How to Tame Toddler Behavior and Teach Manners

Toddlers, as we all know, are precious and must be cherished at all times. The cuteness never ends, and each moment spent is a moment to be treasured. These are the firmly held beliefs of every good parent. But toddlers are at times mildly frustrating, too. Irritating, perhaps. Completely un-fun to be around on occasion. They do things. Things we don’t like. And they need to be tamed. But can they be? Here are 10 ways to manage your wild child.*

They are not even close to being foolproof.

  • Little darling likes to throw food – at home and in public

    Every night you spend time on your hands and knees, scrubbing applesauce or mac and cheese off the kitchen floor : and the kitchen walls. When you try and rein him in at restaurants, he fires a roll at the adjacent table and lets out a mood-killing scream to boot. What can you do?

    You gotta ignore it, according to Robin Barker, author of the book The Mighty Toddler. Your reactions only encourage the behavior. Instead of screaming “STOP IT” at the top of your lungs, play it cool and walk away. “The minute the food throwing starts, the meal ends,” writes Barker. Sounds mean, but the next time you kid sits down to eat, he’ll be starving, and less inclined to catapult some carrots.

  • Your kid bites and pinches

    You are play wrestling, and all of a sudden little Sammy chomps down on your arm. Or during an innocent hug, baby Victoria uses her nails to take a chunk of your thigh. Or even worse, Sammy and Vicky decide to do this to other kids at the playground, or your friend’s kid during a christening. Mitchell and Cameron from Modern Family tried putting pepper in their daughter’s mouth. Should you?

    Per What to Expect in the Toddler Years, authors Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg and Sandee E. Hathaway explain that some toddlers bite because they know it will get mom and dad’s attention – since they haven’t mastered the sentence, “Mom, listen to me, this is really important.” Other kids actually bite as a way of showing affection. “Biting may be a way of saying ‘I love you,'” reads What to Expect. Most kids give it up, but for those that don’t, parents need to take it seriously. Some kids may even be wired to bite due to type A personalities! Parents may need to help these kids de-stress. Other tactics include encouraging your little ones to talk through their feelings if they can. One thing you shouldn’t do, per What To Expect: “Never bite back.”

  • Your child laughs at the word ‘no’

    Baby Jason takes a swing at the lamp in the living room, and you react by screaming “NO!” This causes Jason to chuckle and try again.

    How do you get your toddler to take you seriously? The problem, according to Aletha Solter, Ph.D. is that babies and toddlers barely understand the concept of rules until they are close to age 2. “No” just doesn’t mean that much.

    One strategy Solter recommends is using quick, understandable explanations for why you don’t want your son or daughter doing something. Instead of “no” when she’s going to the stove, you should yell “hot!” If your son wants to play with something dangerous or breakable, the best tactic may be to divert him by giving him something else to attempt to destroy. You may even want to talk to your child and try to explain why things are dangerous (if you have the patience).

  • Your son publicly announces he has a penis, or your daughter tells grandpa about her vagina

    You’ve taken great pains to make sure your child isn’t ashamed of his genitals. It’s important to you not to infantilize their reproductive organs. And you want to encourage their ability to have healthy conversations about their private parts when they get old. Except that now, the conversations are getting a bit too healthy. Junior is telling anybody who will listen that he’s got a penis. How do you tone down the talk without reverting back to wee wee?

    The Girlfriends’ Guide to Toddlers writer, Vicki Iovine, says the trend toward being anatomically correct in our toddler verbiage is causing tremendous anxiety, particularly among parents and in-laws. “Nothing blows a grandmother’s mind more than hearing her precious grandson ‘can make his penis squirt,'” Iovine writes. Yet that embarrassment may be worth it. Many experts encourage parents to teach toddlers the real words for body parts to send the message that nothing about you is shameful. This is particularly crucial for girls, they say. “Say these words as comfortably as you would ‘arm’ or ‘hand,'” says Dr. William Sears, “so that baby does not pick up any vibrations that you are uneasy about these mysterious parts.”

  • Your kid likes to touch his penis or her vagina while at a friend’s house

    Time to freak out and start having “the talk”? No, because it’s totally normal. But that doesn’t mean you should just let it go. Toddlers don’t need to be scolded about public body exploring, but they do need to receive the message that that sort of thing isn’t accepted in society.

    In the book Questions Kids Ask about Sex: Honest Answers for Every Age, authors, J. Thomas Fitch and Melissa R. Cox of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, explain, “You might say, ‘it’s not appropriate for you to touch your penis or vagina in public. That part of your body is very private.'” Then break out the Purell.

  • He or she loves to whine, whine, and whine again

    Is your little bundle at the age where she whines when you change her diaper? Whines when she doesn’t feel good? When she’s hot, cold, or mildly uncomfortable? Wants attention? Doesn’t want to go somewhere? Is upset about the debt crisis? Other than giving in to your natural instinct, which is to yell directly at the child: “Please shut the f-k up, or I’ll give you a reason to whine,” what can you do?

    According to Dr. Laura Markham of, toddlers whine for numerous reasons. For one, their language is limited, so they don’t have many other communications options. Sign language might help. Otherwise, they might be tired, frustrated, or even bored.

