Posted: Mar 04, 2013 9:30 PM
The idea that toddlers stop being difficult after the age of 2 is an out-right lie. Their defiance, tantrums and path of destruction can linger long into their preschool years! But, before you lock yourself in a closet until these challenging years pass, discover tips on dealing with a difficult child, from understanding their pursuit for independence to reinforcing good behavior.

Be aware of biology

Being proactive to avoid your child becoming too hungry, tired, overstimulated, or not having enough opportunities to move around can make all the difference.

While you cannot choose when your sweetie pie will turn into a defiant child, you can avoid setting him up for failure. "A lot of challenging behavior in young children has to do with their physical state," says Dr. Rebecca Resnik, (Director, Mindwell Psychology Bethesda). "Being proactive to avoid your child becoming too hungry, tired, overstimulated, or not having enough opportunities to move around can make all the difference."

And, Maria M. Marinakis, Ed.M., agrees. "Did you know that studies have proven that parents can rid themselves of an average of 50-percent of all behavior issues just by getting their kids enough sleep? The average 3-year-old needs between 10-12 hours of uninterrupted night time sleep and 1-2 hours daytime nap each day."

Consistency is key

A key way to avoid meltdown mode is by avoiding surprises. To a toddler, routine is as good as a security blanket. "Kids feel safe when they know what to expect next," reveals Marinakis. She often advises parents of difficult children to create a visual schedule and read it together nightly so your youngster is reminded of what's expected of him. Even a 5-minute warning when circumstances are about to change can go a long way during the terrible 2s.

Practice makes perfect

No one expects kids — or parents — to know how to handle emotions from birth. So giving your kiddo the chance to understand what's expected of him is easier if given the chance to practice. "Young children do not have the ability to think ahead about what might happen in the future," explains Dr. Resnik. "They live in the moment. So if they are angry, they may bite, push or scream. Teach them what you want them to do, and help them practice. The more they practice a skill, the better the chance they will be able to use it independently."

The parent must select which situations are worth engaging.

When it comes down to dealing with a difficult child, whether it's during the terrible 2s, a defiant 3-year-old or a stubborn preschooler, sometimes the most important advice you can follow is to choose your battles. "While the child may be prone to perceiving a potential battle at every turn, the parent must select which situations are worth engaging," suggests licensed psychologist Dr. Mark McKee. Because sometimes in the battle between toddler tantrums and you, a happy kiddo is really a mark in the win category for everyone!

Read more on behavior problems

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The right way to praise your children

Sleep benefits your child's health