How to Calmly Handle Defiant Behavior from Your Toddler

Once children reach about 18 months of age, they begin to realize that they have some control over the world around them. While this is a positive development in terms of building self-confidence, it can also lead to some defiant behavior, including the frequent use of the word “No!”

Many parents wonder how they can help their child continue on the path toward independence without allowing back talk. Thankfully, there are several ways to accomplish this:

  1. Practice prevention. When possible, avoid situations that lead to conflict. If your child is cranky before nap time, that probably isn’t the best time to take them to the grocery store. When children are tired, they are more likely to whine and throw temper tantrums.
  2. Provide choices. If you need to get your child dressed for an outing that requires nice clothes, give your child a choice between two appropriate outfits that you have picked out in advance. This provides them with a sense of control.
  3. Let them know what to expect. If your child has a difficult time transitioning from playtime to bedtime, try to keep a routine so they know what to expect. Bath, snack, story and then bed. If you are at the park and you know your child will have a difficult time leaving, tell them that they have three more trips down the slide before it is time to go. In other words, try not to spring things on them. It also is important not to give in if they beg to go “one more time.” While it may seem easier, this will teach them that whining works!
  4. Acknowledge their feelings. Some children feel that they are not being heard. Let them know that you understand that they are disappointed that they can’t wear pajamas to school but those are the rules. This helps toddlers feel that you understand their perspective.
  5. Pick your battles. Does your child want to wear his Spiderman costume to the grocery store every day? Ask yourself if this is a battle worth fighting. While there are some limits that are non-negotiable – bedtimes or wearing a coat outside in the winter – others are not. The best way to keep you and your child calm is to understand what are the battles worth fighting and which are not.

Finally, it is important to understand that children are not trying to make your life difficult. They are simply expressing their independence and testing boundaries. The calmer you remain, the easier it will be for them to accept those boundaries.

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