Twelve Tips to Help Burned-Out Toddlers Repair Mental Muscles

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Self-discipline is a well-developed skill in most adults and important to the survival of our society. Those who grow up with little self-discipline may be ostracized by others or fall victim to vices like drugs and alcohol. Self-discipline is a mandatory ingredient of successful professions like business, athletics and medicine. Even the business of art, music and drama requires great self-discipline from those who may have tendencies toward unbridled freedom. Yet, no one has more need for self-control for his own protection than a young child does. However, toddlers are raw energy with few brakes and fewer breaks. The maturation process is slow and difficult. Here are twelve tips to help you be a better parent while your child learns self- control.

1. Think of self-discipline as a mental muscle.

A successful and in-control person has a well-developed mental muscle. If cared for properly the muscle will deliver a lifetime of performance. The expert body builder takes care of precious muscles that tire with rest, elevation, protection from more injury, affection for his health and body, information about what is happening to him and rubdowns until a full recuperation renders the muscle useful again.

2. Reduce your demands.

Would you agree that even the strongest muscle might grow weak and tired from overuse? Extraordinary effort can exhaust the mightiest strongman. A wise person would not insist an exhausted muscle must carry on regardless of the pain suffered. Injury and demanding spasms might occur if one ignores the increasing pain from the weary muscle. Tantrums are a result of inadequate coping skills and too much demand.

3. No one is perfect.

Even an adult who is a productive self-disciplined person has moments of weakness and may succumb to bad behavior like eating an entire pie, fighting or foolishly spending their rent money. The more stressed, depressed or tired a person becomes, the more likely they will have a failure of their mental muscle of self-discipline.

4. Remember how far he has progressed already.

An infant has no self-discipline in the beginning, it cries and wets at will. Slowly over the next few years, the child’s experiences and maturity help self-discipline muscles to grow stronger. A child may not fully develop emotionally until his early twenties. You have a long way to go.

5. He learned it from you.

The behavior that you applaud as well as the behavior you wish to avoid stems mostly from watching his parents. If you give him love bites in play, he will bite others, perhaps not so lovingly. If you swear, expect that word to become his favorite. If you yell at him, he will yell at you.

6. Everyone wants to do his best.

A two-year-old usually attempts to behave the best he or she can until exhausted and a meltdown occurs. The tired self-control muscles are aching and just not responding to the “Sit still,” “Wait to use the bathroom” and “Whisper!” commands imposed by adults on young children. Did he behave better yesterday? Great. Today he needs more help not hurt feelings. Assume he is doing his best and stop criticizing him. Praise him for even trying.

7. Did you forget to provide him enough…?

The child is communicating with you constantly without words. A cold, missed nap, hunger pangs, embarrassment and parental scolding tax the self-control muscle beyond its ability to respond correctly. Take time to bring along age-appropriate organic food filled with nutrients, fish oils and trace minerals, water, diapers, a sweater, and toys to help him be comfortable instead of miserable and mute, unable to ask for what he needs. You must listen with ears and your eyes to what is happening inside him. A calm and happy child means a lot less work and stress for you.

8. What is the big deal?

Few adult occasions are so important that a parent must ignore a child’s need to stop and rest emotionally. Anyone who has been a parent will excuse you if you need to take a cranky kid outside for a few minutes and everyone else will figure it out someday. Put your child before other people. That is your job.

9. Become more sensitive.

Most good parents can sense instinctively their child’s emotional levels resulting from stressful events, both positive ones like parties, and negative ones like a scary dog. Some inexperienced or less sensitive parents may miss the important cues that a mental muscle is tiring. When your toddler is approaching his or her limit, you must pay attention. If you notice stress in your child and act quickly, you can often prevent a total meltdown.

10. Grandma is right.

Older and wiser parents and grandparents appear to rescue and spoil toddlers but they are wisely allowing the child a moment of respite and regression to less stringent behavior demands. Knowing how to help your toddler to succeed is a win for everyone- especially the innocent people sitting at the next table. Most spoiled children grow up to be loving parents. Over-disciplined children grow up to be neurotic and frightened adults.

11. Learning has its ups and downs.

Just because a child is potty-trained at home on quiet afternoons does not mean he/she can make it through the excitement of a church picnic without an accident. The child is not wrong, the parental expectations and demands are wrong. If your toddler misbehaves, acts inappropriately or regresses, then try to imagine that his or her underdeveloped mental muscles have worked to failure. Lower your expectations…even lower.

12. R.E.P.A.I.R.

Learn how to R.E.P.A.I.R. the self-discipline mental muscle of your child. Gently take him somewhere quiet to Rest, Elevate him into your arms, Protect him from more stimulation, smile and give him Affection, speak to him slowly in a pleasant voice with Information that helps him to know you still love him and that he is fine, then a little Rubdown while you hug. Just let the busy world go on without both of you for a little while. Slowly sway with his head on your shoulder, as your child’s body processes millions of bits of new information that allows his fried nerve endings to relax and recuperate. Only then, can you reasonably demand more from someone who gives to the best of his or her ability and with all that a little heart muscle can.

Dr. Molly Barrow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychology,, American Psychological Association, is host of The Dr. Molly Barrow Show on Progressive Radio Network, author of Matchlines for Singles, Matchlines Relationship Quiz, Malia & Teacup Awesome African Adventure and Malia & Teacup Out on a Limb, and quoted in O, The Oprah Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsday, New York Times,, and has appeared in films and television news.

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