Teaching Acceptable Limits

How to Make Lasting Progress, Starting Now

Don't just say it, show it. Because words alone often fail to get the message across, use your face and tone to convey your lesson. Saying, "Don't touch the stove" with little emotion won't have the power of the same words spoken sternly and accompanied by a sad or angry face.

Likewise, convey a sharp, clear reaction instead of a drawn-out scolding, and then return to a neutral mode. "Stop your reaction so it doesn't turn into a battle," Dr. Gopnik says.

Be consistent. If putting her hand in the dog food is sometimes condemned and other times ignored, a toddler is left wondering, Is this a do or a don't? Then she's tempted to continue experimenting. Repeating again and again the information you want your child to have will eventually result in a lesson learned.

Be a good role model. Your toddler constantly looks to you for information. This means that you, too, have to be on your best behavior -- using please, stifling road rage, and waiting your turn. You can point out your manners to set an example: "See how Mommy gives Daddy part of the newspaper? We're sharing!"

Be realistic. Because some behaviors are just too much to expect from a toddler, parents should take preventive measures, Dr. Rothbaum says. For instance, toddlers instinctively put things in their mouth to find out about them. So make sure barrettes and other potentially harmful small objects are out of your child's reach. Similarly, you may also choose to tie your hair back to prevent pulling or move the television out of your toddler's reach.

Choose your battles. There will inevitably be times when getting a message across to your toddler is impossible. "Everyone who has a 1-year-old knows that if toddlers are tired enough, they can melt down with little or no provocation," Dr. Rothbaum says. If your child is exhausted or hungry, it's probably the wrong time to insist on politeness.

Realize that you simply cannot be on top of every no-no all the time. So decide which issues are important and which you can let slide a little. Safety concerns, such as staying away from electrical sockets and not biting, clearly take priority. But if a behavior is more irritating than hurtful, you may decide to live with it temporarily.

And keep in mind that what you perceive as a don't may look like a wonderful adventure to a toddler whose creativity is starting to bloom. So rather than shout a protest the next time your child pulls every pot out of the cabinet and starts drumming, why not join her and bang out a beat together?

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