A toddler’s job is to explore the limits

The primary job of a parent is to give their child love, food and shelter. Once your toddler begins to toddle, the new task of setting limits arrives.

The primary job of a parent is to give their child love, food and shelter. Once your toddler begins to toddle, the new task of setting limits arrives.

Your loving child needs to learn you will stop her if she hammers on the window, runs into the street, or eats the cat food.

Loving limits are like walls that guide your child down the path of life. Some parents build these walls close together (stricter parents with lots of rules) or far apart (permissive parents with lots of flexibility).

A toddler’s new mobility and growing curiosity forces parents to set up some kind of boundaries.

A toddler may resist your limits, but in the long run it will make him happier. A child without limits feels out of control, insecure, and unloved.

If that is the case, why do toddlers rebel against their parent’s rules and limits?

• Toddlers need to push limits in order to explore.

Discovery through exploring, touching, jumping on, are her greatest joy. This may feel like she is pushing the limits all the time.

• These little adventurers are run by impulses and don’t quite understand consequences.

As parents we can’t expect a two-year-old to use good judgment and always stay by our side in a parking lot.

• Sometimes rules are confusing. Limits can seem strange to a toddler.

For example she may think, ‘jumping on the couch is tons of fun and you want to stop me?’

• Parent’s expectations can be too high. Usually this happens when parent doesn’t know how normal the behaviour is. It’s unrealistic to expect an 18-month-old to share. A two-year-old shouldn’t be expected to sit still during a wedding ceremony. A child just might rebel against standards that are too strict.

• Toddlers have bad days. They are experiencing tons of new emotions. We all have good days and bad days and sometimes freak out over something that later seems minuscule.

Here are seven general rules for setting limits successfully.

• Have appropriate expectations. If your expectations are too high, you are setting up your child for frustration. Keep in mind your toddler’s physical, mental, verbal, and emotional abilities.

• Pick your battles that you know you can enforce. For example, you can’t make your child apologize, share, or use the potty. If you are in a struggle with your toddler that you know you can’t win, change your tactics and use diplomacy.

• Don’t use too many words. Keep statements brief and positive. If he isn’t listening to you, it could be because you are too wordy. Keep comments short and sweet and use a non-judgmental voice.

• Be consistent and predictable. By consistently enforcing your rules, your child will develop a clear sense of right and wrong.

• Use your child’s language. To get a message across use short phrases, repetition, an expressive voice, and facial and body gestures. Narrate your child’s actions and feelings back to her.

• Avoid mixed messages. Don’t smile or use a sweet voice when you are serious. He might smile back at you while he is misbehaving. This isn’t because he is disrespectful. He knows that when he smiles at you, you usually smile back. Lower your voice and keep a straight face so you are not sending mixed messages.

• Be creative. With chores, try to engage the toddler in ways that are less confrontational and more fun. Use whispering, a funny voice, sing a tidy up song, or show her how her blocks can march to the container.

When a toddler misbehaves he can drive us bonkers. Then it’s our job as parents to demonstrate dignity, restraint, and diplomacy.

If you wanted to, you could try to halt every act of defiance. This force will backfire and stunt your child’s confidence or fuel resentment.

The best way is to build this long term bond of respect is through gentleness, fairness, and patience.

Monique Nicholls is a Healthy Families Home Visitor at Family Services of Central Alberta. For more information about parenting, play groups, or developmental stages, visit www.fsca.ca or call 403-343-6400.