How Can I Get My Toddler to Behave?

by David Herz, MD

Advice for difficult toddler.

It’s not difficult, or uncommon, for parents to fall into a corrective mode with their toddler. In other words, they see their child doing something wrong and immediately spring into action. No doubt, this is often motivated by concerns for the child’s safety, as well as the parents’ sanity, but it also makes it difficult to build a relationship with the child.

Assess the action

There are a couple of ways to correct this. First, assess if a particular action needs correcting. If it’s running into the street, then yes, that’s a safety issue. However, if it’s pulling every book off the bottom shelf, that might be something to let go. Also, try to be positive. “Catch” them doing something right and praise them for it. If the child is acting out to get attention, then consistent praise will give them what they seek, without all the collateral damage.

Allow a little independence

Toddlers can be stubborn, partially because they’ve just learned how to make choices but are severely restricted on which choices they can make. Give your child some independence. For example, let them choose their own clothing. Allow your child to be as self-reliant as possible. Put toys in a place where they have easy access to them.

Set them up for success

Put your child in a position to succeed. If they are difficult in the afternoon, and you have the flexibility, don’t go shopping at 3 p.m.

If they are unruly in lines, go to a less crowded place. If they’re having a particularly bad day, stay at home.

Finally, never let them get bored. They don’t like it and will let you know.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by David Herz, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in San Diego.