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Toddler Talk: Responding, Not Reacting

My dad is a contractor and owns a heating and air conditioning business, so as a little girl I learned a lot about air supplies, and air returns, and duct work. But maybe more importantly, I learned about how a thermostat works and why it is so important. It serves as a regulator; a crucial function in the home and with our children.

One of the rules of thumb from the Filial Therapy training by Landreth and Bratton is, “Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.” This third rule in this series is particularly important for toddlers who are still learning to understand, express, and regulate emotions. The frequency of outbursts, meltdowns, and tantrums require an effective tool to manage them and assist them in modifying their behavior accordingly.

It becomes helpful to determine the difference between thermostats and thermometers in order to apply the principle to parenting. A thermometer registers the current temperature, and rises and falls based solely on external stimuli. A thermostat can be adjusted as needed to regulate and improve the current experience as a result of internal programming.

So, why is it more effective to be a thermostat:

1. We model for our children how to effectively and appropriately monitor and manage our feelings. As they witness our self-control and self-regulation, they learn how to do so for themselves.

2. It helps us respond, rather than react. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to escalate with the child. Anger breeds anger, frustration begets frustration, yelling sparks yelling. However, acting as a thermostat allows you to acknowledge the child’s emotion and make the necessary changes to help them regulate it back to normal.

3. We can often find ourselves reflecting our children’s moods; when they are nice, so are we. When they are cranky, we are. This rule helps us to pre-determine and establish the emotional climate of our homes so that it is always clear that we are calm, kind, and loving regardless of our children’s behaviors.

We, as parents, always have a choice in the way we choose to respond, or not respond, to our children’s behaviors. We can choose to reflect their feelings and acknowledge their behaviors, while still remaining in control of our own emotions. Becoming more of a thermostat benefits our families, our children, and ourselves as we learn to stay regulated no matter how much the heat rises.

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