In this post you’ll find simple tips to help you address toddler behavior issues with grace and love. Post may contain affiliate links.
I was in Sam’s Club on the toothpaste aisle when I realized something…
If not for my 2-year-old… I might be proud.
My 4th child has humbled me, you see. During that formative time between 9 to 18 months when the beginning of discipline takes place… I was pregnant, exhausted, and Past the Point. He’d received a lot of love and cuddles, but not a lot of direction.
As I was pushing him in the shopping cart on that toothpaste aisle – making our way slowly towards the Jumbo Peanut Butter aisle – he was whining, screaming, and protesting.
He didn’t want to sit in that cart. He didn’t want to have a “Happy Heart.” And he was going to go on and on and on until I gave him what he wanted. Why?
Because he was used to getting his way.
As the 4th child, he was used to his siblings, myself, or daddy doing his bidding as we kept moving about our business. Not that we’d been bribing or ignoring him, we just hadn’t dedicated time to teach him our family boundaries.
We drug him along while he was young and… now that he’s a full blown toddler… he wants to be dragged no more. He wants to make his own choices and that’s that.
He has come into his counter will,
I went home that day without toothpaste and with a mouth full of crow. It was time to reset my 2-year-old’s behavior lovingly.
6 Basic Principles About Toddler Behavior
It’s so true that toddler behavior can be wearying… but it can also be precious.
Toddler are precious, budding little people. They love lots of cuddles and are active and busy. It’s truly a precious season. It can also be a difficult season. One simultaneously full of joy and struggles.
“There was never a child so lovely, but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Time and Attention
Children crave their parents love and attention. They need eye contact, physical affection, and to have their needs met in a healthy and timely manner. Their needs are uncomplicated and instinctual.
Their daily behavior asks the questions on their hearts.
“Do you love me?”
“Do I belong here?”
“Am I safe?”
Giving your child attention isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t require expensive trips or toys. It can be as simple as a hug, a silly face, a dance party, and reading a book. Even if they don’t sit still to listen.
Don’t get caught up in the “how”. Just make time for them. Put down the phone. Smile, laugh and, in those little moments, let them know you’re there.
Praise Positive Toddler Behavior
Praise is simply expressing your approval and admiration for someone or something they’ve done. When we slip out of the habit of praising our kids, the results are very negative.
Though a small thing, praise is powerful. It helps you child feel loved, appreciated, and noticed.
One of the easiest ways to get children to act kindly, positively, and in line with your boundaries is to catch them doing well and praise them.
And, if your child’s love language is affirmation, praise will be particularly important. Read The 5 Love Languages of Children for more on that.
This may feel cheesy and hard at first. You may find yourself saying things like, “Wow, you really moved fast when you ran away from me!” or “What a beautiful design you colored on the walls. Why don’t we try it on paper next time!”
Because little ones can’t tell us exactly what they’re feeling, pain often manifests itself in negative behavior, fussiness, and irritability. It’s our job as moms to play investigator.
If a naturally happy child is suddenly irritable and fussy there could be a number of options.
- Undiagnosed food or environmental allergy
- Growing pains
The list goes on and on. Uncharacteristic behavior in children can often be linked to diet and other medical conditions.
Short Attention Spans and Purposeful Communication
I don’t know if your toddler will sit still and listen to a monologue for 5 minutes, but I’ll tell you mine won’t. In fact, I have about 10 good seconds before their eyes glaze over and they start trying to escape and go rub dirt all over their head.
How do we combat this?
Short, helpful, and memorable phrases.
The frontal lobe of the brain is where logical reasoning occurs. The frontal lobe of the brain is not fully developed until we’re in our 20’s so… this is why children do not always act reasonably or rationally.
Particularly in an emotional situation. On the other hand, their limbic system is operating in full swing. And what does the limbic system control?
You guessed it. Emotion.
The reason toddlers tend towards tantrums and meltdowns is because their emotions are right under the surface.
They Feel All The Feels and, when in a heightened emotional state, are simply not able to be reasoned with. It’s why trying to talk your toddler down from a tantrum is pointless.
Using short helpful phrases are effective because they are quick, to the point, and don’t require a long attention span.
We use many of the phrases found in this book and they help teach our children the family rules and cut down on power struggles.
Want a free printable with 6 genius phrases to use? Download it here and get the printable plus exactly how to use it in your inbox!
Promoting Security, Not Insecurity
Imagine starting a new job. You are given a desk, a computer, and told to report to work every day at 9:00 a.m. and lunch at noon. And that’s it. There’s no on the job training, detailed instructions on how to carry out your tasks, or clear expectations on what exactly you’re supposed to do. Or not do.
How would this make you feel?
Insecure, worried, paralyzed.
When children do not know what their boundaries are or what is expected of them, they feel insecure. In fact, the lack of boundaries is a major cause of insecurity in children.
They don’t simply need to know what not to do, they need to know what you expect of them. Discipline isn’t a focus on what’s wrong, it’s a process of teaching children what’s right, healthy, and best for them.
The Neutrality of Emotions In Toddler Behavior
If your children are prone to whining, flailing of limbs, and drama… it can be tempting to get them to Just Shut It every time they emote. After the 13th tantrum in 3 hours you are so over it, you begin to see their emotions as the enemy. I hear you, it’s hard. But a good rule of thumb to remember is this…
Emotions are neither bad nor good, they simply are.
When we validate what our children are feeling and give them healthy ways to cope (i.e. hitting a pillow not their sister) they feel heard, listened to, and understood.
It doesn’t mean we give in to their momentary desires to avoid a tantrum, but we acknowledge the underlying issue… that they are little people with big emotions and that’s okay.
Back to my little guy…
In the aftermath of the Toothpaste Tantrum, we’ve fallen into a good rhythm. I communicate our boundaries, he tests them, and we deal with the consequences of his choices.
Since being praised more often, he’s more confident and adventurous.
Since being told “no” more often, he’s a happier child.
Since being given clearer boundaries, he’s learning to follow the rules.
He’s still a Big Loud Ball of Fire, but that’s a sign of life, right?
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