Toddlers! They crazy!! These munchkins keep us on our toes, parents and educators alike. They are in the business of testing boundaries of all shapes and sizes, including (but not limited to) the laws of physics, what they are able to reach and explore, what behaviors they can and cannot get away with, and last but not least the boundaries of parental patience.

Their driving question in life is, What happens when I do this?

Not that they wake up every morning thinking “Ah, what limits can I push today?!” – toddlers aren’t quite that premeditated. (Usually). In truth, children in this developmental stage are completely at the whim of their emotions and have very little self-control.

Toddlers can have a strong emotional reaction to what adults consider minor things, like having a complete meltdown when they can’t take their favorite stuffed animal into a restaurant or unmitigated fear at the sight of a garbage truck.

This requires great patience on our parts. It helps not to take the tears or the tantrums personally, and to breathe through any irritation that arises. Toddlers live entirely in the moment, and if their experience of the moment is pain at not getting what they want, they cannot hide or regulate how they feel. We on the other hand can regulate our emotions, and that becomes our practice.

Here are some suggestions I’ve found helpful when toddlers misbehave at home:

  • Keep your cool, don’t react emotionally. When a crying toddler is confronted with an angry reaction from mom or dad, it will only compound their intense feelings and lead to more crying/tantruming. No fun.
  • If you’ve warned them and they still carry on with the undesired behavior, gently remove them from the center of attention and ignore them. Picking them up and sitting them down a few feet away from the action is effective (and sometimes needs to happen more than once). Don’t engage in eye contact or conversation, aside from saying something like “We’ll talk when you calm down.”  Note: This is not the same as a “time-out”.
  • Once they’ve calmed down, invite them to come and join you. (I’ve found kneeling down and opening my arms for a hug is inviting). Don’t bring up the misbehavior or try to explain why you sat them down – at this age, it’s fruitless and just feels like a lecture. Focus on the present moment and say something like, “Are you ready to keep your hands to yourself while we eat?” (Fill in the blank with whatever you’re currently doing + the behavior you want to see).

When practiced consistently, these tips are very effective in teaching toddlers that:

A) You are a calm and unconditionally loving anchor
B) You mean what you say
C) They will not receive the attention they crave when they behave in particular ways, and
D) They will receive your love, attention and affection when they behave in other (more desirable) ways.

These tips will change a bit when out in public, which I’ll address in a future post. For now, if you want to learn more about the physical, emotional and social development of toddlers, sign up for Growing With Your Child’s monthly newsletter and receive a FREE copy of The Overview of Child Development eBook!


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