For first-time parents, one of the most surprising things about the toddler stage is just how temperamental and even rebellious the child can be. This is a rough time for kids, as they are too young to express themselves clearly yet are developing a sense of self and relish their independence. Plus, while they always know exactly what they want, they are often too emotionally immature to understand why they cannot have it. This creates
many stressful moments for parents.
It can be easy to accept that this is just how the child is going to be for a while, but there are in fact things you can do to improve your child’s behavior. In addition to improving behavior, they also lay the foundation for future habits and help define the parent-child dynamic that will continue through the coming years.
Every child is different, so no piece of advice will be universally applicable, but here are some tips to try.
1. Provide freedom within limits
Many toddlers want nothing more than an area to explore freely—and the larger the area, the better. You might be limited in the amount of space of your home you can block off and babyproof, but do make this space as large as feasible, and let your child be free for as many hours a day as possible.
Also, when the weather is good, take your child to a local park, set her down in the middle of a large grassy area, and let her do as she pleases. If she wants to range through the park, follow her at a close distance without hindering her freedom. You can also do this within reason at the playground, but this can pose safety issues when there are older kids around.
With both of these practices, the key is to provide freedom while also imposing limits. At the park, for instance, you cannot allow your child to get too close to the street or into other people’s space. When your child gets too close to these things, place yourself in front of her, say that she cannot go there (do not worry if she is too young to understand for now), and pick her up and bring her back to your starting point. If she fusses, let her fuss.
2. Focus on safety
Toddlers, especially those early in their second year, are too young to handle many rules, so make sure the rules you do set are primarily focused on safety and not too arbitrary (from the child’s perspective). You will help by childproofing your home as much as possible, but lay firm, unbreakable rules when it comes to things that cannot be childproofed. If you do not impose too many of these, your child will learn them easily.
3. Show your love
Few toddlers obey “no” on a consistent basis, but they are much likely to take “no” from someone whom they know loves them and for whom they have very warm feelings. If a large portion of your attention comes in the form of discipline and limit-setting, your toddler will view you primarily as someone to rebel against. But if you are continually affectionate and give your child lots of hugs, kisses, and praise, she will listen to you better.
Keep in mind that toddlers often do not seem like they appreciate this sort of affection, but they certainly do. It is just that they are too young to express themselves well enough to reciprocate fully or to show their appreciation.
By Jamell Andrews