Toddlers are known to test limits. In fact, it is completely normal for your toddler to push boundaries. In these moments it is easy to become frustrated and the quickest (and most obvious) response is to say "no." The problem with using the word "no" is that some children simply start ignoring the word; they become desensitized to "no" and this familiar word becomes just that, familiar.
We know that toddlers benefit from routine and consistency, whether in their daily/weekly schedule or with household rules and guidelines. Providing a consistent structure will help minimize those frustrating poor-behavior situations, but the reality is your toddler will test limits and how you respond will help shape both the outcome and the learning opportunity. We have found the following strategies help break the "no" pattern when used against poor behavior:
1. Address the behavior with appropriate language. Breaking out of the yes-no war with your toddler can be as simple as adjusting your language. Showing your toddler how their behavior affects other people around them or explaining why their behavior is not appropriate actually helps teach your child emotions such as empathy. Likewise, modeling an appropriate response (e.g. "better to ask your sister to borrow that toy" in response to the sibling grabbing a toy) helps your child learn what the appropriate behavior is. It is important to remember that toddlers are still learning many of the skills necessary for cooperative play and your child might need you to actually help them with what to do.
2. Transition to a quiet activity. When things get heated and the toddlers are loud and difficult, the situation is often mitigated by a transition to a quiet activity, such as reading a story. In our house, we get cozy, snuggle, and pick out a few favorite stories to reset the mood. Oftentimes, the tension builds leading up to nap time or later in the afternoon, when a child's energy level is more or less depleted. Recognizing the tired pattern at the root of the behavior and making time for a longer than usual transition to nap time or the next activity will help your child reset, regroup, and move past the difficult moment.
3. Maintain boundaries, but share the power. Toddlers often want what they want, well, because that is what they want. There are a number of developmental and cognitive milestones that keep toddlers from fully grasping a situation (such as telling time) and this can initiate a downward spiral with behavior simply due to frustration. Having consistent guidelines will help alleviate difficult situations when they arise. If your child is melting down over mealtime, offer two choices (e.g. grilled cheese sandwich or chicken soup) and allow them some autonomy in the situation. Sharing the power (within the boundaries) will mitigate the situation and give your toddler some sense of control when they are feeling frustrated.
Children's literature is one of our favorite ways to address important topics with our StrongTots. Stories allow parents to open discussion about key issues away from an intense moment and through the actions of a story character. If you haven't shared the picture book No David! (by, David Shannon) with your toddler, it is a great book for talking about behavior and the many responses parents intend to convey when they say "no."
Do you have a particular strategy that works well with your toddler? Join the conversation and share your thoughts in support of other parents and caregivers in the StrongTots community.
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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