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How To Discipline A Defiant Toddler Without Losing Your Patience
  • We’re sure you’ve faced this scenario several times with your toddler: You tell her “no,” or “stop that,” and she’d look straight into your eyes while continuing the very thing you asked her not to do. It’s incredibly frustrating that you can’t help but wonder — is your little one testing you on purpose?

    Defiance is part of a child’s normal development and it’s how they gain confidence. “Kids this age are realizing they can assert themselves and arguing with you is one way they gain confidence,” child psychiatrist Dr. John Sargenttells Parents.

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    How to discipline a defiant toddler

    It doesn’t mean, however, that you can let them get away with their attitude. As a parent, it’s your job to take control of the situation and avoid a power struggle with your tot. Here are ways to establish boundaries, and teach your child to manage their behavior and  communicate well — all without you losing your patience.

    1. Don’t take it personally.

    Dealing with this kind of toddler behavior can be draining, but don’t think that your toddler is trying to annoy you on purpose. “Toddlers do not wake up in the morning with the intention of making their parents’ day miserable,” reminds Lisa Milligan, a child therapist at Strides Toronto, a non-profit agency that provides a variety of mental health and developmental support services to children, youth, and families, in an article by Today’s Parent.

    “When little kids respond to something with a big emotion or behavior that contradicts what they’ve been asked to do, they’re actually looking to their parents or caregivers to help them handle their feelings with empathy and understanding,” Milligan adds.

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    2. Anticipate their defiance.

    Raising a toddler means being attuned to their mood, so you can plan in advance for moments that you know are going to be tricky for your child to manage. For example, if your toddler is up for playtime, followed by bath time, discuss the schedules and include possible consequences if he refuses to wrap up playing, like just picking him up and taking him to the bathroom.

    Remember that kids this age do not have a sense of time, so “giving warnings in more concrete terms (e.g. “three more times down the slide” instead of “five more minutes”) can help children understand them,” explains parenting author and child psychologist Vanessa Lapointe to Today's Parent.

    Even with these guidelines in place, toddlers can still act stubborn. When it happens, take a deep breath and empathize. Enforce the boundaries firmly but kindly, says Lapointe.

    3. Pick your battles.

    So, your toddler doesn’t want to get dressed or refuses to eat. Pick your battles, according to Lapointe. Stay calm and let them know that you understand that transitions are hard for them, too.

    A good solution is to provide them with choices. Offering your toddler options not only makes him feel in control, but you are developing life skills such as decision-making and independence.

    Make sure to start simple and limit the options, so as not to overwhelm them. Choosing between a red or blue shirt is already a significant accomplishment, which empowers and fuels their self-esteem.

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    If your little one throws a tantrum as you try to discipline them, it’s ok to pause. As Lapointe notes, “Collect their tears with compassion, and move along.”

    Take this time to calm yourself down, as well. Raising toddlers is stressful, so know that it’s okay to feel exhausted. Take a couple of breaths and then move on — it will give you strength for next time.

    What to do when your toddler hits others? Click here for tips on how to handle your little one's aggressive behavior.

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