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How to Handle a Wild Toddler

How to Cope With a "Spirited" Toddler

There's no formal diagnosis for a "spirited" child, but if you have one, odds are, you just know. Synonymous with a strong will, this is the kind of kid who tests boundaries 24/7. They've got big opinions and big ideas. "Go with the flow" just isn't in their nature. But that's OK. While it may feel like a whole lot during the toddler years, there are plenty of positives about these kind of kids. They're likely to be leaders, rather than followers, and their conviction is usually connected to a real confidence in their beliefs.

Until you get to the stage where your little one's strong will feels like a positive attribute, we've rounded up five overriding themes for getting through the day-to-day with them. No one said parenting would be easy, but rest assured, you've got this!

1. Respect Their Feelings

Everyone wants to have their emotions validated — no matter their age. Rather than focusing on the outburst itself, focus on why it's happening. Ask them what made them upset, and acknowledge that it's OK to feel that way. That's not to encourage the tantrum, but relating to how a child is feeling can be comforting, and make them feel at ease. If they're mad at a friend for taking their toy, try to calm them down by saying that you'd have been mad, too. But screaming isn't going to fix the problem (even if it does feel good).

2. Avoid Negative Labels

Refocusing your own description of your child's personality can impact how they're perceived by others, and even how you think about them. Instead of using words like "wild," "stubborn" and "impossible," try "energetic," "determined," and "focused." They're all true! But using language with a positive connotation can flip the conversation.

3. Positive Reinforcement

Take advantage of all of the opportunities to celebrate the good versus punishing the bad. Look for small successes every day, and praise away. "Wow, I'm so proud of you for going out to the car the first time I asked!" or "I noticed that you put away your toys when you were done playing with them, that was great." You may still have to address misbehavior, but they're likely to notice the balance in your responses.

4. Be Open and Consistent

Strong-willed children thrive on structure and consistency. Stick to a regular routine, and try not to make exceptions to that schedule. Talk to your child through the day, and give advance notice of what's coming next (see below). Establishing a schedule with regularity will offer your child stability and set expectations.

5. Don't Rush Transitions

While (some) adults or "go with the flow" kids can transition from one activity to the next with little to no notice, those with strong opinions will benefit from getting a heads-up about what's on the horizon, and when to expect it. Sharing the plan for the day, and offering intermittent updates, will give your child a sense of security and feeling of control. This can be as simple as "We're leaving the playdate in five minutes. Do you remember where your shoes are? We'll need to put them on soon." You may be met with resistance some of the time, but hold strong!

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