Creative Child

4 Behavior Strategies for Toddler Troubles That Work!

by Brittany Ferrell


4. Tune Out and Tune In:

Another one of my pals from my Psychology days was good ol’ Sigmund Freud. Freud introduced us to the concept of our personalities being composed of the id, ego, and superego. The id is what we are born with and it is pleasure seeking and avoids pain at all costs. The id is impulsive and demands immediate satisfaction. Sound familiar? When Freud was describing the id, he could have very well been describing a toddler.

What does a toddler seek after all basic needs have been met? That’s right…attention! It's a toddler’s world and we are just living in it. Your toddler wants your attention and he wants it now. You know what happens if you do not feed your toddler’s id. You will be welcomed right into Meltdown City. 

If you know the cause of your toddler’s misbehavior is the need for your attention, what can you do? Your toddler is the center of your universe, but you cannot bestow all of your attention onto your toddler all of the time. It is physically impossible. However, there are a few strategies that just may save your sanity and save your toddler’s necessitous id.

  • Tune Out and Tune In- Put down your electronic devices and turn off the television. Give your toddler your undivided attention. Read a story, play a game, or just snuggle. Even if it is only for a few minutes, it will make a huge difference in your child’s behavior. As a work from home mom, I have to stop and do exactly this at regular intervals throughout the day. The key is to tune in before the meltdown ensues and to be consistent.
  • Ask for Help- Yes, you can ask for another caregiver to chip in on the attention (grandparents work great), but I actually mean ask your toddler for help. Need to cook dinner? Set your toddler up with a bowl and a whisk. Need to clean the house? Give your toddler a dusting rag. Need to go to the grocery store? Ask your toddler to help you hold a few of the items. Your toddler will begin to realize that helping and gaining responsibility equals positive attention.
  • Acknowledge their need for attention- I work from home and I am very dedicated to my job. My daughter may be too little to fully understand why my job is important, but I explain my plight regardless. Before she reaches the point of desperation, I make eye contact and let her know that I see that she wants my attention. I kiss her head or make the “I love you” sign in sign language, if I am otherwise occupied. Acknowledging her feelings and distress resulting from my divided attention helps her realize that I am here, I understand, and it is going to be okay.

When it comes to attention, it is important to realize that toddlers cannot differentiate between negative attention and positive attention.

Negative attention is still attention.

Skinner would tell you that you are actually rewarding your child when you scold your child for misbehavior. Of course, you must acknowledge and redirect misbehavior that may cause injury or harm to your child, but some misbehavior you can ignore. For example, my daughter attempted to climb atop our dining room table the other day. I had to acknowledge this behavior, explain that she could get hurt, and prevent her from attempting this feat again.

That same day, my daughter decided to let out an ear-piercing squeal every time she saw something she liked. While I applaud her excitement at this marvelous world, I would rather not suffer hearing loss. I explained that she could clap her hands instead and then ignored her squeals until she got the hint. When she began clapping and bringing her squeal down to a dull roar, I rewarded her with praise, hugs, and cheers at appropriate volume. 

When it comes to your toddler’s behavior, remember to think positively. It is easy to focus on the misbehaviors and the tantrums, but think about all of the things your toddler can do that is nothing short of amazing. They have already learned so much in their short lives! Think positively about what a great job you are doing, as well. Nobody said parenting was going to be easy, but the rewards are endless.

Skinner would say that is what keeps us going on our toughest days. Freud would say your little ones are well on their way towards developing the super ego, the part of the psyche that has learned to control impulses and understand the morals and values passed down by parents and other role models.

I say, take a deep breath and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back!

Brittany Ferrell has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Education. She has worked as an elementary school teacher for twelve years and was awarded "Teacher of the Year" 2011. In February 2014, Brittany and her wonderful husband, Jerome welcomed their miracle, Madeline Olivia to the world and she has chronicled her struggle to become a parent in her published memoir, "From Dream to Dream Come True: My Journey to Motherhood". Brittany writes about her fairy tale dream come true of motherhood on her blog, A Mama Tale.

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