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Terrible two parenting is hard enough! Now, how about parenting a strong-willed toddler in their terrible twos?


Actual conversation in our household…

Daddy: Riley, I said, don’t touch that.  Your hands are dirty.  If you don’t listen again, I am going to take away a toy as a consequence.

Riley (our 2.5-year-old daughter): Well, Daddy… I guess you’re going to have to take away my toy then.

Man oh man, I thought the newborn phase was demanding until my daughter hit her terrible twos.  Which BTW really wasn’t terrible twos per se because it really started around 18 months.

So, not only do you have to deal with your toddler’s basic needs (eat, sleep, diapers, safety) now you have to deal with their emotional needs and how they interact with the world.

Basic needs + emotional roller coasters + tantrums + fierce independence + stubbornness = Mommy (and daddy) trying not to lose it.

I used to think I was a patient person…. until I had kids.  But really until I had my strong-willed toddler, where every day there is something new for my toddler to be upset about or a new way for her show her fierce  defiance independence.

Once I realized I couldn’t wing this important phase in my daughter’s life, I had to come up with a game plan to teach my daughter how to cope with her emotions and keep me sane.

Additionally, it is actually a good thing that your child is strong-willed, according to The Washington PostIn other words, it may be best to hone and redirect this quality versus try to control it.

With that said, this is still a work in progress, and things in my household are still far from perfect.

Most importantly, this list is a reminder for myself and how to get out of this phase without becoming a banshee mom. Here it goes…


7 tips on parenting a strong-willed toddler

1)  Be patient


I would say if you only can do one thing, this may be the most important. Like I said earlier, I used to think I was an extremely patient person… until I had kids.  And this is something I work on continuously.

Us parents have to remember that we are molding a small human mind that is learning how to be in this world.  Sometimes they don’t know any better and other times they do, either way, they are still learning.

Above all, by being patient parents, we are showing our children how to be patient, which is an excellent quality to have.


2)  Set the example


Remember our kids are little sponges and mirrors.  Sometimes the behaviors that we are not a fan of our a reflection of us.  For example, I realized this quickly when my daughter started wagging her finger at me saying, “Mommy, I told you one time….”.  Oops!

The lesson I learned was to watch my words, actions, and tone because she is learning how to act by how her parents act.

In short, by acting like your best self and parent, you are teaching your child how to do so as well.


3)  Provide structure


Providing structure was/is a tough one for me.  I tend to be a go with the flow, one day we’ll do things this way, the next day we’ll do things that way. However, I started realizing my toddler works better with more of a routine and boundaries.

We all learn through repetition. And most importantly, this is where instilling your family values and rules come in.  I am testing this out using a chore chart.


4)  Be consistent


I learned the hard way, you can’t be strict about a rule one day and a little more relaxed the next. Being wishy-washy leads to confusion which, if your toddler is anything like mine, will lead to a toddler that will test you and not listen to you.

Therefore, choose what rules are important to you and try to be as consistent as you can be.


5)  Offer an explanation


When discussing why your toddler can’t do something or is getting a consequence, always explain why. If they understand why they shouldn’t be doing something, they may be more likely to think twice the next time they do the action again.

Offering an explanation starts laying the ground work on their reasoning skills or why the should or shouldn’t do something.  So, when they truly understand the why, they will be able to apply the reasoning to other situations.


6)  Give a consequence


Unfortunately, sometimes giving consequences is needed to stop a specific behavior. Always, always, always remember to give an explanation to make sure this stays a teachable moment. Keep in mind, this is something very specific to you and your child.

Only you know when, how often or what type of consequence is needed for your child to begin to learn what you are teaching them. For example, I’ve found that taking away a beloved toy or not getting dessert is more effective than a time out most of the time.  But sometimes timeouts are effective when she needs to cool off.

Most importantly, you have to find what works for you and your child.


7)  Evaluate your child’s needs (emotional, mental, physical or developmental)


So, this is where whether you give your child a pass or not comes into play.  Sometimes the behavior is a symptom and not the cause. Is there something going on emotionally, mentally, physically or developmentally that is causing your child to act this way?  Can they help it?  Are they feeling like themselves?

For example, when my daughter is over-tired, she begins to get mad or sad about everything and begins to act out.  If I just looked at the behavior, she would most likely get some sort of explanation or consequence.  But since I see something else is really the cause, for example, tiredness, then I may comfort her and try to get her to nap instead.

So, try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.


What are your tips to raising a strong-willed toddler?


Do you have a sure fire way of handling your strong-willed toddler? Maybe it’s time to be a little more consistent with your family rules or provide more structure.  All in all, be patient with your toddler and yourself!

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