10 Terrific Toddler Tips

10 practical tips for successfully parenting babies and toddlers.
The earliest years of your child's life are full of excitement, discovery, and learning. Each behavior, and the parent's reaction to that behavior, teach your child something new. Think of your new baby as a crisp, white canvas; and you are holding a palette covered with all the colors of the rainbow. How you choose to begin your painting will determine the finished masterpiece. Each stroke tells a story, becomes a memory, and encourages or discourages a behavior.

1 - Don't wait until your baby becomes a Toddler to begin planning the direction of your brushstrokes. From birth, your child is watching you and learning. Every move and every sound becomes part of his experience. It's never too late to modify behavior. Just remember that it's more difficult and takes more time to change behavior once it's been learned.

2 - Babies need lots of love and attention, but offering attention only when your child cries is only going to result in more crying. Spend as much time as possible with your baby during the day giving age-appropriate attention (holding and singing to your baby, playing simple games, etc.). Reward positive behavior and discourage negative behavior. If your child wakes from a nap and you hear him stirring, remove him before he begins to cry. Waiting until the child cries ensures that he will cry sooner than the next time. If he's already begun to cry, wait outside the door for a moment until there's a "lull", then enter. Your child will perceive that you entered during a quiet moment. There are times when a child is hysterical and you won't wait, and that's okay. Just use your best judgment.

3 - It's interesting to watch how new parents and parents with several children react to similar situations. Watch kids at a playground, inevitably someone will get sand in their eye, trip over a bucket, or scrape a knee. Many first-time parents react strongly; twisting their faces into surprise and horror, and running a marathon sprint to scoop the child from danger. Experienced parents react in a completely different way. Have you ever noticed that often a child won't cry until he looks up and sees his mother's face? If you can remain calm, chances are your child will stay calm too. The benefits are twofold. First, you will have less hysterics after the inevitable bump and bruise. Second, you'll know by your child's reaction when he is hurt.

4 - Any parent who has had a whiny child knows that nothing racks the nerves more than a constant high-pitched whine. When my first son was a toddler, we used to joke that we lived in a fire station. We never knew when the next "emergency" would hit and the alarm would sound. One day, I decided to try something new. Instead of pandering to my little fire alarm by rushing frantically to find out what he wanted, I kneeled right down, looked him in the eye, and said, "Devon, Mommy's ears don't hear that voice. When you use your nice voice, Mommy will listen." I'd like to say it worked right away, but it didn't. However, once I turned my back and he realized I wasn't paying attention to him, the whining stopped. After a few weeks, the whining ceased altogether.

5 - Time out's are very important. They should not be viewed as punishment, but rather as a treatment for the symptoms of negative behavior. A time-out is simply removing your child from the stimulus that is affecting his behavior negatively. For a cranky baby at a party, this can mean moving temporarily to a quieter room. You may find that for a two-year-old, moving to another room, simply explaining the reason, and holding him in your arms for a short period works well. If you have an older toddler who is exhibiting negative behavior, try removing him from the situation, holding him snugly, and explaining how you want his behavior to change. Most kids don't want to be "restricted", so I find this works wonders as a temporary behavior modification.

6 - Don't skip nap time. Children do need their sleep, and any change in routine is likely to result in unwanted behavior. Try to plan grocery shopping, visits with friends, and trips around your child's schedule. Recognizing that you and your child will suffer if you drastically alter his schedule is an important step toward understanding him and his needs.

7 - Shopping with toddlers. I realized early on that kids recognize at a young age that what is in the shopping basket when you reach the counter, goes home with you. It's very tempting to buy your child a small toy, book, or candy each time you go to the store. This keeps him happy, temporarily. It also rewards him for begging, just in the way a puppy fed scraps from a table learns that the bigger fuss he makes, the more food he's going to get. Try a new strategy, buy small items on occasion when your child isn't with you, then surprise him periodically with a small gift. Once he learns that he still receives the occasional new toy or book, but doesn't get it directly from the store, your shopping trips will be much easier. Do allow your child to help you shop. Ask him to help with simple things, point to the milk, pick the best batch of bananas, etc.

8 - Don't forget to praise positive behavior. Parents are often so relieved when their toddler is playing quietly, that they don't want to disturb the peace by intervening. However, this is the perfect time to sit and play with your child, and tell him how happy you are that he's playing so nicely with his toys. Remember that to a small child, attention is attention. Particularly if you are very busy during the day, or he shares attention with a group of other kids, he needs on one attention from you. If he doesn't get it when he plays quietly, he'll be much more likely to act out to get your attention. Negative attention is still attention in a child's eyes.

9 - Keep the rules simple and consistent. As I described earlier, your child is just waiting for you to color his world. Children can begin to learn rules such as picking up toys and talking quietly at the table very early. Try to make rules fun if possible, but be consistent. Insist that the toys already on the floor are picked up before he takes more toys out of the box. Model the behavior you want your child to pick up, such as putting the newspaper in the appropriate place before you choose a book to read. Verbalize your actions, "Mommy is putting away the newspaper so she can get her book out, can you put away your truck before you play with the crayons?"

10 - Relax. Enjoy this time, and enjoy the parenting experience. Realize that everyone has their ideas of how to parent, and you do need to find your way. Remember that humans have been successfully parenting for many thousands of years without the benefit of child psychologists, books on parenting, and age charts describing when your child should eat solid foods, sit up, walk, and talk. Just as all parents are different, so are children. They will reach milestones when it's their time. Treasure your little gifts, for there is no more important, or rewarding job than raising the next generation.