Do you dream of being the mom whose toddler doesn’t have a meltdown when it’s time to leave the play centre? Do you wish he could be reasonable when you suggest that three biscuits are enough? And do you hope he doesn’t throw a tantrum in the supermarket? Employ these nine parenting secrets in your daily life and you’ll diffuse much of your toddler’s negative behaviour, and encourage him to be calmer and more cooperative.
Many parents feel that indulging their little one’s moans and groans will lead to more of the same attentionseeking behaviour. When your child takes a not-too-serious tumble and cries, seemingly unnecessarily, do you react by saying, “You’re OK, stop crying”? If he’s whining because another child has taken the toy he was playing with, do you soothe, “Oh it’s not that bad”?
UK parenting expert Carole Saad suggests taking a different approach: “This problem is real to your child, so empathise with him by saying: ‘Oh dear I expect that hurts’, or ‘You seem frustrated that someone else is playing with that toy’. Also, especially if he’s very young, show through your face and tone that you understand he’s upset,” she advises. “Empathy allows him to get over the issue quicker control,” says parenting coexpert Nadim Saad, “and your commands can be like a red rag to a bull. If he doesn’t get happy with. So you might say, ‘I have porridge or cereal, which would you like today?’ or ‘Would you like to wear as he feels understood.” what he wants, he screams, your red or blue shorts?’”
Replace commands with choices
“At around two years old, children start to want some which normally gets a reaction, and wrenches control from the parent. To avoid this behaviour, replace a command with two limited choices, which must both be options that you’re Giving choices to your toddler might feel like hard work to start with, but in the long term it will save hours of tantrums. “Give him these limited choices all the time, and your child will feel that he has a voice and an element of control,” adds Nadim. “And there’s an added benefit that he’ll know how to make a decision.”
Ditch the ‘no’ word
“Your child needs boundaries to behave well, so it’s important to set them so he knows what’s expected of him, and you can keep him safe,” says Nadim. “But there are ways and means of getting your child to respect these boundaries. The words ‘no’, ‘can’t’ and ‘mustn’t’ immediately raise a toddler’s hackles – and his curiosity. Saying ‘No! Don’t go near the road!’ just makes it all the more tempting. So offer a clear explanation instead: ‘Roads are for cars not people. Paths are for people so we stay safe’.” Putting a positive spin in this way removes opposition – in all situations. “If your toddler asks for an ice cream half an hour before dinner, don’t say ‘No, it’s nearly dinner time’,” says Nadim. “Say, ‘Yes, you can have an ice cream, but after we’ve eaten dinner’.”
Avoid an argument
There will be times when your toddler wants something now and won’t take no for an answer. “It’s easy to get sucked into long explanations about why he can’t have or do what he wants when he wants,” says Carole. “And that often leads to whining, tears and anger and, potentially, you – worn out and not knowing what else to say – giving in to his demands. Your tot’s ‘won’ and this sets you up for failure next time.” Equally, ignoring him will frustrate him and escalate his behaviour. Instead, employ a short sentence like: “I know” or just “Mmmm” and repeat it regularly as he grumbles. “This prevents you from being drawn into an argument and helps you to stand firm,” Carole explains, “but your tot still feels he’s being listened to. And next time you use that same short sentence, a toddler will quickly understand it’s not worth fighting.”
Use positive consequences
Consequences are more effective than punishments, but they must be logical, related to the deed, and reasonable so you are always able to carry them out. Always explain the consequence in terms that your toddler can understand so he can make a choice. “For example, if your toddler gets down from the table mid-meal, try saying ‘Children who want to eat sit at the table’. If he doesn’t return, say empathetically, without any sign of anger, ‘You seem to have finished your meal so I am removing your plate’ – that’s the consequence of his action,” advises Carole. Consistency is the key factor – if you offer the same consequence every time your toddler gets down from the table, he will soon learn that if he wants to eat, he must stay in his seat.
Use positive “I” statements
To raise a well-behaved toddler, it’s important that you realise and accept that while you can influence him, you can’t control him. “You can’t physically make your child tidy his toys or stop throwing food on the floor,” says Nadim. “And no amount of threats will change that.” But you can encourage him to make good choices by talking about you instead of him. “Adopt ‘I’ statements, such as ‘I take children who have tidy toys to play on the swings’ or ‘I like to play trains with little boys who eat their lunch nicely’,” suggests Nadim. Because ‘I’ statements are not about your child, but about what you are or aren’t willing to do, your child is less likely to oppose them.
Let him make mistakes
Telling a child “you’ll be cold if you don’t put your coat on” or “you’ll be hungry later if you don’t eat that” doesn’t work. To understand a consequence, an unwilling toddler sometimes needs to find out for himself. “We were going out one freezing winter day and our three-year-old refused to wear tights,” Carole recalls. “Had I forced her to put tights on, she’d have had a tantrum. So we went out without the tights and she was cold and miserable. Had I said ‘I told you so’, she’d have blamed me. So instead I empathised: ‘It’s a shame you’re cold.’ The next day she was happy to wear tights and asked for her jeans on top!” A toddler wants, and needs, to be independent. So let him carry his plate to the sink after dinner, even when you know his knife and fork will clatter to the floor. “Don’t criticise, just involve him in clearing up,” says Nadim. “He needs to know things don’t always go perfectly, and learn how to deal with them when they don’t.”
Let him learn how to behave from you
Be aware that your toddler is constantly learning behaviour from you. Teach him that it’s rude to ignore someone by looking at and engaging with your child when he talks to you. But don’t worry when your behaviour isn’t perfect. “It’s unrealistic to expect he’ll never see you have a cross word with anyone, but it’s important that if he sees you arguing with someone he also sees you resolve it. That way, he’ll learn how to behave properly in a disagreement,” Carole explains. “And if you lose your temper with your toddler, explain, very simply, that you’re sorry you shouted. Admitting you’ve done something wrong shows him it’s important to own up and say sorry when he’s made a mistake.”
Value his input
Children behave better when there’s a predictable order to their days – but involve your child in creating that routine. “Take pictures of him brushing his teeth, eating breakfast and getting dressed, and then put them on a board in order,” suggests Nadim. “Ask your child to point to what comes next each morning. He’ll love that feeling of control and it means he’ll get on with the task.” Involving your child in daily tasks will help to avoid a lot of bad behaviour. “Supermarkets aren’t fun for a toddler, so add some simple items to a list for him to find and ‘buy’. It gives him a feeling of importance, something to focus on and teaches your child to be helpful.”
Make life easier!
Plan one-toone ‘special time’ each day to play, read a book or do a chore together. Even just 15 minutes a day of total focus from you will make him feel valued, happier, and more cooperative.