Reining 'Em In
While it's important to encourage your toddler's exuberance and to give him room to explore, it's also critical to teach him that sometimes he simply needs to settle down.
Batten down the hatches. By now, you've probably childproofed your home, but this is a good time to recheck everything: Are electrical outlets covered with plugs that your child can't pry off? Are windows securely guarded and the cords short and out of reach? Do you have temperature controls on faucets and safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers? Think beyond the basics too. Can your 3-year-old move a kitchen stool and use it to climb onto a countertop? Is there a bookcase that your agile child kid could scale -- and topple? Of course, you can't rearrange all your furniture, but if you scope out danger spots, you can close doors or watch your child more carefully when he's around them.
Let her loose. Toddlers need to roam so they can develop confidence in their abilities, so make sure they have plenty of time to be a little noisy and wild and let off steam. "When a toddler can run around safely, it's easier for you to relax," says Dr. Pruett. So just as you schedule "quiet time," carve out lots of "active time" when your child can bang pots and pans together, jump on an air mattress, or toss around a ball. Follow that up with a low-key activity to help her calm down.
Be prepared. When you do need to rein in your toddler, make it easier by announcing your expectations in advance. Be positive: Instead of, "You can't run away from me when we're walking to the park," say "You need to hold my hand until we get to the playground, and then you can play on the swings." When running errands, always bring toys along to keep your child occupied. At the supermarket, have him "help" you by holding a few small items or pointing out the color red whenever he sees it.
Expect meltdowns. Energetic toddlers are prone to tantrums when they get worked up, so be prepared. Don't make too big a deal out of them. Instead, acknowledge your child's feelings ("I know you feel angry that we have to end a playdate"). Then, redirect her attention to something else or move her to a different location. If that doesn't work, try to soothe her with a warm bath or a calming CD.