There are two things from my days as a behavior interventionist that save me here.
One: Don’t make a demand or promise anything unless you can follow through. If you tell a toddler you’ll take them to Disneyland if they eat their whole dinner, you had darn better take them to Disneyland when they clean their plate.
We had a situation recently where our toddler refused to poop in the toilet. It was such a problem that we told him we would take him to Disneyland if he went 3 times in the potty. He did, so we went.
Two: Consistency. Do the same thing for the same behavior. Do it. 10 times. 100 times. 1000 times. Just do it.
Toddlers like to push. They like to test boundaries. They like to push your buttons. But they’re not trying to be mean. Okay, maybe there are some toddlers who absolutely know what they’re doing and enjoy getting you riled up (just stay calm and good luck!).
Toddlers just want to see what’s okay and what’s not. They need to know how far they can go. They need limits and boundaries. But they need you to tell them what that is, how far is okay. They want to know how many times they can get away with doing something before you respond.
Oh, I almost forgot, there’s another thing I learned. The first time a behavior happens is the best time to teach what comes next. If you let it go, they learn they get to try again. For example, if the toddler throws a block at a wall and you ignore it, the toddler will throw another block. You tell them to stop, but don’t do anything. The toddler throws another block. And another. And another. And another. Until you’ve had enough and make them stop. The next day, they throw a block at the wall. You tell them to stop. But they don’t. Because they learned they can do it over and over and over until you really step in.
Don’t let that happen. When bad behavior starts, nip it in the bud right away. When good behavior happens, reward it right away. Be consistent. Oh, and, make sure it happens right away so they know what the punishment or reward is for.
Cognitively, toddlers are not in a place where they understand where you are coming from. Their world is all about what they see, know, and understand. I always take the time to explain everything to my toddler. I’ve been doing it since he was a baby. Whether or not he really understands is another story, but he accepts my reasons and knows I always have one, otherwise he gets to keep doing what he’s doing because I have no good reason.
Toddlers are testing and experimenting. It can be frustrating, but remember they are growing, learning, and discovering the boundaries and appropriate behavior.
What I do
- I always know what our boundaries are so I can teach and reinforce them at any given time. And I’m consistent. The same thing happens every time. It takes time, but he learns after a few tries.
- I think fast. Do I want him to continue to do something? Yes? Then I reinforce it. No? Then I stop what he’s doing, let him know the consequence, and reinforce.
- I let him test his boundaries. How far is he willing to go, and how far am I willing to let him go? I let him get frustrated. I let him sort things out. Most importantly, I let him figure out what he is okay with, too. He needs to learn his own boundaries.
Toddlers are testing. Toddlers are always pushing. They need to know how far they can go. Annoying, exhausting, but they need it.
What do you do when your toddler starts pushing the envelope?
Surviving Toddlerhood series
- Surviving Toddlerhood, Part 1: Have Some Psychology
- Surviving Toddlerhood, Part 2: What Being a Behavior Interventionist Taught Me
- Surviving Toddlerhood, Part 3: The Explorer
- Surviving Toddlerhood Guest: Not Toddler Advice by Kristy of Coffee & PJs
- Surviving Toddlerhood Guest: Delightful Motherhood on Why Toddlers Need Attention