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  • Writer's pictureAlison Speich


Does anyone else feel like their toddler is often frustrated? Do you wonder why this is happening and how you can help? Here are my tips:

Use the sign for "help": In typically developing children, receptive language (understanding) precedes expressive language (speaking). Our toddlers have the ability to understand more than they can communicate. They often know what they want to do but can't tell us. We can say the word "help" but when a child is already frustrated, talking is one of the hardest things to do. The visual of the sign for "help" paired with verbal is what I find to be the most successful. We can't make our children talk but we can use hand over hand to help them learn the sign. This sign uses both hands doing different things so keep in mind that this is difficult. Just like we honor our children's words when they are approximations of a target (i.e., "he"/help) we can help our children produce the sign with both hands doing the same thing. We use signs as a bridge to help our children communicate. It is exciting when you model the word and show the sign and then see your child putting his hands together and lifting them up to tell you he needs help. It's also way better than screaming :) Here is an example of my daughter producing the sign correctly and an approximation of the sign which is the way my son does it.

Model/solve the problem together: A few days ago my son was playing with large foam blocks. These are pretty much the same size as he is and he clearly wanted to stack one on top of the other but they kept falling down. He made his screaming sound of frustration. I said "on" and we put the block on together. We continued this game, with repetition of the word "on" and me putting the blocks on. I got out smaller blocks so that he was able to put the block on by himself. Little accomplishments feel big to our growing toddlers.

I included a picture because these foam blocks have been a lifesaver for us these last few months. On a side note, does anyone else feel like their living room is overrun by children's toys???? Note to parents: in an ideal world we clean up when we finish something before moving on to something else, it helps our children learn to focus when there isn't so much stuff out; however, sometimes that just doesn't happen! They were happy so there's that :)

Here's a link for the blocks in case you're interested. They are a bit pricey but we purchased them as a birthday gift for our son. Climbing is helpful for muscle development and happens to be my son's favorite thing to do.

Distraction: A third option for our frustrated little ones is distraction. Sometimes toddlers just can't have what they want. My 4-year-old is entitled to have some things to herself so sometimes the option is that she plays in her room. When it's an art project at the table and her "baby" brother is crying next to her chair, we distract. We silly walk together over to the rug and push toys down the big block ramp. We put the play food into a bucket. We dump the bucket out. When he hears a noise at the table and remembers that he wants THAT, we might have him sit in his chair with a similar but acceptable item. I'm all for mess and most things that the 4-year-old does can be adapted but sometimes they just have to do something different. Singing and movement help with calming and distraction.

Please leave comments with your favorite tips for your frustrated little ones or if there is something that has you stumped, ask, and I'll be happy to write about it. Thanks for reading :)

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