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It's every parent's dream: a calm and happy child. But much like adults, children can't be calm and happy all the time, especially when they're tired or dealing with big feelings.
Fortunately, while tears, tantrums and drawing on walls will always be part of life with young children, there are things we can do to create tranquility in our children's lives.
It all begins with fostering a sense of connection and holding space for their feelings, according to Sydney-based family therapist, Rachel Schofield.
She believes the main cause of stress in little ones – and therefore unsettled behaviour – is feeling unsafe.
"Toddlers innately know they're completely vulnerable and they cannot survive without an adult," Schofield says. "If they sense that there isn't safety, their whole body gets stressed. If they feel like that, they're not going to be calm."
Of course, the things that stress out young children aren't the same things parents find stressful – while a mum might be rushing to get uncooperative children ready and out the door, a toddler might feel upset because she can't find her special toy. Or because she simply lost sight of Mum.
While we're often told to do whatever we can to avoid tantrums, letting children explore feelings of fear or frustration will actually help them become calmer overall, according to Schofield.
To do that, she advises parents to be physically, mentally and emotionally present for their child as they encounter stressful situations.
"The most helpful thing you can do is allow them to release the feelings inside them, listening to them and being their anchor," Schofield says.
"The message you want to give is, 'I love you even when you feel this rotten'. They're getting to heal from whatever accumulated stress they have inside. We've all had a good experience of having someone who listens as we express our frustrations, and it's the same for children."
While the child may not instantly feel calm, Schofield advises parents to stick with it to see results.
She tells the story of a mum whose 13-month-old would scream most mornings while she was busy preparing breakfast and getting ready to leave the house. The mum began picking up the toddler and offering eye contact, and remaining as calm as she could.
At first, the toddler would arch his back and cry harder but after a few days, he began playing independently for longer periods while Mum was able to carry on with chores. Over the course of a week or so, his screaming reduced, then disappeared.
Create "special time"
Setting aside "special time" with your child has rewards. Photo: Getty.
A practice that Schofield recommends is setting aside "special time" to let your child know you'll be having time together in which the two of you will do whatever the child wants.
"Put on a timer, say 10 or 20 minutes, and shower them with delight – even if it's something you're not delighted to do," Schofield says. "That can change a whole day by giving your child the connection they need."
In the long run, this simple practice can help children become more cooperative, more affectionate and more relaxed, Schofield adds.
"The thing is, children can't rely upon our attention – at any moment we might look at our phone or get up and make a cuppa. But in "special time", you don't do anything else. You don't answer your phone, you don't give advice, you simply follow their lead and stick with that until the time goes off."
Finally, Schofield suggests keeping an eye out for patterns in your child's behaviour and giving them more attention and connection during those times.
"For example, first thing in the morning is hard for some kids," she says. "You can plan to do some top-up of connection at that point before it all gets too much."
And remember to cut yourself some slack too. "It totally doesn't mean you have to be there all the time or do this all the time. It's fine to not always respond to the need," Schofield adds.
For more information to support simplifying parenting, go to Karinourish.com.au.