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How to Parent a Toddler: Tips for the Terrible Twos

Is your toddler out of control? Get things back on track by following these 6 parenting tips.

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Terrible twos. Treacherous threes. Whatever you want to call it, this developmental stage is a challenge. If you are struggling to parent a toddler, you can try these five parenting tips.

1) Recognize there is a problem

Just like any twelve step program, the first movement toward change is admitting that you are struggling and need help. You might have a problem controlling your toddler if you exhibit any of these warning signs:

  • you avoid taking things away for fear of meltdowns
  • you make excuses for behavior you can’t handle
  • you feel embarrassed of your parenting skills in front of others
  • you feel exasperated and let it show with sighs, “ugh,” “what am I going to do with you?” (even if you say them as a joke)

2) Increase your confidence

I know . . . easier said than done, but change in this area requires changes in your thinking about parenting. If you feel helpless or hopeless, you will parent from this perspective. You need a pep talk – just like when a coach pumps up his players before sending them out on the field. You need to make some important mental shifts in how you view yourself as a parent of a toddler:

  • Tell yourself, “I can do this!”
  • Affirm that you will do what is best, not easiest
  • Accept that even if things get worse, they will get better
  • See meltdowns as an opportunity to try something new, instead of a failure
  • Imagine yourself being successful, capable and strong

3) Be firm and kind

There is a huge difference between being firm and being authoritarian. The latter is not your goal. Here is how to be firm and kind with a toddler:

  • Make eye contact with a pleasant face
  • Establish simple rules
  • Enforce your simple rules
  • Use firm and kind language. “You can feel mad. You may not hit.” “You want to keep playing, but play time is over.”
  • Act more than you talk. Reasoning will not work

4) Be decisive

Think first then act. Impulsive parenting is rarely effective. If you pause before you give an instruction, it will be much easier to follow through on what you said. Here are some ways to be decisive:

  • Be sure that when you say “all done,” you mean it
  • Be clear that “last one,” is really the last one
  • Give a warning to a transition (use a visual timer)
  • Leave when you say you will
  • It’s okay to pick your toddler up

5) Anticipate and plan

If you know transitions are hot buttons for your child, plan ahead. Place a fun toy in his car seat for him to enjoy after you leave the park. Let him be the one to carry the keys and unlock the car door. Work with what you have. Your goal is not to rule with an iron fist or live in harmony at all cost. You can’t avoid every tantrum, but you don’t have to set off every trip wire. Managing a tantrum is possible with the right planning and know-how.

Parenting a toddler is a challenge for all parents. You are not alone. With these 5 tools in your back pocket, you will have much better control of your out of control toddler.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.


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