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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.

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