The crying-for-everything attitude that comes with toddlerhood can be trying on a parent, but it’s a normal part of her growing and learning process. As your kiddo explores about the world around her, she’s going to experiment with how to express herself, and you need to know how to handle these situations. The way you react to the crying fits will help determine whether she continues this behavior or if she decides to take a different approach.
Remain calm and controlled. Be a good role model and choose your own behavior choices wisely. Reacting by yelling, name-calling or making negative comments will only teach her to demonstrate those behaviors. Child development experts with the Kids Health website point out that physical punishment, especially for toddlers, is not advisable. A toddler is too young to connect her negative behavior to the physical punishment; she will just remember the physical pain.
Teach her how to use her words instead of crying. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, temper tantrums and emotional outbursts are part of normal development for children 1 to 3 years of age. Your child has strong emotions and may have a hard time expressing them. When she starts to cry for an item, you can say, “I see that you’re frustrated. Can you tell me about it?” or “I understand that you want that candy and that it makes you upset that you can’t have it, but we don’t eat candy before dinner.”
Offer choices. To avoid a struggle and give your child a sense of power, give her two equally acceptable scenarios and allow her to pick one. For instance, you can ask her “Do you want to wear the fuzzy pink jammies or the pjs with flowers?” or “Do you want peas or sweet potato with dinner?” Either way you get her to do what you want, but she will enjoy having a say in the matter and less likely to have a crying fit.
Reward her for positive behavior choices. Offer praise, smiles, kisses and hugs when she uses her words to ask for items or to express her feelings instead of crying. This will reinforce the positive behavior, and she will be more inclined to repeat the behavior choice. For example, you could discuss a reward before running errands and tell her that if she can show you good behavior, she can earn two stickers. Reward her afterward, but not before. The latter is considered bribery and it doesn’t work in the long run because the motivation is gone.
Ignore the crying. You don’t want to fold and give her what she’s crying for. This will only teach her that she can cry to get what she wants. It may be difficult not to hand over a lollipop when she’s doing a full-blown meltdown in the middle of the grocery store, but giving her the lollipop will signal to her that all she has to do is cry long enough to get you to give it to her.
Put her in a time out if the crying persists. This is not meant to be a horrible punishment; it’s a time for her to be removed from the immediate situation and calm down. The AAP suggests one minute for each year of age and placing her in a safe area, such as on a chair by the blank wall. When the time is up, get down to her eye level and talk about the issue. Discuss how she can deal with the problem next time, instead of just crying for it. Explain that crying will not get her what she wants, but words might.
- HealthyChildren.org: What About Punishment?
- HealthyChildren.org: Changing Your Child's Behavior
- HealthyChildren.org: Temper Tantrums
- Kids Health: Discipling Your Child
- Kids Health: Taming Tempers
- MedlinePlus: Temper Tantrums
- Mayo Clinic: Temper Tantrums in Toddlers: How to Keep the Peace
- Mayo Clinic: Parenting Tips: How to Improve Toddler Behavior
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