Do you get frustrated when your toddler just will not cooperate? Does hearing “no” trigger anger in you or feelings of inadequacy in your parenting skills?
Does this ever happen to you: You give your toddler a one-minute warning that it’s time to clean up. You calmly tell her, “It’s time to clean up now!” Maybe you sing a clean up song or try to make it into a game. You think you’re doing everything right, but your toddler still yells, “NO! I want to keep playing!” Exasperated, you prepare yourself for the tantrum ahead…
You are not alone! The toddler years are challenging times for parents. Take a deep breath, stay calm, and try to work through it with your child. While there is no magic solution to end tantrums, here are a few strategies that can help decrease defiance and keep the “no”s to a minimum:
1. Acknowledge your toddler’s desires.
This is not the same thing as giving in to your toddler’s desires! And yes, it is going to feel weird and counter-intuitive at first if you aren’t used to doing it, but give it a try. This can be something as simple as saying, “You are having so much fun playing!” or “You really want to keep playing with your toys right now!” It is very important that this step come first rather than digging your heels in and setting a limit. Most people (adults included) are more willing to listen when they feel they have been heard.
2. Kindly set a limit.
This is simply stating what needs to get done. For young children, keep it short, such as “It’s time to clean up the toys now” rather than a full-fledged explanation of how you need to get to Aunt Sally’s house for a barbecue and you’re going to be late – your toddler lives in the present moment and won’t understand. Set the limit in a calm voice.
3. Offer choices.
This can give the child some control and for some children that is enough to avoid a tantrum. For example, “Would you like to put away the cars or the blocks?” or “Are you going to walk by yourself or should I carry you?” Only offer choices that you will truly allow the child to make!
4. Follow through.
If your child is still not cooperating, you’ll need to follow through and help your toddler. How you follow through will depend on the circumstances and what you are expecting the toddler to do. Remember that you cannot control your toddler’s behavior, but you can control yours and what you will do in response. If your child continues playing with toys, for example, you may calmly take the toy and put it away yourself, saying, “It’s time to put this toy away now, so if you can’t do it yourself, I’m going to help you.” (For a young toddler, don’t expect that they will put away a whole bucket of toys by themselves yet. They may need your help at this age. It’s more about teaching the routine that we clean up toys when we are done with them.) As another example, if your child is refusing to come with you, calmly state, “Since you aren’t walking with me, I’ll have to carry you/put you in the stroller/hold your hand” and calmly do so. Like with choices above, only state consequences that you can actually do! Avoid stating consequences that you won’t actually follow through on, such as “OK, I’ll just leave you here and go without you”
Please note: With toddlers, I would avoid having the “follow through” involve some kind of unrelated consequence like a time out or spanking. Sometimes a child may need to be removed from a situation if they are harming others or need to calm down, but this can still follow these basic steps and does not need to be framed as a punishment. While the toddler may stop the behavior temporarily after a punishment is delivered, it will likely only upset them more and risk losing the opportunity to teach.
I hope you find these techniques helpful!