Creative Child

4 Behavior Strategies for Toddler Troubles That Work!

by Brittany Ferrell


2. Communicate:

You know how they say communication is the key to any relationship? This statement definitely holds true for your relationship with your toddler.

I noticed my daughter was often frustrated because I did not understand what she was trying to communicate to me. Sometimes she wanted to tell me she was hungry or thirsty and sometimes she just wanted to tell me that she discovered something new and interesting. For this, I turned to baby sign language and it made all of the difference in the world. My daughter and I are now able to carry on entire conversations in sign language. She is able to tell me what is bothering her in sign language, thus eliminating the meltdown before it ensues.

If you have not tried baby sign language yet, do not underestimate the value of the other ways in which we communicate with our toddlers using our bodies. If your toddler is frustrated and the melting is beginning, start by making eye contact. Let your toddler know that you are paying attention to what he is trying to communicate. Keep your voice even, as yelling will only cause your toddler to engage in contest of who can be louder (and your toddler will win!)

Use gestures and allow your child to point to the source of their distress. Try to relax your body. I know. I get it. I cringe too when my daughter suddenly lets out an ear piercing shriek in the grocery store, but if you can lower those shoulders and unfurrow those brows, your child will respond in kind. If you are stressed, they are stressed. If you relax, they will relax.

3. Use Positive Reinforcement:

Our good friend, Mr. Skinner, provided us young psychology majors with the idea of positive reinforcement. Skinner claimed that we could strengthen the behaviors we want with the use of rewards. In our labs, we provided rats with food whenever they pushed the lever we desired. This ideology can be applied to modifying your toddler’s behavior.

The goal is to encourage your child to behave in the ways we deem as positive, so she will continue to behave in that manner. For example, every time my daughter pets our dog in a nice, gentle manner, I say, “Good job! Those are excellent and gentle pets!” followed by a hug and a kiss. I am rewarding her behavior with verbal praise, recognition, and affection.

Rewards do not have to be material. In fact, intrinsic rewards such as praise, positive attention, and affection tend to leave a more lasting impression. If you have children older than the toddler age, try offering a reward of spending time with you, over extra computer time, and you will be amazed at the results!

Although Skinner talked a great deal about negative reinforcement and punishment, I have found that rewarding my daughter’s exceptional behavior immediately and consistently has naturally curbed her less desirable behaviors. For example, when she would tug on our dog’s ear instead of giving nice pets, she did not receive the hoopla and fanfare and thus, stopped tugging. (I also have a very patient dog.)

As parents, we have a habit of focusing on our children’s negative behaviors that we would like to extinguish. If we can direct our attention instead to all of the many ways our children behave in positive and appropriate ways; the less desirable behaviors will naturally begin to taper off.

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