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How can I handle a toddler who disobeys?

Toddlers are really in a mini-adolescence. They are struggling mightily with how to act. Whom to be like. "How can I get some power around this place, anyway?" And otherwise asserting themselves in really important, developmentally appropriate ways. When I evaluate toddlers, the ones who worry me the most are those who are quiet, passive little things who don’t cause a minute of struggle for anyone. Those children are either delayed in some form or really repressing themselves, which will cause BIG TROUBLE later on. You don’t want to stamp out a toddler’s powerful, striving little spirit — but you don’t want to give them the upper hand, either. That’s even more destructive down the road.

Now, what to do when your little man flatly refuses to do what he needs to do?  First, make a choice: is this particular issue really worth the power struggle it will create with him? If not, let it go. But sometimes it will be absolutely YES, like staying away from the street or other safety issues, and the things that make you nuts. For me, it’s screaming in the house. 

In those cases, remember, YOU’RE THE BOSS. I am amazed at how often we as parents forget that simple fact. I was engaged in a power struggle with our then two-year-old daughter once, when my husband reminded me: "Just look at the size of her! She’s a little shrimp! How can you let her get to you like that?" Getting that perspective back is crucial. Don’t hesitate to pick your resistant toddler up like a football and put him in that car seat, move him away from the street, or place him in that stroller, if need be. And don’t hesitate to use a short (one minute for each year of age) time-out for major defiant displays. And tell him how you feel in terms he can understand, using a "listen to me, I’m serious" tone of voice. "I don’t like that. No hitting."

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.