You know the old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? When it comes to correcting annoying toddler behavior, this old adage is spot on! Giving your words and approach a positive twist can be much more effective than telling your toddler to “Stop!” or “Don’t do that!” over and over again. Here, three positive parenting techniques to try (with plenty of specific examples to get you started!). 

Turn a negative into a positive.

You can often avoid power struggles with one simple trick: Tell your child what to do, rather than what not to do. Correcting behavior with positive statements makes kids feel more respected. For example:  

  • “Chairs are for sitting” rather than “Stop standing on the chair.”
  • “Slow down!” versus “Don’t run!”
  • “Keep the water in the bathtub” instead of “No splashing!”
  • “You usually keep your feet off the new sofa, but I guess today you forgot.”
  • “If you’d like to throw something, let’s take your ball outside.”
  • “I need you to use your big-girl asking voice” rather than “Stop whining!” 

Be playful.

Another way to keep it positive is to be a little playful. Once you start thinking about how to get your message across effectively, you’ll probably come up with dozens more ways that will make your rules seem more like play than like orders.

  • For the child who is dawdling when you need to rush, try whispering what you want her to do or challenge her to a race to see who can get shoes on fastest. (During the race, play the boob by repeatedly dropping your shoes, so your child can win.)
  • A fun way to help a child who has trouble making transitions is to make a trumpet sound to announce what’s coming next.
  • Play a catchy “getting ready song” and challenge your child to finish getting dressed before it ends.
  • Pretend to clean up as monsters (or dinos or unicorns...or whatever excites your tot), crawling around on all fours and picking up toys with your “big monster claws" or "sparkly rainbow unicorn hooves!"

Make a fun-demand sandwich.

Sandwich your demands between the mention of two fun activities to soften the blow of doing something that's not-so-fun.

  • “Let’s play with your trains. After that ,we can pick up your toys. Then, it’ll be time for a snack! What yummy-licious food should we eat for snack today?”
  • “Let’s race to the stroller. Then, we’re going to leave the park. When we get home, you can call Grammy!”
  • “Pick out the PJs you like best. Do you want to wear yellow or green? After that, we’re going to change your diaper. Then, we’ll read books. Which bedtime story do you want tonight?”
  • “You’re having so much fun playing with your dolls. In five minutes, it’ll be time to take a bath. Then, you’ll get to splash with your ducky!”

More positive parenting tips:

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.