Who's the Boss — You or Your Toddler?

If your toddler acts like he's calling the shots, these smart strategies will (gently) let him know you're in charge.

A Little Rebel

Sometime after his first birthday, your sweet, calm child may morph into a little rebel. He'll kick and scream when you try to lift him onto the changing table. He'll refuse to sit at the dinner table. He'll throw a fit the minute you take out his toothbrush. And you'll wonder, "What happened?"

The simple answer: "Toddlers want to be in charge of their world, so their refusal to do things is all about control, control, control," says Ari Brown, MD, Parents advisor and author of Toddler 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Toddler.

The daily battles that come with raising a 1-year-old can be maddening for even the most patient mom -- unless you know how to defuse them.

Toddler Challenge: Diaper Changes

Why she resists: Toddlers may not even notice a wet or dirty diaper, and they're too busy to sit quietly while you put on a new one.

Get her to agree: "Ask whether she wants to be changed lying down or standing up," suggests Cathryn Tobin, MD, author of The Parent's Problem Solver. "This makes her feel like she's making the decision." You might also distract her by playing a game (such as Patty Cake) or by talking about something she loves (Elmo, anyone?). Another smart strategy: Set aside a special toy that she can play with only when she's on the changing table.

Toddler Challenge: Brushing His Teeth

Why he resists: Your child hates having things forced into his mouth (wouldn't you?). And if he's teething, the bristles can be painful to his tender gums.

Get him to agree: Offer to take turns: Let your child brush your teeth (with your brush) if he'll let you work on his afterward. Or try having him look in the mirror while you brush. Seeing what's going on makes the process more entertaining than annoying. You can also try using some toddler toothpaste (which tastes good and contains no fluoride).

Getting Through the Day

Toddler Challenge: Sitting at Mealtime

Why she resists: Your child may resent her high chair, especially if she sees an older sibling using a regular seat. Other possibilities: She may not be hungry, she may not like the food, or she simply would rather be doing something else.

Get her to agree: If your toddler constantly balks at the high chair, consider getting a kid-size plastic table. This will give her the freedom to get up when she's done. If she won't eat what you've made, offer a small serving of something she likes, then give her what everyone else is having. If she rejects it, let her leave the table. If she consistently refuses to eat at mealtime, cut down on snacks so she'll definitely be hungry.

Toddler Challenge: Bathtime

Why he resists: Your child may not like taking off his clothes (pulling a shirt over his head can be unpleasant). He may also be scared that you'll get soap in his eyes when you wash his face or hair.

Get him to agree: Ease the transition: Let him feel the water first. Then have him stand in the bath while you clean him with a washcloth. Finally, put some toys in the tub, and have him sit down. Many children find a bubble bath more exciting than a regular one. If you don't mind getting wet, you might even get into the tub with him. No toddler can resist the chance to splash Mommy.

Toddler Challenge: Getting Dressed

Why she resists: Your child doesn't understand that pants are more appropriate for outings than pajamas. She'd also much rather keep playing than put on new clothes.

Get her to agree: Let her know there are consequences to her refusal. "If your child won't get dressed, she can't go to the park," says Dr. Brown. You might also let her choose between two outfits. This will make her feel like she has some control over the situation.

Toddler Challenge: Spending Time with Daddy

Why he resists: Toddlers often go through phases when they favor one parent over the other. Your child may be extra-clingy toward you if your spouse works long hours or travels a lot on business.

Get him to agree: Don't force a crying child to read books alone with your spouse. Instead, do storytime and playtime as a threesome for a week. Before you know it, your child will feel comfortable flying solo with Dad.

Tantrum Tamers

Real moms explain how they temper their toddlers' rebellious behavior.

We've tried to limit Lily's defiance by limiting our use of the word "No." Instead we say "Oh, I don't think so" in a disapproving tone.Heather Pierce, San Francisco

My daughter, Sascha, used to throw a fit when I changed her. So I learned to distract her by singing "The Lady with the Alligator Purse" as I swapped out the dirty diaper for a fresh one. Now she stays calm.Lisa Ammerman, Los Angeles

When Eli refuses to get into the car, my husband and I divert his attention by talking about how much fun we'll have at Grandma and Grandpa's house. By the time our son realizes what we're doing, he's already strapped in.Heidi Suppelsa, St. Louis, Missouri

My son, Hudson, loves to says "No, no, no" all the time. Now when he does it, I say "Yes, yes, yes" playfully. He starts laughing, and that gets him into a cooperative mood.Tammy Alvino, New York City

Oh "no"!

Life gets trickier when your child starts defying you. But look on the bright side: This stage, which usually kicks in around 15 months, is a positive development. "Toddlers have to separate themselves from their parents to become independent beings," says Mary Ann LoFrumento, MD, author of Understanding Your Toddler. "The only way they know how to do this is to rebel against you." Your child may become so negative that she even rejects things she wants, like a dish of ice cream or a chance to play at the park. The best advice: Respect her right to say no (within reason). "The idea is to decrease the number of things she has to say 'No' about," says Dr. LoFrumento.

Updated by Andrew Parsons
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