Stop Being Mean to Your Toddler


There she goes again. Your toddler somehow got ahold of the tape dispenser and is yanking out big sticky pieces. You sigh, put down the dish you were washing, walk over, and say, "No, give me that. That's not yours," and take it back. While you're fumbling with the excess and then throw it away, your toddler is crying and trying to grab onto it.

What went wrong?

Well, a lot. I think one of the most overlooked things in toddler discipline is remembering to still respect the kiddo, and that they aren't trying to make you upset.

So what could a parent do in this situation to make it better?

Well, of course we can't have a kiddo wasting all the tape -- that stuff can be expensive! And it's not a toy. But that doesn't mean we have to yank it out of their grasp and be a big meanie!

Take a second to think about why your toddler might be playing with the tape in the first place: How COOL would tape feel if you'd never felt it before? How the idea that yanking your hand gave you more and more, seemingly out of nowhere? The weird sticky feeling?

Now, that is NOT to say that because it's a neat sensory experience that you should let your child do it. I know a lot of people go to extremes either way on this, some letting their child paint the whole kitchen with food because it's "sensory learning" and others who can't stand any mess for even two seconds. Neither is beneficial to you or your child.

Anyway, back to the tape. Little Susie is yanking out all your scotch tape, so what now?

First, don't yell no. Don't growl no. In fact, the word 'no' isn't even necessary, nor is it helpful. It's not even descriptive enough for them to know what you're talking about! Don't bark, "Give me the tape!" either. There's no reason you need to assert excess authority or be rude to a tiny person who happened to find neat stuff in her environment she wanted to explore -- and remember, that's ALL it is to her. SHE isn't trying to waste the tape, waste money, or make a mess. In her little world, something unusual showed up and she's trying to figure out what it is.

What you say doesn't need to even include the word 'no' at all, and probably shouldn't. Something like, "Oh, you found Mommy's tape! I know it feels neat. Not for Susie. Say bye-bye tape!" Tear off what she's already pulled out ... and give it to her. You're just going to throw it in the trash anyway, right? But as long as you keep an eye on her so she doesn't eat it or try to wrap it around her head or get it stuck in her hair, there's no reason whatsoever why she shouldn't be allowed to play with the part she already pulled out. Then you put away the rest of the tape, somewhere she can't get to it this time, and let her continue to explore. When she's done with it, then you can take it and toss it.

Yes, for those of you who are familiar with it, Dr. Sears briefly discusses this exact scenario in his 18 Ways to Say "No" Positively article, which I think is fantastic and has helped me a lot.

It can be really hard when kids this age seem to get into EV-ER-Y-THING the second you look away (and lord, trust me, I KNOW), but the more they're allowed to explore without hearing no at every turn, the better. That isn't to say they should have free reign of their entire house -- to the contrary, I believe they do need things within their reach that they are not allowed to mess with, and a simple, "Not for Susie, no hands," when they start trying to push buttons on the VCR, and redirection to a new activity or a toy given as an alternative is beneficial. Though people have all sorts of opinions on this, it's of my belief that you need to have off-limits things in your child's environment (though nothing irreplaceable or incredibly expensive) so that they learn that there are boundaries and not everything they find is theirs.

But no matter what it is they come across, remember that they don't mean anything bad by it, they're not trying to make extra work for you, and you, in turn, don't have to make them cry or be a jerk when you remedy the situation.

Do you struggle with remaining calm when your toddler causes mischief?


Image via Floyd Brown/Flickr

discipline, learning


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Great post! I'm sure many will benefit from this. =]

lovin... lovinangels

LOL, I'm surrounded by toddlers.

navyjen navyjen

Great perspective.   Great article.  Thanks.   Sending to my hubby to read...

Laura Doula Slomkowski

THANKS Christie. I love this post, well, I love all your posts. This came just in time for me. I'm a gentle parent with occasional NON GENTLE emotions at times... I always feel so bad about being mean to Olivia. It happens occasionally, but I try to keep my emotions in check.

AnArm... AnArmadillo

I LOVE this article!  My DD had a huge display of emotions whenever she heard the word "no" as a toddler and I learnt super quickly how to say no without using the word - gets a lot further.  You're happy with the result you wanted, they're happy - win win, it's amazing how much we use the word "no" without realising.  Even down to "can I have x to eat" - rather than no it's dinner time you can have it after, I would now say yep you can, as soon as we've eaten dinner...

I've found that "not for x" could cause a little frustration, depending on the day lol, but then my DD is extra spirited!  Explaining why usually worked ie not for x because it's dangerous or  not for x because it breaks really easily - we used baby sign and included these concepts from being tiny.

Have to admit 7 yrs old there's very little toddler behaviour that frustrates/upsets - whereas with my first it all seemed much more stressful lol.  Re-direction as you say works wonders, and sometimes it's just the developmental schema they are in and redirecting to something that uses the same skills solves ie throwing hard objects about - ah I see you want to throw, lets find something soft that it's ok to throw....

Sorry on my own little waffle now!

Amber Hirschfelt

See, my problem becomes after the 8th time I've had to tell Monkey not to play with Mommy's yarn, or to leave Daddy's computer alone.  Or Grandma's stuff (my mother-in-law moved in with us back in October; long, complicated story).  We do time-outs (she sits in Grandma's glider unless she's screaming, then she's on her bed in her room away from everyone) and if it's something drastic enough (like kicking or purposely hurting someone), she gets one or two swats on her diapered little butt.  But, I still have issues with yelling at her after I've already repeated myself--hourly, daily, et cetera...

Poste... PosterOfAGirl

This is even good for preschoolers. Not necessarily with tape, they should know better by then. But they still want to explore and learn on their own. I find it really hard to remember with my 4 year old that she ISN'T out to get me and that she isn't always going to do the "responsible" thing, because the most important thing in her little mind is to learn and explore. It's so hard to NOT bark at them, preschoolers AND toddlers.It's also hard to not expect too much out of them. We have to remember their point of view often. SOOOO hard to do that.

I wasn't so great with this when my little one was a toddler, but I tried my best. Thanks for this article, it's a great reminder! I'm going to check out that article by Dr. Sears since I haven't seen it!

0Jenna0 0Jenna0

This is something I am working on. I find that since I've had some practice, I'm doing much better with my second than I did with my first (poor girl got inexperienced mommy!), but I would be lying if I said I am able to keep my cool all the time. Sometimes just having a little reminder, like this, is really good and goes a long way. Thanks!!

nonmember avatar Katie

My toddler (15mo) loves putting things away almost more than he loves exploring (I so hope this lasts, though by number 3 I'm pretty sure it won't!), so I can often just take him to the drawer or shelf where whatever he's got belongs and ask him to put it back, and he will. Most of the time...

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