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5 Common Mistakes in Parenting Your Toddler

toysThis post was inspired by the fact that yesterday, I made at least three of them.  Just because we know better doesn’t mean we always do better.

But awareness is where better starts.  So here we go:

1)  Doing too much for your toddler.

What I mean is, doing what they should be learning to do for themselves.  An example would be picking up their toys for them as they flounce on to the next thing, instead of insisting  that every time, they clean up first.

I’m guilty of this one sometimes.  It just seems like too much work to make her do it, and she seems so happy and excited about the next thing.  What’s the harm ,really?

2)  The harm is the inconsistency.  We’re teaching our kids all the time, even when we don’t realize it.

Behavior modification is a regular part of life.  We’re teaching children how to treat us and others by what we pay attention to and what we ignore.

A basic rule of behavior modification is this: Behaviors that are intermittently reinforced are the most resistant to change.  What that means is, if I tell my daughter to do something and I let her ignore me 20% of the time, then she might try to get away with it 100% of the time.  She’s learning that it works sometimes, so why not try her luck?  This could be one of those times.

That’s why it is important to have her put her toys away 100% of the time.  It’s the rule; she has to follow it, even if I feel tired.  Because I don’t want her to learn that when Mommy’s tired, she can just do whatever she wants.

And always remember, they’re smart cookies, these toddlers.  Like I said, learning all the time, just not necessarily what we’re trying to teach.

3)  Using redirection all the time, and avoiding a simple “no.”

It’s hard to say no to your toddler.  For one thing, they often don’t take it well (tantrums and the like).  For another, we like to see our kids happy, and “no” is not likely to produce that response.

My husband and I realized last night that we’ve both been avoiding saying “no”.  One of the problems with this is that when we do say no, she’s not great at listening to it.  It’s like she doesn’t think we have the legitimacy.

But unpleasant as it is for everyone involved, “no” is essential.  So as parents, we need to steel ourselves and dive in.

4)  Giving in to your toddler’s tantrum.

Never do this.  (Refer to rule #2 for why.)  But be an emotionally supportive presence.  Name that your  child is mad; express empathy.  Make sure that your child isn’t injuring himself or anyone in the vicinity.

I’ve found that with my daughter, it’s best to stand back and let her work it out.  If I offer her toys or some distraction, she only howls more, as if I don’t understand her at all.  It’s better for her to figure out within a couple of minutes that she’d rather play with a toy than writhe on the floor.

Your child might be different.  It’s trial and error.  But again, never give in.  If this is hard on your emotionally, figure out some breathing tools or calming statements you can use for yourself.

5)  Taking your frustrations out on your toddler.

I’m definitely not proud of this one, but sometimes, it happens.  The other day, I was loving and attentive from start to finish–well, almost finish.  An hour before my daughter’s bedtime, she wasn’t listening to me, and boom!  I lost it.  I yelled at her, “Stop it!  Enough already!”  Then, “I’m getting sick of this!” and I had to hand her over to my husband, walk away, and calm myself down.

What I realized is that I had fallen prey to Mistake #1.  I’d done too much all day long.  I hadn’t recognized my own limits and my rising exhaustion/aggravation.

Afterwards, I took her on the swing on our front porch and talked to her calmly about it.  She just turned two, so I’m pretty sure she didn’t know what I was saying.  But she liked the sound of my voice, and the swinging, and she leaned her head back against my chest, and together, we watched the trees sway.  Emotionally reconnecting after you’ve blown it–never a mistake.

Toys image available from Shutterstock.

5 Common Mistakes in Parenting Your Toddler

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). 5 Common Mistakes in Parenting Your Toddler. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Feb 2014
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