication skills Turn Around Toddler Defiance Using “Feed the Meter” Strategies. Or play your short game, and give in to avoid conflict. When you can no longer give in, because the pool is closed or it is time to leave the park, you may witness the mother of all tantrums.
Here is the good news: what your child wants more than anything is your entire attention when you are home. All that 90’s stuff about quality time is true up to a point. If you aren’t around for the “pick-up game” opportunities during the day that allow you to share a laugh or a sweet moment, that means you have to engineer then from 6-8pm and weekends. Yes, you engage with your child doing fun things that also intentionally build patience, empathy, and mutual respect. It isn’t agony, it is fun!! But it is something that you have put a little planning and creativity into. I promise you, this is an investment that will pay off before your child gets to college! It means that next weekend will have less whining and more smiles. For both of you!
It also doesn’t mean you have to spend every one of those hours together, but it does mean that you have to be really present and really work to weave your connections together at that time. Those “Feed The Meter” strategies have to be in there, because they give you the biggest bang for your buck. How do I know? I use no less than five relationship-enriching mini exchanges in any session with every challenging toddler I treat, every session. I have 45 minutes to get a toddler to do therapy with me, and I cannot waste a minute of it on defiance or testing. I won’t be back for another therapy session for a few days. Once you understand what these relationship-building interactions are, you hand them out like candy.
Many toddlers can handle limit-setting and even consequences for defiance without a tantrum if they have had enough “Feed the Meter” enrichment in a day. Setting those limits and handing out consequences is essential to build skills too. Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing, Toddlers Too Young For Time Out Can Get Simple Consequences and Kind Ignoring .Toddlers need to know what not to do, and when not to do it.
If you are a working couple and you have tried these strategies, please comment and tell other families what worked for you!