Managing The Toddler And Small Child


Many parents feel the best thing about toddlers and small children is school is not far away ! Yep, toddlers make some parents wonder why they had kids as they demand your attention anywhere, anytime, and anyhow. Parenting this age requires patience, a calm exterior and understanding.  The temperament or nature of the child will be a major factor in how challenging these couple of years are. As parents we have control over the environment and our parenting responses.  As mentioned in the parenting discussion,  ensure the environment is supportive, not too stressful, and the child is  healthy and getting enough sleep.


Guidelines to managing the Toddler.

This section will primarily deal with the parenting challenges presented by the young child.  The most common concerns that parent’s have include:

1. Tantrums shutterstock_142162315
2. Lashing out at siblings or others
3. Crying repeatedly

All these behaviours to a certain degree are normal responses to frustration. Tantrums in particular can be spectacular and may involve screaming, hitting, vomiting, spitting, throwing themselves on the floor, head-banging, running away. Sometimes there will be repeated episodes in a day, particularly if they are unwell or have been sleep deprived.  So here are some parenting rules that are acceptable methods of lessening a particular behaviour. You will also need consistence, calmness, persistence.

  1. Assess why the behaviour occurs. Sometimes the behaviour is accidentally rewarded. For instance if a tantrum is rewarded ‘ to keep the peace’ the child will realise it is an effective strategy.
  2. Many parents can detect when their child is heading towards a behaviourial challenge. At this age distraction is very important. If you can intervene before the behaviour occurs you might be lucky.
  3. Avoid activities that will make behaviour management difficult, for instance grocery shopping. If you have no choice, make the trip short and engage your child’s ‘help’.
  4. Reward your toddler or child  for using words and ‘catch’ her or him not having a tantrum’. This means stickers, stamps and small age appropriate toys. (Try and avoid food as a reward.)
  5. Acknowledge and ‘notice’  your child when possible. This is called attending. This does not mean you have to spend hours playing with him or her but simply talking and chatting about the activities he or she is doing will make the child feel involved.
  6. As much as possible ignore tantrums. This may mean a quick reassuring hug but then move away and allow the tantrum to ‘run out of steam’.
  7. When a child hits or bites – pick him or her up calmly and remove to another part of the room and place him on the floor or a small chair. often a tantrum will ensue which should be ignored.

What not to do

  1. Have a tantrum yourself – if you feel you will lose control then take yourself to another room (time out)
  2. Smack, hit, yell have not been shown to make any difference. The smack will shock the child then he or she will learn from this and will start using smacking as a weapon on others.
  3. Give in or reward the tantrum – this is hard to do, particularly in public.

So with this in mind here is a quick on the go reminder. From the age of 30 months most children will understand some simple concepts and instructions. Remember the letters A P C.  

A stands for anticipate – which means as a parent anticipate a vulnerable period where a problem might occur.

P stands for Prepare – this means yourself and the toddler. Have a plan or exit strategy if it gets too challenging. Prepare the toddler by simple instructions  by letting them know exactly what will happen.

C stands for consequences – which means a simple reward if the toddler behaves ‘nicely’ and missing out on the reward if behaviour becomes challenging.

The example we will use here is a the need for a quick shop and taking a nearly 3yo boy.  

A – anticipate this is an opportunity for a tantrum, but also an opportunity for your boy to earn a reward.
P – Prepare the child.
C – Age appropriate consequences

“Mummy needs to go to the shops quickly. If you speak nicely and do not have a tantrum then you will get a prize. If you decide to have a tantrum there is no prize.”  Keep this very simple and concrete and if possible get the toddler to repeat. “no tantrum means prize”.   So go shopping, engage his help and remind him what will happen if he behaves well.  if there is no tantrum outside the shop get down to his level and praise him. Then reward him with his Prize.  For a boy of this age it should be a simple little ‘cheap’ toy, wrapped up in tissue paper. For a slightly older child it might be a sticker and if he earns three stickers in a day then he gets to watch a favourite show or play a video game. It is much better not to use food as a reward.  If he decides to have a tantrum, then cut the shopping short, pop him under your arm and remove him to the car. No reward.

Rewards and Timing

Make rewards, simple cheap and effective. Stickers and stamps are useful for a short period but probably need to lead to something as the child starts to count. So three stickers means getting to go to the park, or watch a favourite DVD or have a book read to them. These rewards need to be something they ‘feel proud to have earnt’.  Make sure they can be delivered very shortly after the reward is earned (as mentioned in the example).

Time out

This is a last resort negative consequence and is  effective when coupled with positive consequences.  It can take many forms but the principle is the same. The child is removed from all attention until he or she is calm and quiet. This

  • Enables a child to cease a behaviour and learn strategies to manage emotions
  • Ensures the behaviour is unrewarded
  • Allows the parent to ‘take stock’ and calm down if necessary (parental time out!)

For the toddler time out can start around the age of 24 months. When a child’s behaviour is knowingly destructive then the child is calmly and firmly placed into a quiet safe room with little distractions and is not allowed to leave until he or she is quiet. The parent should not interact with the child during this period except for reminding him or her of the rules. “When you are quiet for 2 minutes you will be allowed out”. Here are some dos and don’ts

  • Try not to allow the child out of time out if he or she is still crying or is still upset.
  • Try not to use the bedroom for time out as this should be a room for sleeping and playing.
  • Try not to use a bathroom because toileting problems can become compounded.
  • Do not reason or lecture a child as this has not been shown to have any effect.
  • Once time out is finished there is a fresh start. If the behaviour occurs again then repeat the time out.

Remember frustrated children will kick and scream so make sure there are no breakables, remove shoes and ensure safety. The child will soon stop as his audience has gone. He will only continue if he thinks he will have some success.

The critics of time out feel that it is potentially frightening for a child. However there is no evidence for this. In addition the alternatives to this form of management have traditionally been yelling and smacking. These methods have not been shown to be effective and provide a very poor example to children. Daycare centres and schools have a similar system. The child is often retired to the ‘thinking room’ or ‘solution room’.

When should I get my Child Assessed ? 

As mentioned toddlers and small children can be particularly challenging for some parents. It is a common presentation to paediatricians and child health nurses and usually some reassurance that this behaviour will eventually settle is needed. However there are situations where the behaviour is extreme and clearly this is not within the acceptable limits of normal. Such situations include

  • Where daycare or kindergarten are most concerned about the level of difficult behaviour.
  • When this behaviour is coupled with speech language delay or other developmental concerns.
  • When the parent is afraid they may ‘hurt’ the child.

This is an snapshot of the current guidelines for managing children of this age.  One of the best resources is the Raising children network for some great articles, videos and forums.

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