What to do to make the screaming stop.

Q. My 18-month-old has started having tantrums whenever I say no to him. The other day at the store, I didn't let him push the stroller -- he couldn't see where he was going and would've run into people. He screamed his head off. What can I do?

A. Congratulations, you've entered the toddler years! This means your 18-month-old is pretty much immune to distraction techniques. He knows what he wants and has the know-how and physical skills to work toward the goals he sets for himself. But he is not yet a logical or rational being -- so forget any strategies that include reasoning with him.

First, pat yourself on the back for doing such a great parenting job. You have clearly nurtured your son's self-confidence and eagerness to learn, two ingredients vital for his healthy development. But curious, confident kids can also be a handful because they want to do everything by themselves. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to encourage your son's growing independence while keeping him safe and keeping yourself sane:

  • Offer alternatives. If your son wants to push the stroller but is a danger to himself and others, explain that in stores only grown-ups can push strollers. Tell him that he can push the stroller in the park or backyard when you get home. Or get him a toy stroller that he can navigate while you push the big one.
  • Be his coach. When he's frustrated because he can't do it himself, label his feelings: "It makes you so mad when you can't get the block in the right hole!" Then introduce him to the word "help." Give him the assistance he needs to master the challenge without doing it all for him. Hold your hand over his, for instance, as you drop the square block into the square hole. That will help him feel like he's been part of the solution.
  • Let your child practice new skills, within limits. If your son wants, say, to pour his own milk, pull a stool up to the sink and let him try to pour from a child-size plastic pitcher. If that's not possible, explain that you will pour the milk, but that after breakfast he can pour water from plastic cups either outdoors or in the tub.
  • Invite him to be your helper. Involve your son in real tasks: At home, he can pitch in with mixing pancake batter or tossing laundry into the dryer; at the store, he can count out the apples as he drops them into the bag you're holding.

Rebecca Parlakian, also of Zero to Three, contributed to this column.

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the May 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.

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