As the mom of a 2.5-year-old daughter, every day is an adventure. She is in such a fun developmental stage and is showing off something new every day: new words, phrases, problem-solving skills, imaginative play, and social skills. All of the things I have been looking forward to!
But having a 2.5-year-old does not come without its challenges and frustrations. Other major developmental milestones in toddlers are the growing desire to be independent and the ability to express a wider range of emotions. These are the milestones that earn the title “terrible twos” because children are naturally curious and are testing all sorts of limits.
My daughter is proving to be an independent, strong-willed, and opinionated little girl — all traits I hoped for her to have…except when she uses them in an unhelpful way! Two of her favorite phrases have become “I don’t want it” and “no” when she does not like what she is being directed to do or we have not met her demands/requests. And boy does she know how to dig in her heels when she wants to. Although this behavior is normal and expected for kids her age, it can be quite trying and tiring!
This is a common experience of parents everywhere. Parents will try anything and everything to get their children to listen and comply with them, and I have certainly heard some creative solutions. Many parents feel discouraged when nothing seems to work or it works for a little while and then stops working. But managing young children’s behavior can be done! Setting rules and limits now while young children are learning acceptable behavior is ideal. Here are some tips and tricks to get your toddler on track:
Preventing Temper Tantrums:
Be consistent in enforcing your rules and consequences
For example, if you tell your child he/she is getting a timeout, be sure to follow through. If you don’t follow through, your child will not take you as seriously the next time and be less likely to comply. It’s helpful to only issue warnings about consequences that you can follow through on.
For example, if you don’t want your child watching electronics, be sure that phones and tablets are put away and out of sight. Be sure to keep unsafe items (e.g., cleaning supplies, medications, choking hazards, sharp objects) out of reach.
Distract your child
If your little one begins to go for a dangerous object or engage in dangerous behavior (e.g., climbing on furniture), calmly say “no” and either move him/her to a different area or distract him/her with a preferred activity.
Tell your toddler what you expect him/her to do
(e.g., Use your walking feet) rather than telling him/her what not to do (e.g., Don’t run).
Give your toddler short, clear directions
(e.g., It’s time to clean up). Do not state requests in the form of a question (e.g., Can you start to clean up?).
Use “First…then” language
Encourage your little one to complete a less desired task (e.g., First we will clean up and then we will get a snack).
Catch your child being good
Provide immediate verbal praise and tell him/her why you are happy with her behavior (e.g., I like it when you pick up your toys or Thank you for using your indoor voice).
Pick your battles
Consider whether your toddler’s request is too unreasonable. If not, try to be flexible when you can.
Provide appropriate choices as often as you can
(e.g., snack choices, clothing choices, shoe choices, etc.). Do not offer more than 2 choices at a time. Punishment should not be offered as a choice.
Know your toddler’s limits
If your little one is tired, it is probably not the best time to run an errand or to go out to eat.
Dealing with Temper Tantrums:
Talk in a calm voice
Kids can sense parents’ frustration, and this can escalate your toddler’s frustration.
Ignore minor misbehavior
Toddlers naturally seek their parents’ attention. And misbehaving certainly gets our attention! One of the best ways to reduce negative behavior is to ignore it. Continue with an activity, so you don’t pay attention to your child. It’s important to keep your child in sight, though, to ensure they are safe. If your kiddo is in danger of hurting themselves, take them to a safe, quiet place first. Keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to ignore dangerous or aggressive behaviors. Dangerous or aggressive behaviors need a different strategy such as timeout.
When parents first start to ignore a behavior, kids will often test the limits. It’s not uncommon for their behavior to get worse before it gets better. This is the most challenging and frustrating part of ignoring misbehavior, but it means that ignoring the misbehavior is working. If you give in, you will reward your child for misbehaving and the behavior will likely continue.
Reserve timeout for aggressive or dangerous behaviors such as hitting, kicking, biting, or throwing. Overuse of timeout can reduce its effectiveness. Pick a designated timeout spot in your house (e.g., kitchen chair, bottom stair, corner of a room). Be sure timeout happens away from distractions (e.g., TV, toys, etc.). Tell you kiddo why a behavior is unacceptable and take them to timeout. A good rule of thumb is 1 minute for every year of age (i.e., 2 minutes for a 2-year-old). Be sure not to give your kiddo attention while they are in timeout (e.g., eye contact, talking).
Avoid physical discipline
The American Psychological Association (APA) recently adopted the Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children by Parents, which calls for the use of positive discipline practices. The policy was drafted by the APA’s Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, whose members relied on an extensive review of the scientific literature. According to the policy, “Despite beliefs that physical discipline is an effective way to eliminate undesirable child behavior or to induce child compliance with parents’ requests, there is no consistent scientific evidence that physical discipline makes children more or less likely to cease undesirable behavior or engage in desirable behavior in the short term. Research instead suggests that physical discipline is not better than other discipline methods, nor does it serve to enhance the positive outcomes parents seek, such as conscience development or positive behavior and affect.” Use of physical discipline actually predicts increases in children’s behavior problems and “may teach undesirable conflict resolution practices.”
If you’re having difficulty managing your toddler’s behavior, be sure to talk to your pediatrician. They can help you decide if you need a referral to a behavioral health specialist.