Three Tips for Parenting Toddlers

toddlers“Toddler” is generally categorized as the ages between 18 months and 3 years. During this time children cannot rely on words to communicate their needs.  Even toddlers who are particularly verbal have a difficult time identifying emotions and communicating them in a controlled way.

Strong emotions usually create a sensation in our bodies; excitement, anger, surprise all have a clear physical response.  Toddlers are dictated by these impulses and their bodies usually “speak” their emotions long before their words can.  Toddlers have been known to hit, throw, shriek and jump when feeling strong emotions.

Developmentally, toddlers are trying to create order in their environment. They like things to be predictable and they enjoy knowing what is going to happen next. Toddlers love repetition; the same book, the same game, the same toy again and again.

Be A Detective.  Watch your toddler. Observe their play and their interactions with other children.  Give a narrative vocabulary for their lives.  “You’re pushing the trucks on the rug.” “You like playing with the dolls.” “You are eating all your strawberries.”  These things sound boring or obvious, but to a toddler it is interesting to hear the words that describe their immediate actions.  It also communicates to your toddler, “I see you. I understand you.” This skill becomes helpful when your toddler is experiencing difficult emotions.

Use language to DESCRIBE your child’s emotions. “You want the toy that John is playing with.” “It’s hard to leave when you’re having fun.” “You’re really mad that you can’t have the toy.” These phrases help your child understand their emotions. It gives them vocabulary to associate with their strong emotional impulses. And, most importantly, it lets your child know you understand their little world.

Use a Three Part Message to set limits: A simple description of your expectations is all toddlers need to understand what is expected.

·         First, state the behavior you have a problem with in a neutral statement: “You’re pulling the dog’s tail.” “You’re pounding on the table with your spoon.” This makes it easier for your toddler to understand exactly what you’re talking about.

·         Second, state what is not acceptable. “Please don’t hurt the dog.” Or “Stop pulling the tail.” Again, it is simple and clear for your toddler to understand. And, most importantly and

·         Third, tell your toddler what they CAN do; “Please be gentle with the dog” or “Use the spoon to eat your yogurt”. Saying this in a calm way helps your toddler decide to move on to an activity that is more appropriate. This part of the limit communicates to your child, I know you can do better and I’m here to help. It strengthens your connection with your child and helps your child feel supported in changing their behavior.

And always remember… toddlers need lots of repetition to learn. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself describing emotions and setting the same limits over and over again.

Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)


  1. mary
    9 months ago

    I have a 3 month old, 2 & 3 months old and a four year old. I can’t help but find myself shouting when giving instructions to my 2 yr old. I know she wants attention but it gets really difficult to cope when you have all wanting attention. I don’t like it when I shout at her.


    • Abby Bordner
      5 months ago

      Yes, it’s easy to get into a negative trap when you expect you’ll have to yell to be heard and your daughter learns she doesn’t have to listen unless you’re yelling. I’d suggest only give her commands that you’re willing to assist her in completing. Ask her once in a calm voice, if you need to request a second time plan to become involved. Not in a mean or angry way but to guide her until the request is completed. At 2 years old, she will need your assistance. You an also use, “I’m going to count to 3, then I will help you (not turn into a monster and get angry). Counting to three is a time frame she can understand and you’ll just put on her shoes for her or help her get into the car if she hasn’t done it on her own by the time you get to 3. Good luck!