Write me: rebecca@positive-parents.org

I’m excited to kick off this Positive Parenting in Action series, where I will attempt to address the most common behavior questions we get on PPTB and show just what Positive Parenting looks like in action in regard to these behaviors.

In this series, I will present several scenarios that could occur, look at the possible reasons behind the behavior (this is important!), and then give an example of how the parent can handle the scenario positively.

I think the reason we get a lot of “what not to do” articles and few “what to do” articles is because there are so many variables in “what to do,” including your child’s temperament, where you are in your journey, and then, of course, there are endless possible scenarios. My hope is simply that, by reading these examples of positive parenting in action and seeing how we look for the reason behind the behavior first, it will help you handle these situations a little easier when they pop up with your little one.

I’m going to start with one of the first things that come up as our infants become toddlers: Exploring their world and dangers.

Before we get into scenarios, I’d like to make a few points:

1. Toddlers are biologically programmed to PLAY and to EXPLORE. Both are crucial in toddlerhood. Don’t squelch your little one’s curiosity, but instead provide a safe place for her to explore and begin teaching her what is off-limits through language, play, and empathetic limit-setting.

2. Don’t mistake independence for defiance. Some toddlers are more strong-willed and independent than others. My first son was very mellow and content under my wing, while my second wanted independence early. He doesn’t want to hold my hand in parking lots (we’ll address that one!) because he says “I can walk by myself!”

3. Develop a habit of seeing through your toddler’s eyes. From your perspective, you’re using your stern voice and redirecting him when he goes for the outlet. From his perspective, he’s learning cause and effect. “Every time I go near this thing, mommy changes her voice, jumps up, and scoops me away! How fun!” So, his smile as he heads toward the outlet again isn’t defiance, it’s a game. “You silly boy! You like for me to chase you! Outlets are dangerous, OUCH! You’d better run that way, I’m going to get you!!” Giggles!

3. Here’s a tip. Save your “danger voice” for the biggies. The average toddler hears the word “no” an astonishing 400 times a day, according to experts. If you use a big voice or yell out often, or use “no” a lot, this will soon lose effect. Your child may not be able to tell the difference between “NO! Stove hot!” and “NO! No cookie!” All she hears is “NO!” and if she hears it often, it doesn’t signal danger. Consider using “no” infrequently (Check out How to Say No Without Saying No), and use different words for actual danger, such as “DANGER!” or “STOP!” which are more likely to catch your child’s attention.

Your 18 month old is a little explorer. She really likes to climb too! She can even climb up in the chair, then up on the kitchen table.

Behind the behavior: Remember her strong drive to play and discover. If she’s wanting to climb (or run, or throw, or jump), she is just wanting to play.

:ACTION: The first time your child attempts to climb on the table, you intervene, saying “Climbing is fun! Let’s find a safe place for you to climb. This table is not safe.” Let her climb over some couch cushions, if she wants. Climbing itself is not a misbehavior. She may conquer Mount Everest one day! The goal is to keep her safe and teach her what is appropriate. The next time she heads for the table, immediately and gently take her from the table, repeating the above. If she gets upset, acknowledge her upset. “I see you’re mad. You want to climb, but that isn’t safe. Let’s go play over here.”

What is you’ve repeated the above steps 14 times and she continues to head for the table?

Behind the behavior: She’s persistent. Persistence can be a valuable trait! In this case, perhaps she’s not going to the table because she wants to climb but she’s going to get you to come get her. If you’ve given her another appropriate climbing outlet but she persistently goes to the table, this may be a request for attention.

:ACTION: Take 10 minutes (or more!), dance around the living room, play hide and seek, read her a book, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as your attention is fully focused on her. Fill her cup, and she won’t need to head for the table again (for a while).

Or put up a baby gate. 🙂

Your 2-1/2 year old son doesn’t like to hold hands when walking through parking lots or large crowds. Every time you try to hold his hands, he pulls it away and tries to run, or he fusses at you and claims “I can do it myself!”

Behind the behavior: Independence.

NOTE: Safety is non-negotiable. I wouldn’t say to him, “Well okay, but please stay close” and risk him darting in front of a car or losing him in a crowd. Remember, Positive Parenting is NOT Permissive Parenting.

