A strong-willed toddler needs boundaries while having some choices.

Tips on Strong Willed Toddlers

by Shelley Frost

A strong-willed toddler gives you plenty of parenting stories to share such as insisting on wearing swimming gear to school or throwing a temper tantrum of epic proportions when he refuses to eat his green beans. Whether you call your toddler strong-willed, stubborn or spirited, his desire to control the situation often translates into temper tantrums and a battle of wills on even simple tasks such as getting dressed. Successfully parenting a stubborn toddler means encouraging his independent spirit while getting him to follow your directions.

1. Set Boundaries

Boundaries keep all of that independence contained to prevent dangerous adventures such as scaling the bookcase. The boundaries come in the form of rules and expectations that you enforce consistently. Some boundaries deal with safety such as not playing near the street. Others aim to shape behavior such as no yelling indoors. Your toddler learns a loud voice is not acceptable inside the house but he can be loud when he plays outdoors. It's not always easy, but consistently enforcing the boundaries shows your toddler you mean business. Of course, you have flexibility as a parent, but too much bending shows your toddler he's only one temper tantrum away from getting you to cave.

2. Offer Options

Choices give your toddler some control over the situation so he doesn't feel the need to resist. The options allowed depend on the setting and the potential risk. For example, when crossing the street, you might give your toddler the option to hold your hand or allow you to carry him so he crosses safely. In settings with less risk such as choosing an outfit or snack, the available options are more flexible. At snack time you might offer three or four healthful choices and let your toddler choose one. When you get your toddler dressed, present him with a few outfits or let him choose a favorite shirt and offer two or three pants options.

3. Engage Your Toddler

Engaging a strong-willed youngster in toddler-friendly activities focuses his determination on a constructive project. Instead of leaving a path of destruction and mess, you keep his energy focused on activities you deem safe, for the sake of your toddler and your home. As any parent knows, a toddler won't sit still long, so several short activities are more compatible with his short attention span than one long activity. Examples include coloring, dressing up, putting on a puppet show, playing house and playing outside.

4. Keep Perspective

You might feel as though you're constantly saying "no" or disciplining your toddler, but stubborn independence is par for the course when it comes to toddlers. Despite being told he cannot do something, a toddler wants to try it himself. Responding to your toddler's personality and providing a safe environment to work within keeps him safe without restricting his growth. You can't keep your daring toddler in a bubble, but you can improve his odds of playing safely by childproofing his play areas. You've likely learned you can't let him out of your sight for too long. While supervising his play, gently redirect his behavior by making suggestions to change what he's doing. If you find yourself excessively frustrated with your toddler's behavior, contact a child development expert or health-care provider. Getting assistance from someone trained is particularly important if your toddler's strong-willed personality affects normal activities.

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