If You Understand These 3 Things About Toddlers, They'll Be Much Better Behaved

Shifting to this view of toddlerhood has amazing benefits.

Our culture portrays toddlerhood as a time of children striving for independence. However, this age-old cultural paradigm has it all wrong. From 12 to 36 months, kids are transitioning from one-sided relationships to mutually responsive ones with their parents.

Ample research exists on the idea that the healthy parent-toddler dynamic is mutually responsive. What does it mean to be responsive? It requires only two things: reacting quickly and reacting positively, especially when you can’t or won’t do what the child wants. We can do this for our children, and we can support them in learning to do this for us.

When we change our view of toddlerhood from one of trying to exert separateness to one of learning about what it means to be in a relationship with another person, this will result in significant adjustments to our interactions with our kiddos... for the better. Try these three approaches:

1. See a child’s NO as a request for connection.

This is why turning our demands into a game tends to melt little Aiden’s “no” away. It’s not because we’re tricking him, or trying to make him forget his need for individuality. When we respond to our child's request for connection, our kid is better able to be responsive to us in return.

2. Avoid power struggles.

Rather than focusing on who wins or loses, we can realize that by helping Ruby do what we ask, we’re actually supporting her as she develops that tough skill of being responsive. By doing this, we can also teach self-regulation—another skill with lifelong benefits. This change in our viewpoint allows us to maintain high levels of warmth while enforcing our strict standards, and this is the secret to “authoritative” parenting as described in many academic studies.

3. Offer ways that even very young children can contribute meaningfully.

A number of studies show the benefits people obtain from helping others, but very young children are rarely given opportunities to assist in ways that they can see make a difference to those they love. Even 18-month-olds can unload the silverware, or tear lettuce for the salad. Two-year-olds can lend a hand with setting and clearing the table or putting away clean laundry. Three-year-olds can assist with making beds, collecting dirty laundry from around the house, rinsing dishes at the sink and much more. These are all activities that we should allow them to do with us, while we slow down and make it an enjoyable, connecting experience for them. They will know that they’re pitching in with real work, and a few years down the road they’ll be truly competent in these areas.

When we recalibrate our mindset regarding what the toddler years are all about, we can strengthen our relationships with the young children in our lives. We increase our day-to-day enjoyment of one another, and set them up with a strong foundation of what a healthy relationship feels like. It’s time to make that change.

Written by Faith Collins for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.