Gentle Guidance for Toddlers



Parents meet their child’s toddlerhood  with great curiosity and, oftentimes, frustration. Your smiling baby has suddenly turned into a defiant, limit-testing toddler who has one thing on his mind: asserting his independence in the face of your attempt at establishing authority. While this season can be trying, this stage of development is appropriate, normal and healthy. Setting healthy limits for toddlers establishes your authority as the parent while laying the foundation of discipline.
Why is it important that parents work to establish authority? We might assume that the child already understands that we are in authority simply because of our title, “Parent.” Nothing could be further from the truth! A child who screams out and kicks in defiance of her parents’ discipline is testing both her power and independence and whether her parents are in control.

Offering gentle guidance to help your toddler navigate through his strong emotions and newfound freedom will help him understand how to function safely in his environment. Here are some helpful tips to consider when dealing with your toddler-aged child.

Help Guide Little Hands.

Toddlers need to be given words to sort out what they may touch and how. Your firmly saying “No” when they reach for something sharp, specifically saying “Hot, no touch” when they reach for a stove or “Soft touch” when dealing with a baby or the family dog will help toddlers better understand how to interact with their environment.

Avoid Overusing “No.”

In light of your toddler’s exploring his environment, saying “No” for every action will only further frustrate him. Instead, provide age-appropriate activities and objects to hold that are safe.

Set Appropriate Limits.

Setting limits frees a child to explore in a safe environment without compromising safety. Playing outside in a backyard is a safer option for your child than playing in the front near the street. Limits bring a child a sense of safety and security. When your child tests the limits set, he is asking you to show how dependable your limits really are. Limits also help toddlers learn how to control their emotions. They may not like the rules and boundaries being established, but they will have to learn how to respond to your authority while working through their growing independence.

Limits and rules also need to be more defined the younger the child is.

Simply telling your toddler to stay out of the kitchen does not really tell him what you’re trying to protect him from. Telling him to not touch the stove, avoid climbing on the chairs or to keep the refrigerator closed are specific boundaries that are easier for your child to follow and understand. Boundaries provide security for the child whose desire is to explore, but whose experience and juvenile age may lead him astray into danger.

Divert Attention.

Toddlers and young children are unaware that certain objects are unsafe or inappropriate for their ages. A toddler holding a glass jar of pickles may find the color and the coolness of the jar interesting but have no idea of the dangers of dropping the jar or its shattered glass pieces. While abruptly pulling the jar out of his hands may help you to avoid a mess, you will likely be dealing with a strong tantrum afterward. Try diverting his attention to something different or safer, like a plastic peanut butter jar that won’t shatter if dropped, or something he’s never seen before. 

Choose Your Battles.

If you find yourself feeling impatient and in a battle of wills, reflect on the battles you’re choosing to fight. Controlling your child’s every movement is not the goal; rather, remember you’re setting boundaries that ensure safety and success. This approach will minimize the frustration that can mount for both you and your toddler.                                         

Marisa Frymire and her family live in Overland Park.

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