There are lots of toddler shenanigans that are not terrible…just terribly annoying. I call these yellow light behaviors…they include whining, begging, clinging, pouting, dawdling, screeching, and mild defiance—to name a few!

Connecting with respect can go a long way to curb annoying behaviors, but if your toddler continues the annoying behavior even after you respectfully acknowledge her and offer an option or compromise, try a clap-growl. Even a 1-year-old will get the message that you’re out of patience and a real penalty is coming if she doesn’t stop . . . fast. 

For example, if your two-year-old threatens to dump spaghetti on her head, what do you think would stop her faster: saying “No” with a big grin on your face, or frowning, clapping your hands hard, and growling, “Nooooo!”?

All kids understand that a few hard claps and a low grrrrrrrrrowl mean “Stop…now…or you won’t like what happens next! ” (Bonus: A few hard claps also help us vent a bit of anger, without resorting to spanking or yelling.) 

I admit this sounds, well, undignified. But as you know by now, kids who are upset rely on their right brain, which is not good at words but is great at understanding nonverbal communication, including voice, facial expressions, and gestures. Clap-growl warnings can quickly connect with upset toddlers and often stop annoying behaviors in seconds! 

How to use the clap-growl technique:

Step 1: Clap.

Clap your hands three to four times, hard and fast. (It’s meant to be a little startling.) As you clap, you can stand or kneel, but you must remain a bit above your child’s eye level (to emphasize your authority). 

Step 2: Growl.

Put a scowl on your face and make a deep, rumbling growl. If it works and your child stops quickly, immediately do a little Fast-Food Rule + Toddlerese, and then feed the meter a bit (with hugging, attention, play, or playing the boob) to show you appreciate your little one’s cooperation. 

Warning: The first time you growl, your child may smile or even growl back! Don’t worry. That may mean your growl was too sweet (she thinks it’s a game) or she wants you to smile . . . so you won’t be mad. Simply answer her growl with a couple of double takes. 

Do a double take to show you’re serious

A double take is a neat little trick that emphasizes to your child that you’re not kidding around. Here’s how to do it: After a few seconds of clap-growling, raise a finger (as if to indicate “Wait a second”) and look away for two seconds, keeping your finger up the whole time. Then, look back, growl, scowl, and repeat your message. (“No! Stop now!”) 

I recommend adding a double take to your growl if:

  • Your child ignores your clap-growl.
  • You and your child are stuck glaring at each other (long glaring often backfires and pushes kids to be more defiant).
  • You want to emphasize your frustration and underscore that you are the boss.

A double take can also help if you accidentally smile while growling (even misbehaving toddlers can look so cute!). Bite your lip, hold up a warning finger, and look away for a moment—to regain your composure—then turn back and say in a serious voice, “I’m not happy! I say, No! No putting jelly in your hair.” 

I often use clap-growl with young children who ignore my kind requests to stop. I clap my hands hard and g-r-o-w-l a warning deep in my throat. That usually stops them fast…the way we immediately slow down when a police car’s light flashes in our rearview mirror!

As your child matures, you’ll growl less. But you’ll probably continue clapping and/or using a silent cue like a frown, raised eyebrow, or straight index finger as a warning that your patience is up. 

When your child heeds your warning, reward him right away with a smidge of attention, praise, or play. This teaches him, You be good to me and I’ll be good to you. However, if his annoying behavior continues, it’s time for a slightly stronger consequence, like kind ignoring. 

More Toddler Tips:

For even more tips on living in harmony with your toddler, check out The Happiest Toddler on the Block!

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.