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Dealing with tantrums from toddlers is tough but it’s a normal part of parenting. However, when your toddler has a speech delay, these tantrums (aka Toddler speech delay tantrums) can happen even more frequently. It is incredibly frustrating for someone to not have the words to express what they want or what they’re feeling. This is the daily experience of a toddler with a speech delay!
It’s important to remember that behavior is communication. Your toddler may not yet be able to tell you with words what they want or are feeling, but they will show you through their behaviors.
This is a guest post by Freya — a blogger, writer, and Speech-Language Therapist from Happier With Tea. Read more about her from her author profile below.
Three key things you can do when your toddler with a speech delay exhibits difficult behavior.
1) GIVE YOUR TODDLER THE WORDS TO USE
This is the most vital thing you can do for your toddler. When you consistently give them the words to use, it will improve their language and, as a result, their behavior!
Be specific! It’s not enough to say, “Use your words.” When your toddler has a speech delay, take every opportunity to feed in as much language as possible and give them a specific ‘script.’
For example, if your toddler gets upset over something, tell them, ‘you could say, “I don’t like that!”’ Make sure you say it with lots of expression– use your tone and facial expression to convey the meaning and help your toddler to understand.
This strategy works especially well to support the development of social skills such as sharing and turn-taking with other kids.
A second point is to label the emotions they are feeling.
When your child has a tantrum, it’s likely they don’t understand what it is they’re feeling; they just know they don’t feel good. Helping them to identify their emotions is the first step to teaching them how to deal with it positively.
Some emotions to start with could be:
Label the emotion and then say what they could do.
You might say, “You look sad. Let’s do something fun.”
Or, “I can see you feel angry. Let’s take a deep breath together.”
Make this part of everyday life. You will need to repeat each emotion lots and lots of times before your toddler will start to understand and then eventually use this emotional vocabulary for themselves.
2) KEEP YOUR LANGUAGE SIMPLE AND CLEAR
When your toddler is having a tantrum, reducing your language as much as possible will help to diffuse the situation. Stay calm and use short, simple sentences that are matter-of-fact.
Start by feeding in the language to label what’s happening and acknowledging the emotion they’re feeling.
Then, you could try giving them a choice of what they can do: name two motivating things and let them pick one. Distraction is one of the best ways to deal with a tantrum from a child of this age.
The majority of your ‘teaching’ will happen only when they are calm and settled. You could use role-plays, hand puppets, or characters from books to discuss and practice what to do when you feel these emotions.
There are some amazing books that teach positive behavior that will help your child to learn strategies and internal scripts.
When you do lots of practice and modeling in everyday life, you will build a strong foundation of understanding for your toddler. This might even mean that when they do have a tantrum, they might just need a reminder of the strategy they’ve been practicing.
Never try to rationalize with your toddler when they’re in the middle of a tantrum! This gives them extra attention that could even reinforce their behavior.
3) GIVE THEIR POSITIVE BEHAVIOR LOTS OF ATTENTION
Actively look for opportunities to praise your toddler using the strategies you practice together. Praise them for using their words to say what they want or what’s wrong.
Try to aim for four bits of praise before giving one correction. Make your praise specific.
The praise can be as simple as:
- “Wow, you’re being so patient/calm.”
- “I like how you told me that you are upset.”
By praising them, you will reinforce the positive behaviors you want to see. You are building up ‘positive alternatives’ to the tantrum and you are showing them that they will get more attention from you for positive behavior than for the tantrum.
This is an incredibly difficult pendulum to swing- we’re used to jumping in and reacting to a tantrum because it’s loud and challenging. The shift needs to start by us ‘catching them being good’ and giving specific praise at this moment.
I heard of one Mom who keeps ten paperclips in her pocket. Through the day, she transfers them across to the other pocket each time she gives her toddler specific praise for positive behavior. This is a great way to give ourselves a visual reminder to watch out for the effort your toddler is making.
REMEMBER THAT TEACHING TODDLERS A NEW SKILL ISN’T EASY!
Dealing with tantrums from your toddler is so challenging, especially when they have a speech and language delay.
Teaching any new skill takes time, patience and lots and lots of repetition! You will need to be consistent. However, the rewards will be so worth it!
By giving your child the words to say, and helping them to label their emotions, you will help them to express themselves with words instead of through difficult behavior or a tantrum.
When you stay calm and take teaching opportunities, you will help them to develop internal scripts and a positive mindset.
And, when you praise your toddler for their positive behavior, you will show them that you notice and reward positive behaviors. Your toddler will learn that they’ll earn your praise and attention for the effort they’re making.
It will take a lot of practice- for you as well as for your toddler. Make sure to look back every now and then to see the progress you’ve made. Be encouraged by each and every small step of progress. You will get there!
Good luck! If you enjoyed this post, please share or leave a comment.
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About FreyaHi, I’m Freya!
A blogger, writer, and Speech-Language Therapist. I love my job and the opportunity every day to share my knowledge and experience in this area.
My passion is to help other parents to be intentional in key areas such as developmental milestones, play, language development, behavior, school readiness, literacy, and educational achievement.
What you do at this stage impacts your child far, far into the future- so be an Intentional Parent!
Connect with Freya on her social pages below: