All of us who are invested in toddlers share the goal for them to grow into happy, confident adults. We want them to know that they are loved as they develop skills to regulate themselves and make good decisions.
The following three principals offer some solid advice for parents and caregivers to guide toddlers in regulating positive behavior:
FIRST, maintain your composure. (You want to teach your child to maintain a positive temperament, so make sure you model it. The best way to teach your child to lose his or her temper is to lose yours.)
SECOND, make your expectations clear. (Your child needs to have a clear understanding of what to do. Try to state expectations in positive terms without emphasizing on the word “no.”
THIRD, create a path that will facilitate your child’s success. (Prepare a safe, exploratory environment where your child can follow his or her curiosity. Redirect as much as possible to communicate with positive reinforcement.)
Consider the following scenarios and possible responses:
Scenario: Your toddler is hitting his friend Johnny because he wants Johnny’s toy.
- Intervene quickly to remind your child of the expected behavior.
- “Oh no, be soft with your friend Johnny. We are kind to our friends.”
- Focus attention on the desired goal.
- “I understand that you want to play with Johnny’s red truck. I have a yellow train for you to play with. Maybe Johnny will trade with you. When he’s ready to trade, you can play with the red truck.” (You have provided the potential for a win-win situation for both children.)
- If your toddler persists in trying to grab his friend’s toy and/ or persists in hitting, remove your child from the situation. “I’m sorry that you’re still hurting Johnny. You will have to play over here. When you’re ready to be kind, you can play with your yellow train next to Johnny.”
Scenario: Your family members just finished dinner and were ready to enjoy family time in the back yard. Your toddler pushed a chair over for no apparent reason.
- Express what you expect your child to do. “Please pick up the chair so we can go outside.”
- Your toddler responds with a mischievous smile. The family proceeds to go outside, and you calmly explain, “I’ll wait for you to put the chair back up.” (You’ve created an incentive for your toddler to comply, and he knows exactly what he must do before he can join the family fun outside.)
Scenario: Your toddler was drawing a picture with crayons on his drawing paper. You suddenly notice that his drawing has extended to his bedroom wall.
- State the appropriate use of crayons. “Oh no, your wall has crayon marks on it. Crayons go on our drawing paper.”
- Explain what needs to happen next. “We need to get the crayons off the wall. Come and help me get supplies to clean the wall.” Include your toddler in getting cleaning supplies and make sure she helps you clean the walls. (Toddlers won’t be able to handle chemicals or effectively get the walls clean, but it’s essential that they are included in the cleaning activity.)
Scenario: You tell your toddler it’s time to go upstairs to take a bath, and he ignores you.
- Only state your expectation once, but add the next outcome if he doesn’t come now.
“You need to come now to have time for a story.”
- If he doesn’t respond after a few minutes, you help him up the stairs to take a bath. After the bath, he will go right to bed. Be empathetic in your response. “I’m so sorry that we don’t have time for a story tonight.”
In each of these scenarios you allowed your toddler to experience the natural outcomes from his or her actions. You allowed your child to think about good choices that will lead to positive outcomes. Most importantly, you modeled self-control and empathized with your child’s disappointment at the sad outcomes that result from poor choices. These steps will help your toddler begin to regulate his or her actions.