Toddlers, Terrible and Terrific!

The two years between 12 and 36 months of a child’s life are a time for developing autonomy and independence.  Babies, who bond and attach, develop trust.  Preschoolers develop initiative.  It is normal for toddlers to say no, run away from parents, get into everything, and have screaming tantrums when frustrated.  In the process of separating from parents, the toddler learns that s/he is a unique person, ME, and s/he wants to control by testing limits.  Power struggles are common and to be expected.

Routines: Repetition leads to contentment and become rituals.


  • 5 times a day, 2 ½ tablespoons, spoons and finger food
  • Quantity eaten over time more important than each time
  • No need to eat with adults, toddlers eat ahead and play
  • At age 2 ½ might be able to stay at family meal for 5 min.
  • Move from bottle; limit juice and milk to get to eat

Transition Items:

  • Pacifiers can hinder speech, increase ear infections
  • Blankets, stuffed animals may have personalities, smell is important


  • Toddlers want independence. Once toddler shows interest and ability, step back.
  • Have potty chairs in convenient locations.
  • Watch for readiness signs and promote by trying before bath and when wake up.
  • Some toddlers want all clothes off.
  • Feet need to touch surface.
  • Change diapers standing.


  • Make move to big bed by age 2; establishes child as autonomous
  • To bed after routines while drowsy, avoid overtired toddlers
  • When wake in night, give 5 to 10 minutes before going to

Picking Up Toys:

  • Do with the toddler into labeled containers and onto low shelves
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle!


  • Soft, play clothes which are easy on, easy off
  • Good time to give some control, choice

New Experiences:

  • Sensitivity to noise, high activity areas, new faces require gradual introductions with parents close at hand
  • Playtime best to have multiple toys
  • Playgroups equally important for parents as for toddlers


  • Babies in particular may get hit, squeezed due to jealousy and attempts to interact; stop contact for a week but allow the toddler to help you and then gradually allow interaction


  • Normal for two year olds who get frustrated; don’t take personally; stay calm, hold hands firmly and say “no hitting, hitting hurts”; use time out, if needed


  • Try whispering or singing; change the scenery right away
  • Consider if child has sensory integration difficulties


  • May be due to frustration with learning words
  • Essential to stay calm and help toddlers regain control
  • Make clear that it is not allowed; offer okay things to bite


  • Be proactive, set environment, use communication
  • Set limits, tolerate frustration and stay in control
  • Selective ignoring, redirection, verbal rewards
  • Time out for twos; sit in chair and say “stay there till I say you can move”, then take a few steps back and say, “okay you can get up”; think 1 minute per age

Fears and Anxiety:

  • The more anxious the parent, the more fearful the child
  • If something has a name (like Monster), it is real
  • Fearful children are clingy and follow adults around
  • Toddlers allowed independence are less likely to be fearful
  • Toddlers who reject Daddy can be encouraged not to

Worry When Toddlers:

  • Do not make developmental milestones
  • Are not interested in play or other people
  • Are not becoming less frustrated as they get older
  • Behavior is problematic in all settings

Resources for Information:

  • Autism Society of Ct.:
  • Birth to Three:
  • Clinton Public Schools preschool screening at age 3, 664-6505
  • (will find information on Help Me Grow)
  • (developmental milestones)
  • Pediatrician (take your list of concerns with you)

Compiled by Linda N. Stuhlman, Early Education and Care Consultant, for Parent Workshop

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