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How to Parent an Out-of-Control Toddler: Tips for the Terrible Twos

Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

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

Terrible twos. Treacherous threes. Whatever you want to call it, this developmental stage is a challenge. If you feel like it is a challenge that you are losing however, you can try these six effective parenting tips for dealing with an out-of-control toddler.

1) Admit 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) Decide to change

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 decisions in how you view yourself as a parent of a toddler:

  • Decide that you are in charge, not your toddler.
  • Decide to do what is right, not easiest.
  • Decide that even if things get worse, they will get better.
  • Decide to not fear the meltdowns.
  • Decide to see yourself as capable and strong.

3) Be firm

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

  • Make eye contact.
  • Establish simple rules.
  • Enforce your simple rules.
  • Use firm language. “You will give me that now.” “Stop.”
  • Act more than you talk.
  • Don’t give endless warnings. As Nike says, “just do it.”

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:

  • When you say “all done,” mean it.
  • When you say “last one,” mean it
  • When you say “bedtime,” mean it.
  • Don’t say it’s time to leave and then wait ten more minutes.
  • Don’t negotiate with a toddler.

5) Anticipate and plan

You didn’t wing your wedding and you planned for your child’s birth and delivery. Parenting is no different. You need to 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.

6) Learn how to safely restrain if necessary

If your child becomes out of control and is at risk of hurting himself or others, gentle restraint is in order. If you find that you are too emotional or too angry to do it gently, you must get help. An angry parent is in no position to help an angry child. For some children, being held can exacerbate a tantrum. If you notice this to be the case, let go but stay close. Use calming words or simply hum a calming tune.

Parenting a toddler is a challenge for all parents. You are not alone. With these 6 tools in your back pocket, you will have much better control of your out of control toddler.

[Photo credit: monsterdimka from]

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.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and parents. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

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