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8 mistakes parents make with toddlers

Got a toddler? Avoid these 9 parenting mistakes.
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Children don't come with owner's manuals. Alas. Toddlers - full of energy and eager to test your limits as well as their legs - can be particularly tricky to parent. Here are nine parenting mistakes every mum and dad of a toddler should avoid:

1. Saying no but not sticking with it

You know how it is: a parent says no and a tantrum ensues. It’s all a bit stressful and people are staring in the middle of the supermarket/ café/ street, so they give in to keep them quiet.

Solution: Parenting writer and author of Raising Children, Liat Hughes Joshi, advises: "If you say no it needs to mean no, every time! If you cave in for an easier life after a tantrum or if they do that cute face and pleading thing some toddlers seem to have mastered, you’ll pay for it next time and the time after and on when they want something. This is because you’re giving them a message that no doesn’t mean no, it actually means maybe if you nag, cry, or pester enough."

So say "no" only if you mean it, and don't change your mind.

2. Making a threat you won’t follow through with

It’s very easy to pluck a threat out of nowhere in an attempt to get your toddler to behave, but all too often a mum or dad will declare they'll do something quite drastic that they just won’t have the guts to follow through with, or which is disproportionate and wouldn’t be fair on their child. Then they undermine their whole message as the toddler learns not to take their parents' threats seriously.

Solution: "Take even a split second to think through a threat before you say it," says Liat. "There’s no point declaring that they won’t get any Christmas presents or you’ll take away their bedtime cuddly toy if you would never do it - both would be really unfair."

It’s better to have a set system of punishments and rewards in advance, advises Liat, not in the heat of the moment, so that you aren’t clutching for straws and ending up making threats that end up being hollow.

3. Offering too much help

Some parents jump in to help a toddler who is having trouble doing something. Before you do, consider the possibility that by helping your child complete a puzzle or put on a shirt, you may be sending the message that he/she can't do it alone - in other words, that the child is incompetent.

Solution: Children need to learn to tolerate struggle. Of course, there's nothing wrong with offering praise and encouragement.

4. Telling toddlers off long after they misbehaved

"Don’t assume that toddler can make connections across spans of time," says Linda Blair, author of The Happy Child. "They can’t. So if you scold a child for something he did 20 minutes ago they will assume that they’re bad as people. They don’t see anything they’ve done [recently], so they don’t understand."

Solution: If you’re going to scold your child or give them time-out for misbehaviour, then do it immediately upon the misbehaviour.

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