Not in Public: How to Curb Inappropriate Behavior

Try to Talk It Out

Finding the words that can get a toddler to abandon an undesirable behavior requires some skill. "Lecturing does nothing," says Edward Christophersen, Ph.D., a psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, Missouri. "Your 2-year-old simply won't understand and will tune you out." Keep your instructions short -- the fewer words, the better.

"And whatever you say, be very matter-of-fact and don't overreact," advises Judith Leipzig, a professor of early-childhood and elementary education at the graduate school of Bank Street College of Education, in New York City. "If your child is talking loudly, respond quietly," she suggests. "Try to answer questions with a simple, honest response." (Little Ivan's "Is that man a monster?" could be answered, "No, he's a man.") If the topic is complicated -- "Why is that man so big?" -- it's okay to say, "I don't know" or "That's just the way his body is made." Don't demand that your child apologize. "He was asking a question, looking for some reassurance -- not trying to upset anyone. And he is probably not aware that his voice can be heard by those around him," Leipzig says. "If you are sure the man overheard and is insulted, you might want to apologize briefly yourself."

Children also respond better to explicit directions and positive phrasing, Dr. Christophersen says. So if your toddler decides to yell out the alphabet in the pediatrician's waiting room, saying, "Let's color instead" works better than telling him, "Stop it!"

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