Taming a Toddler

Toddlers need to explore, but not at the expense of your sanity. Here are some tips for restoring the peace.

Learn how to tame the "terrible twos."

Every morning you hit the deck running -- running after your toddler, that is. You avert potential disasters, head off tragedies, and end up feeling as if you have no time to catch your breath. No wonder you find yourself wondering: When is bedtime, anyway?

Congratulations, you are the parent of a typical, full-steam-ahead toddler. Don't despair; here's a workable plan for taming your wonderful wild one.

  • Childproof your home. This not only protects your child's well-being, but also gives license to curiosity and creativity. Put away everything that you don't want Conan the Catastrophe getting ahold of. This includes breakables as well as hazardous materials. Install childproof latches on cabinets and lock the doors to stairways and rooms that are off-limits. You want to create an environment that reduces to a minimum the need for supervision. When you're done, you will no longer be a watchdog. Your child can explore, and you can relax.

  • Communicate clearly and authoritatively. When giving instructions, speak in a calm, yet commanding, tone of voice. Don't yell; loud and powerful are two entirely different things. Don't plead, either. To make your constantly moving target understand, you must be gentle, but firm. For example, if you want your daughter to sit down, don't say something wimpy like, "How about being a good little girl and sitting here while Mommy and Daddy catch their breath, OK?" Say, "I want you to sit down, right here."

  • Anticipate problems. Before going into a crowded shopping center, for example, think about what could go wrong and what you can do when it does. What if Hubert the Hyperactive becomes overly excited? Think, "I'll take him outside to calm down." Such planning may help you keep your cool, too, even in a shopping mall.

  • Discipline immediately. Administer discipline right away. Remember that in hesitation, all is lost. Teach your child to obey you the first time you speak. By the way, spankings usually just make the active toddler mad and that much more difficult to control. You'll get better results by making Roxanne the Rebellious cool her heels in a chair or her crib for a few minutes.

  • Minimize television watching. You may think television is doing you a favor by keeping Danielle the Dervish from whirling, but you're mistaken. TV only prevents kids from learning how to occupy their time creatively. With its constant parade of images, TV will shorten your child's attention span. And the shorter the attention span, the more active the child. If you can't cut out TV completely, limit it to 30 minutes a day.

  • Minimize toys. Most kids need no more than 10 creative playthings. Too many toys overwhelm a child's ability to choose a plaything and keep occupied. Select toys that present lots of opportunities for creative, imaginative play -- blocks, construction sets, and soft, cuddly dolls. Don't forget that toddlers often prefer such things as empty boxes, wooden spoons, old pots, and oatmeal containers to pieces of expensive injection-molded plastic.

  • Read. To your child, that is. Set aside two or three 15- or 30-minute time blocks a day for reading. Books not only calm, they stimulate the imagination and the intellect. What a bargain!

  • Have a daily quiet time. Start with 10 minutes at midmorning and 10 minutes at midafternoon. Set a timer and make a rule that Raymond the Rambunctious must play quietly in his room until the bell rings. If he comes out before the signal, just put him back in with a firm reminder of the rule. When he becomes accustomed to 10 minutes, you can begin gradually increasing the time. Within a few weeks, you'll be enjoying two 30-minute quiet times a day.

  • Find a good preschool program. A quality nursery school or day-care program will help strengthen social and developmental skills. It will also expose your child to other adult authority figures, provide additional stimulation, and help "burn" some of that energy. Most of all, it gives you some time for yourself, which you deserve.