Six tips for helping toddlers gain self-control

It's no secret that toddlers can be difficult. Now you can even the playing field with six tips designed to help parents and caregivers lead toddlers toward more self-control.

As adorable as toddlers between 2 and 3 years are, their challenging behavior can at times have us at our wits ends. So, how to handle a toddler’s challenging behavior can be daunting to parents. We already know, no two children will respond exactly the same to one given situation, so keeping that in mind along with a child’s individual temperament is a good beginning.

The scenario can play out several times per day. Toddlers do not have self-control, and as they become more mobile and more independent, situations will arise that will bring forth strong feelings and behavior. Here are some techniques a parent or caregiver can try. First of all, start with putting things away out of the child’s reach. This will be only temporary. As the child grows and gains more self-control, parents will be able to set limits. With the younger child, it works well to distract with an interesting toy, sing, talk, dance, etc. If that does not work, move the child from the immediate area and place him or her in a more appropriate area or crib, or give the child a different object to play with. Other suggestions that can be helpful according to a national parent survey conducted by the Zero To Three National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families to help your toddler develop self-control are:

  1. Validate your child’s feelings. “I see you’re mad because you want your sister’s purse.”
  2. Offer your child ideas on how to handle strong emotions, such as painting or drawing a mad picture.
  3. Empathize with your child. “I know you don’t want to go to the sitter, but mama needs to go to work. Do you want to walk to the car or have mama carry you?”
  4. Give a visual aid to concentrate on. “When the smoke stops [hot cereal], we’ll see if it is ready to eat.”
  5. Let your toddler make preselected choices. “Do you want to wear the red one or the yellow one?”
  6. Finally, look for opportunities for your toddler to practice self-control, such as games which involve waiting and sharing.

With patience and consistency, toddlers will develop some self-control. Nothing will work 100 percent, all the time for a toddler. The important thing to remember is parents are their children’s first teachers. With loving patience, they can help their toddlers through this difficult phase and on to the next.

For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.


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