Is your child a chip off the old block or a mutant from Mars? Are the two of you peas in a pod...or sparks and dynamite? 

I’ve written about how your toddler’s temperament contributes to her behavior. Now let’s turn the tables and look at your temperament. (Yes, you have one too!) 

Few of us mesh perfectly with our children. Psychologists have a term for how well a parent’s temperament matches up with his child’s: goodness of fit. And, unlike with lovers, opposites don't always attract.

Are You Your Toddler’s Boss or Buddy?

During infancy, we happily give our babies everything they want: milk, a clean diaper, cozy cuddling. We bend over backward and savor the sweet reward of their laughter and hugs. 

Then, around the first birthday, something changes. Our child starts crawling, walking, and screaming out her strong opinions (“Gimme!!!”). We still try to be “reasonable” and give 90% of what she wants, but 10% of the time we just can’t or don’t want to bend to our child’s request. And guess what? She’s not going to like that.

We lovingly acknowledge her feelings. She throws a fit! 

We use reason. She throws a fit!

We distract...we explain...we warn. She throws a fit! 

Pretty soon we’re having a fit too. And the two of us are going at it like a couple of pro wrestlers.

So what are you supposed to do?

At my lectures, bewildered parents often ask what to do to get their kids to behave: “Should I be more lenient? More tough? Am I breaking her spirit? Giving in too much?” They’re confused about teaching obedience because they don’t have a lot of personal experience and they’re bombarded with contradictory advice: Be giving! Be strict! Be a friend! Be the boss! 

Most of us want to respond to our children’s demands with kindness and generosity, hoping that they will follow our lead and learn to be kind in return. But unfortunately, trying to be a “buddy” and repeatedly giving in to your tot’s demands may end up teaching her that whining works and turn her into a spoiled brat. 

On the other hand, all parents are warned to back up their rules with swift, predictable consequences if they want to raise an obedient child and keep order in their home. But if that really worked, parenting would be a snap. You’d just command your child to stop...and she would. Unfortunately, parents who try to be their child’s “boss” rely too much on threats and often end up inflaming confrontations rather than reducing them (especially with strong-willed, tenacious tots). 

So what’s a parent supposed to do? 

Be an Ambassador to Your Toddler

The truth is we don’t live in a black-and-white world. Sometimes you’ll act like your child’s buddy and sometimes her boss, but the best way to understand your job is to think of yourself as an ambassador from the 21st century to the “uncivilized” little munchkin living in your home.

I know what you’re probably thinking: Ambassador? What the heck does he mean?

Well, you know what ambassadors do, right? They go to foreign countries and build good relations by giving, giving, giving. They give aid, throw parties, and show respect. But they’re not pushovers. When there’s a serious conflict, they put their foot down: “My country will not tolerate this.” 

As parental “ambassadors” we do the exact same thing. We build good relations with our kids by giving, giving, giving. We give food, love, toys, backrubs–we’re forever giving. But from time to time we also need to put our foot down, set a firm limit and enforce it.

To build good relationships with dukes and kings, the world’s best ambassadors all must master two key skills:

  • Communicating with respect (to avoid ruining the relationship by accidentally offending their host)
  • Speaking the language of the country they’re visiting (even the best ambassador will fail if she can’t speak the language of the people with whom she’s working.)  

Similarly, to build good relationships with their tots, the world’s best parents must master the same key diplomatic skills:

Young kids can be especially hard to deal with when our temperaments clash with theirs, but with these skills in your back pocket, even an oil-and-water pairing can live in harmony!

For 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.