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Teaching Toddlers Positive Behavior

Updated on March 3, 2020
denise.w.anderson profile image

Wife of a school administrator, mother of seven children, and grandmother of a growing posterity, Denise understands all aspects of family.

Allow children to do what you do. That is how they learn.
Allow children to do what you do. That is how they learn. | Source

Toddler Characteristics and How to Turn Them Into Learning

Toddlers are at a fun age. They are no longer totally dependent upon the parent, rather they have begun to explore their world. They have a natural curiosity and want to touch, smell, taste, see, and hear. It is a time of limitless learning. Symbols and their meanings are first and foremost, followed by action words, rhyming words, and feelings.

They are also at a very frustrating age. They want to do everything by themselves. This "autonomy" is a process of self-discovery and helps the child develop the power of self and making choices. Parents establish trust with their toddlers as they provide for their sustenance in the way of food, clothing, shelter, warmth and love. Toddlers establish trust with their parents as the parents teach them what they need to know to be happy.

...if we are concerned about our tomorrows, we will teach our children wisely and carefully, for in them lie our tomorrows.

— M. Russell Ballard

In order for the parent to help the toddler learn positive behavior, it must be exhibited by the parent. When the child is curious and wants to be autonomous, guide it into acceptable avenues. Following are some examples:

  • The toddler opens the cupboard door in the kitchen - say "That's momma's" or "Close the door please" then gently show the child how to shut the door. Have a special cupboard full of things the child cannot harm, such as plastic containers and lids. Open this cupboard and say, "Here is Johnny's cupboard." Each time the toddler opens the wrong cupboard, follow the same procedure.
  • The toddler scatters things all over the floor. When play is finished - say "This is the way we put the things back in the cupboard." When the child joins the parent and copies the model, say with a smile, "That's right, you are putting the things back in the cupboard."
  • The toddler grabs a pair of scissors - say, "That's momma's. Give it to momma," and hold out your hand. When the child hands it over, say with a smile. "Thank you."
  • The toddler grabs something another child has - say, "That's Joey's. Give it back to Joey." Model giving an item to Joey. When the child gives it back, say "Thank you." Sometimes, it is necessary to distract the child if two children want the same toy. Get the child involved with another high interest activity. When children are sharing, say "You and Joey are sharing the toy. Thank you." Never force children to share, it will backfire. It is simply best to model it and then catch them doing it and reinforce with praise.
  • The toddler is climbing in a dangerous place - say, "Get down please." If the child does not get down, use the if - then procedure. Say, "If you don't get down yourself, I will get you down." Most children will get down themselves because they want the autonomy. If they do not, take them down. They may initially be angry and throw a fit, but stick with it. It won't take long for them to get the idea.

Children want to do what they see their parents do.
Children want to do what they see their parents do. | Source

Toddlers Love to be Helpers

Toddlers like to be where their parents are. They can help with laundry, dishes, setting the table, baking, cleaning, and other household activities if given instruction on how to complete the task in an acceptable manner. While children are working, note in snapshot manner what they are doing, for example, say "You put the silverware on the table!" Waiting until children are older to begin these types of tasks is a disservice, as they will have already lost interest in being with the parent.

Routines give structure to the toddler's day and allow physical needs to be met. Have a set procedure for waking up, meal times, getting dressed, play time, story time, naps, bathing, and bedtime. Interruption of routines should be rare, and prepared for in advance. Even though the toddler may not be able to understand why, talking through what is going to happen will alleviate potential misbehavior and distress.

Boundaries are necessary for the toddler to be safe. Teaching positive behaviors in the home with respect to personal and property boundaries will give a strong foundation for the making of choices in the future. When offering choices, give acceptable alternatives. For example: "Which would you like to have, carrots or peas?" This gives the toddler a sense of power, but also teaches them that vegetables are important.

Toddlers understand more than we think, and helping them to have positive behaviors is a matter of tapping into their natural sense of curiosity, autonomy, and desire to be with the parent. As we do so, we will be surprised at how good they can be!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Denise W Anderson


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