Having written this post about toddler issues last month, I decided to do some reading.

The problem is that I don’t really agree with a lot of behaviour modification techniques.

I don’t agree with naughty steps/chairs/corners, because I don’t believe that any child will sit on their naughty step and think about what they did wrong. I believe that at S’s age, they don’t necessarily understand what they did wrong, even if it’s the third time they’ve done it. I think kids mostly sit on their naughty step either thinking Mummy doesn’t love me any more or – as they get older –  argh I hate Mummy, she’s so mean to me.

I was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with S’s behaviour though, so I did delve into the parenting books in the hope I might at least find one tool I could use to help S when she’s having a hard time. One book I found that is proving really useful is Happiest Toddler on the Block by Dr Harvey Karp. I bought the DVD  a while ago, but didn’t really do much with it since S was still pretty young… I think I’m going to dig it out and watch it again though, as the book has some great tips in it!
Here’s what I found, and have begun using:
  • Remember I wrote that post about the idea of Tooth Brushing? This book actually suggests a similar thing with toddlers, where you sit down at the end of the day and reflect on all the great things that have gone on. I started doing it with S as I cleaned her teeth, and she seems to really respond to it. It helps us both to focus on the positive aspects of our time together, so even if she’s just had a massive tantrum and thrown her dinner on the floor, we end the day on a high note. The book also suggests “hand checks” where you give your child a little mark on their hand with a pen, for every time they are helpful or kind or do as they are asked – then sit with them at the end of the day and remember how they earned them all.
  • “Could you help Mummy?” S is often disgruntled if I’ve laid her on the floor and forced her to get dressed, or to have her nappy changed. I find that I can help her out of this mood by saying “would you put your pjyamas in the wash basket for me please?” or “shall we put the nappy in the wash bucket together?” She helps by putting things into the bin or by fetching me a book to read to her. I suppose it makes her feel like a grown up and like she has some control over whether she helps or not. Actually this reminds me of when I was a teenager, and my younger sisters used to beg me to give them “jobs” to do. She can be getting into all sorts of mischief, but if I say “S, could you put your socks in the wash basked please?” She happily picks them up and runs to the kitchen with them!
  • Magic Breathing: I love this idea. You teach your toddler to take deep breaths; you sit quietly and use your hand moving up and down to show your deep breaths going in and out, encouraging your child to join in. Once they’ve got it, you can sit with them and do some magic breathing every day. It works as a great time together, but also when they’re getting a bit toddler-ish you can say “let’s do some magic breathing together” and hopefully the deep breaths will calm them down. I’ve only just started doing this one with S but I think it’s a great way to start the idea of meditation in children.
  • Allowing a choice: I let S choose her top and her socks each morning. If we’re buying clothes for her, I give her a choice between two things. At first she didn’t really understand the question, but now she knows exactly what I’m asking, and quickly decides what she’s going to wear that day. If we’re out and I don’t need to do anything specific, I let her choose which direction we go in.
  • The last one is really simple but I think it’s something we all forget: listening properly. At the moment S does a lot of babbling, but only a few of her words make sense to me. On the other hand though, she is learning words really quickly. It’s easy for me to just respond to her chatter with the standard “oh really? Wow!” and so on, without actually paying attention, but often when I take the time to stop and listen, it’s fairly clear what she’s after and we work it out together. For example, the other day she was saying what I thought was “boo” but then she started grabbing at her nappy – and then she took the lid off the box where I keep her nappies. She’d done a poo.
One point Karp makes in his book, which I think is worth bearing in mind all the time, is that toddlers usually lose at everything. They’re weaker, shorter, slower, clumsier, and less able to express what they want. The idea behind a lot of his techniques is that toddlers “just want to win a few” and that as parents, by letting them choose their clothes, or win a pillow fight, we let them win a couple of things.
An example Karp uses is that if you’ve no money, and someone asks you for £10, you’ll say no – but if you’ve just won the Lotto, and someone asks you for £10 you might just give them £20! So if your toddler feels like they’ve won a few battles through the day, and then you want them to clean their teeth and go to bed, they might just surprise you.
Last night I said to S, is it bed time? She put her pens away on the side (!) and ran to the bottom of the stairs. I opened the gate, she climbed the stairs and went straight to the bedroom.
Since beginning this with S, we’ve not had a full on meltdown.
Weirdly, if I sense a meltdown coming on, and hand her a banana (still in its skin) she calms right down. I often end a shopping trip by buying her a banana to carry home. Strange but true.
I’m thinking of writing my own parenting book about that: Bananas Parenting. Wadaya think?

If you have any other non-naughty-step related ideas for helping toddlers to “behave” please do leave a comment, I’d love to hear them!


Vicky is a mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. She writes about life as a single mother, parenting and lifestyle type things.


nancy john · 01/07/2014 at 17:37

We so take for granted that children can learn a language with ease and we completely forgot that the process of moving to a new language can be very disruptive to them.<br /><br /><a href="http://kids-issues.blogspot.com/2013/05/remarkably-awe-inspiring-activities-for.html&quot; rel="nofollow"> fun Activities for Kids</a>

Kimmie · 25/04/2015 at 12:36

Yes! To all of this – Positive reinforcement.

Melanie Rose Killick · 26/04/2015 at 13:06

Enjoyed this, thank you. I’ve spent a lot of time and attention to getting to know how Seamus processes the world. If I relate to him in his ‘own language’ the results are incredibly different. The time out/naughty chair just doesn’t work with him. The more freedom I give him, the calmer he is and so much more responsive.
I really like the tooth brushing ritual and chat idea. Great way to connect.

    Vicky Charles · 26/04/2015 at 17:31

    Thanks, I’m glad you found it interesting. I think you’re right – when you connect with anyone on their own level you’re bound to get better results.

The MakeupMama · 26/04/2015 at 23:26

I love these ideas! I’ve also been doing research on non-naughty step ideas. Have you checked out AHAParenting.com? I’ve found it really interesting. My LO has been going through a hitting a phase and taking the time to realize that we may not be hitting just because he doesn’t want to take a bath but may actually be upset about something else has really helped. I feel like I’m understanding his feelings more, and have begun giving him “feeling” words to help him understand why he’s upset. Are you mad? Are you sad?

Also, realizing that he may just be wanting attention has helped with the hitting and tantrums. So, now we begin and end everyday with uninterrupted “us” time, no cell phone, no iPad, no TV, just me solely focusing on him.

    Vicky Charles · 27/04/2015 at 21:17

    That’s a great idea – I think a lot of kids want our attention – and we think we’re giving it to them, but if we stop and look we realise we’re giving them our attention divided between them, the TV, the radio and our laptops or mobiles. Looking around the park on a Sunday morning you tend to see kids playing and parents on a bench with a mobile.
    I think I’m going to take a leaf out of your book and have some dedicated “us” time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.