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Top 7 Tips for Raising a Terrific Toddler

By Caron Goode

The toddler years are some of the most exciting and dynamic in all of childhood. During this stage, children experience extensive cognitive, emotional, and physical development. In rapid succession they stand, walk, talk, and begin to thoroughly explore every corner of their world.

Each of these seemingly everyday activities plays a significant role in helping toddlers establish an emotional and cognitive connection with their environment, and help shape what will become her lifelong emotional character. This character, which includes her world view, impulse control, sense of self, and the ability to relate to others, is imprinted on the brain through these sensory, motor, and kinesthetic experiences.

Emotional character is the foundation on which all other personality and life traits are built, and directly affects how a child experiences the world now and in the future. The child is not here to obey us. Rather we are here to guide the child, to offer the comfort and structure to help a child learn to regulate her own behavior.

In order to help toddlers establish strong emotional character, and a solid sense of self, parents need to employ a combination of responses to everyday situations. The manner in which parents respond to and guide children through their daily activities has a huge impact on their emotional and cognitive brain imprints. In turn, these imprints have an enormous influence on a child’s developing emotional character.

  1. Structure. Children thrive on structure, routine, and ritual. When their world has a consistent rhythm, they feel secure in the predictability. Structure is present in the calming effect of a nightly bath followed by a bedtime story or in the pride a child feels when they complete the clean up that is expected after playtime.

  2. Expectations. Children who know what is expected of them and what they can expect from their world are more likely to develop a strong sense of self. It is important that parents be consistent in both their expectations and the structure they offer their children.

  3. Guidance. Even though it may not seem so when faced with a tumultuous omnipotent toddler, all children need help navigating the physical and emotional elements of their world with your guidance. Some of the new emotions toddlers experience are a direct result of an increasing sense of self and social awareness. In fact, studies have shown that children who learn to appropriately regulate their emotional responses eat and sleep better than children who don’t. They also have less trouble learning new skills, including socialization.

    There are several tools parents can use to effectively offer guidance to their toddlers. There is nothing that calms a young child more than a parent’s comforting touch. When a child requires help navigating a situation or emotion, especially frustration, stroking her back or head will have a calming effect that allows the child to remain steady through the emotion and learn to regulate it. Parents can also use touch to teach a toddler how to comfort herself. This can be done by first rubbing her hands together and then moving her hand in circles on her chest. This calms the heart and the emotions, giving the child the power to control the situation for herself. Other tools include using a calm voice and physical guidance.

  4. Empathy. Empathizing with a child, as opposed to minimizing her feelings, helps her recover more quickly from disappointment and teaches her how to regulate her emotions within a situation. Often it is difficult for parents as adults to empathize with their child’s strong reaction to losing a toy or having to share. While a parent may feel their toddler is overacting, it is important that they acknowledge emotions. This acknowledgement allows the child to identify your empathy with frustration, and in the end teaches them how to deal with their emotions more effectively.

  5. Encouragement. During the toddler years, when children are pushing the envelope and learning their limits, parents are often exasperated and see bad or unwanted behavior at every turn. It is important, and will be easier for parents in the long run, if they take the time to recognize their toddler’s good behavior. Even though it may seem challenging, it is easier for parents to praise good behavior and than to correct bad. When a child is praised for their efforts, not just the outcome, they learn perseverance and develop resources that better prepare them to achieve and succeed. A little advance planning, such as packing snacks and toys for the grocery store or long car trips can help toddlers navigate difficult situations successfully. Whenever possible, showing a child you are happy with her behavior will produce lasting effects of learning to regulate her emotions.

  6. Self-Care. Parenting a toddler can be challenging. It requires patience, stamina, and physical strength. In order to meet this challenge parents must be sure to take care of themselves. Getting the proper rest, nutrition, and exercise is vital, but so is nurturing adult relationships. Due to the often hectic and intense nature of childrearing, many parents let other relationships fall by the wayside. Romantic relationships, friendships, and time spent on oneself are fuel for life, and without this fuel everything suffers, including the capacity to parent.

Dr. Caron B. Goode is the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International, a training and certification program for parent coaches. In addition to duties with the academy, Goode is the founding editor of the website, and the author of ten books, the most recent of which is Nurture Your Child’s Gift. For more information on The Academy for Coaching Parents International or to sign up for academy announcements, visit


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