    Markham says it’s pointless to try and reason with young toddlers while they’re whining – unless you want tantrums, “use your words” may be a waste of time. Instead, try and figure out the source of frustration and help him through it before whining becomes habitual. It’s best if you intervene positively. For example, if your child is melting down because his toy wagon keeps getting stuck between a chair and the coffee table, move it. Or get him to play with something else (and throw the wagon in the basement when he’s not looking).

    Also, if your kid is whining because he’s bored, it might be time to turn off the Real Housewives and get on the floor to play. “Bottom line, the more time and attention we give our kids in general, the less likely they are to whine when our attention does need to be divided.” (And then drink when they go to bed.)

  • Dear child enjoys screaming – especially at the supermarket, the coffee shop, on a bus, or an airplane!

    Your son has just received a toy fire truck from grandpa, which he loves. He’s also seen fire trucks in the real world. And now he’s started making a fire engine noise at the top of his lungs everywhere you go. Should you light the toy truck on fire and muzzle the boy? Or try something else?

    Try riding it out, and maybe get some earplugs. Toddlers around 17 months start experimenting with their vocal capacity. That coupled with poor impulse control leads to a major racket. Best to start introducing the concepts of inside and outside voices early, even if it doesn’t work for a while. Another tactic: try tricking him into speaking more softly. “Model a softer voice to him by whispering,” writes Dr. Sears. You can even make it a game. Another trick: make the shhh sign with your finger. Kids this age love to mimic, which in this case may produce the quiet you desire.” Toddlers need to learn that pleasant sounds get pleasant responses,” writes Sears. Or let them scream outside.

  • She hates grandma, or daddy

    Your daughter is happy, sweet, cuddly, loving … except when grandma comes in the room looking for hugs and kisses. That’s when little Sally points at grandma and screams “No!” While you laugh, grandma’s 82-year-old heart breaks. And your toddler maybe gets the wrong message.

    According to developmental psychologist Susanne Ayers Denham, toddlers are moody like everybody else. And when they are mad at dad or grandma, sometimes they are really mad about something else (sorta like when your wife yells at you about leaving your socks on the floor – it’s really about respect – not the socks). Sometimes they are legitimately mad at you (dad ditched for a business trip). And sometimes they are just going through an independent phase.

    Whatever the reason, it doesn’t mean it’s ok to let toddlers be nasty to nana -especially if that entails taking a swing at her. “It’s important to take a very definitive stand against any sort of violent outburst,” writes Denham. “For a toddler, this means setting a clear and simple consequence: ‘No. Mommy doesn’t like that. If you do that, I’ll have to put you down / take you home / take it away.'” Then make sure to follow through.

  • He loves climbing. Up the stairs. On the chairs and cabinets. On the windowsill.

    Does your little one believe he’s Spider-Man? Is he starting to figure out that the step stool you use to help him brush his teeth is great for proving a boost so he can reach the top shelf of your armoire? Do you need to chain him to the floor? Or never ever leave him alone?

    Actually, you’re better off embracing your toddler’s daredevil side, says Jana Murphy, author of The Secret Lives of Toddlers. Instead of fighting the urge, you’re better off making sure little Charlotte knows how to get down without hurting herself. In fact, according to Jennifer Bright Reich, author of the Babyproofing Bible, “provide safe climbing opportunities, because your child is going to climb anyway.”

    So embrace your baby’s daredevil side. Help him become a better climber. Now when it comes charging full speed into the ocean…

  • She has fits. Oh, those wonderful fits

    Did anyone tell you that for certain kids, the terrible twos start at around 15 months? That’s kind of along the lines of ‘pregnancy is actually 10 months long’ – secrets nobody likes to tell you pre-kids. But if your little bundle is on the advanced track, tantrums can happen early and often. The flailing, the crying, the complete communication breakdown. The whining, screaming, and swinging, mixed with a deliberate collapse to the ground and defensive ‘you-can’t-pick-me-up-so-don’t-even-try’ maneuvers. Should you leave your son on the floor at Target?

    Only in some cases, says Dr. Sears. Instead, figure out what kind of tantrum you’re dealing with: “manipulative tantrums” or “frustration tantrums.” If your kid is using tantrums to play you, it could be because of your tantrum-y personality. So you need to fight smart and keep your cool.

    “If you are a volatile person, it’ll be easy for your child to trigger an explosion from you, ending in a screaming match with no winners,” writes Dr. Sears on “You send a clear message when you ignore his fits or walk away.” But if your son or daughter is blowing a gasket out of frustration, you need to shift into comforting mode, while looking to alleviate the frustration. Get down on their level even, and be empathetic. “That encourages him to use words or body language to communicate his feelings and needs so that he doesn’t have to act them out in displays of anger,” writes Sears.

    Regardless, you’re not going to ever wipe out tantrums. They are a fact of toddlerhood. Young brains are not as balanced between calm, artistic left and emotional, impulsive right, explains Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block. “Guess which half runs the show in toddlers?” asks Karp. “Yup, you guessed it. The right. In fact your tot’s emotional right side is so busy and noisy it often ignores the patient voice of the left side telling it to settle down.” So, good luck getting it to listen to your voice.

Article Posted 4 years Ago
share this article
facebook twitter tumblr pinterest
See Comments
what do you think?
share this article
facebook twitter tumblr pinterest
See Comments
what do you think?
what do you think?
close comments
Subscribe to the
Welcome to
Sign Out
Follow us on