There are no any parents who haven’t felt complete and utter love for their toddler and, at the same time, frustration and anger.
Our beloved little ones test our nerves because they’re testing boundaries all around them. Every day, little by little, they’re mastering new skills, and are anxious and excited to use them.
Sometimes it’s tough to reel in a toddler, but it can be done. And setting rules and limits now — when your child is learning what behaviors are acceptable — will help prevent bigger problems down the road.
Here are some ways to help you keep your youngster on the right track.
1. Be Consistent
When it comes to discipline, it’s important to be consistent. Parents who don’t stick to the rules and consequences they set up don’t have kids who do either. For example, if you tell your toddler that a timeout is the repercussion for bad behavior, be sure to enforce it. Only issue warnings for things that you can follow through on. Empty threats undermine your authority.
And don’t forget that kids learn by watching adults, particularly their parents. So make sure your own behavior is role-model material. When asking your child to pick up toys, you’ll make a much stronger impression if you’ve put away your own belongings rather than leaving your stuff all around the room.
2. Eliminate Temptation
By now, you’ve figured out that your toddler wants to explore and investigate the world. Toddlers are naturally curious, so it’s wise to eliminate temptations whenever possible. That means keeping things like TVs, phones, and electronics out of reach. Also beware of choking hazards like jewelry, buttons, and small items that kids can put in their mouths.
And always keep cleaning supplies and medicines stored safely away where kids can’t get to them.
3. Use Distraction
If your roving toddler does head toward an unacceptable or dangerous play object, calmly say “No” and either remove your child from the area or distract him or her with another activity.
It’s important to not spank, hit, or slap your child. At this age, kids are unlikely to be able to make a connection between the behavior and physical punishment. The message you send when you spank is that it’s OK to hit someone when you’re angry. Experts say that spanking is no more effective than other forms of discipline, such as timeouts.
4. Practice Timeout
If you need to take a harder line with your child, timeouts can be an effective form of discipline. A 2- or 3-year-old who has been hitting, biting, or throwing food, for example, should be told why the behavior is unacceptable and taken to a designated timeout area — a kitchen chair or bottom stair — for a minute or two to calm down.
As a general rule, about 1 minute per year of age is a good guide for timeouts. Longer timeouts have no added benefit. And they could undermine your efforts if your child gets up (and refuses to return) before you signal that the timeout has ended.
Be sure that the timeout area is away from distractions such as toys or TV, and that you do not provide your child with any attention (talking, eye contact) while they’re sitting in timeout.
5. Avoid Temper Tantrums
Even the most well-behaved toddler can have a tantrum from time to time. Tantrums are common during toddlerhood because kids can understand more than they can express and this often leads to frustration.
Toddlers get frustrated in other ways too, like when they can’t dress a doll or keep up with an older sibling. Power struggles can come when your toddler wants more independence and autonomy too soon.
The best way to deal with bad temper is to avoid them, whenever possible. Here are some tips that may help:
- Make sure your child isn’t acting up to get attention. Establish a habit of catching your child being good (“time-in”), which means rewarding your little one with attention for positive behavior.
- Give your toddler control over little things. This may fulfill the need for independence and ward off tantrums. Offer minor choices that you can live with, such as “Would you like an apple or banana with lunch?”
- When kids are playing or trying to master a new task, offer age-appropriate toys and games. Also, start with something easy before moving on to more challenging tasks. This will build their confidence and motivation to try things that might be frustrating.
- Consider the request carefully when your child wants something. Is it outrageous? If not, try to be flexible.
- Know your child’s limits. If you know your toddler is tired, it’s not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand.
As their language skills improve and they mature, kids become better at handling frustration, and tantrums are less likely. If you’re having trouble handling temper tantrums or have any questions about discipline, ask your child’s doctor for advice.