:ACTION: Before getting out of the car, explain to your toddler what is going to happen. If you can offer him a choice, do so. “Would you like to ride in the stroller or hold my hand?” If the stroller/cart is not an option, explain in simple terms that you must keep him safe, and to do that, he needs to hold your hand. As you take his hand, try to engage him in something that takes his mind off the hand-holding. “Let’s look for red cars” or “Let’s skip to the door.” If he cries or protests, empathize with his upset. Get down on his level. “I know you want to walk by yourself, but my job is to keep you safe. I don’t want you to get lost! Now let’s look for red cars! There’s one! Do you see another?” If he still struggles to free himself, carry him. You may have to endure a few unpleasant ventures. Acknowledge his need and empathize with his upset, but stick to your limit. He’ll soon learn it’s a non-negotiable.

Your 3 year old enjoys cooking with you in the kitchen. He sees you put something in the oven and goes over to open it up and take a look himself.

Behind the behavior: Curiosity. “What did mom just put in? What does this thing do, anyway?”

:ACTION: “DANGER!” He stops and looks at you. You smile at him and back him up from the oven. Open it while you holding him at a safe distance. “See the casserole? The oven is very hot and will bake it so we can eat it! Feel the heat coming from the oven? It can burn you and give you a big ouchie, so don’t touch it. Are you ready to help me make dessert?”

This was a pretty easy topic as far as reasons behind the behavior go. These will get more complex as we get into the series!

Toddlers will explore everything. It’s their nature to do so. I know one mom who didn’t baby proof her home at all, but instead supervised her son and started talking to him about the dangers of things such as outlets and household cleaners from a very young age. If you can do this, wonderful! I’m more of a nervous Nelly. I had the outlet covers in, chemicals and sharp objects up out of reach, choking hazards put away, and a gate at the stairs! The goal in any case is to let your child explore and learn while keeping her safe and teaching her where the boundaries are. You teach her this, again, through language, play, and empathetic limit-setting. Read The Secrets of Setting Limits with Children by Dr. Laura Markham.

How many times have you heard the argument that spanking is needed to keep a child from dangerous situations, like running into the street? I’m not going to address spanking in this post, but it is the parent’s job to keep the child away from danger, not the child’s job to know what is dangerous. There is a road in front of my house, and my front yard is not fenced in. My children never, ever go in the front yard unsupervised. I have talked to them about the dangers of the road, but I would never leave them out there unattended. I can’t fathom any situation in which a young child should have the opportunity to run into the street! Keep handles of pots turned away so the child can’t get to it. Don’t leave your kid alone in the bath. Its not too hard to keep our kids away from real danger when they’re toddlers and preschoolers as long as we are mindful.

Refrain from smacking hands to keep them from touching things. Young children have tender hands and it stings much more than you might think.

“Infliction of pain or discomfort, however minor, is not a desirable method of communicating with children.” – American Medical Association

You’re not going to be there to smack his hand away when he’s 16 and someone is offering him a joint. Build a deeply connected, trusting relationship with him now so that he will listen to your warnings of danger when he’s older.

As our children get older, the dangers become bigger, and it becomes harder to protect them. I’m going from toddlers up in my series, so I hope to address this in older kids a later date, but for now, here are some tips on keeping your older children safe.

Next in the series: Positive Parenting In Action: Tantrums.
Stay tuned!


  • Leslie Posted 19 August 2011 11:59

    Excellent post!

  • Nikki Kennedy Posted 4 October 2011 3:55

    I love all of the 'in action' examples, holding hands in the parking lot was a tough one for us and I ended up carrying him a lot. I finally found that letting my son pick a finger to hold worked for him. I know he will love finding red cars, great idea!

  • Maia Dobson Posted 27 March 2012 6:48

    I agree that toddlers need to exhibit their independence by letting them explore things around them. My daughter is into toddler gymnastics and she's discovering several things about herself and her potentials too.

  • chandrima Posted 10 July 2013 6:53

    My son does not make eye contact with any of us and not with with teachers in school, he is 2 and 1/2 years old and also does not communicate with us what is happening in school, though he is enjoying going to school,he can tell 1 to 20 and A to Z but when we/ teachers are asking him anything, he is not responding to us. please tell me what to do.

  • Melissa Martin Posted 20 January 2014 10:36

    Love the article, but just a quick thing to think about. When I was about 7, my mother, my sister and I went down to Florida to visit my grandma. We went to get dinner and we had to cross a busy street. We were holding hands and in a split second, for some reason, I decided to run across the street. I was inches from getting hit by a car. I don't know why I thought it was safe. In my mind for some reason, I thought that if I made my hands look a certain way, that the cars knew I wanted them to stop. So I did this and then just ran! Kid's minds! You never know what they are thinking. I was lucky to be alive. It happened in a split second and had nothing to do with being "unattended"…heads up! 😉

  • Linda Dement Posted 18 April 2014 8:38

    That reminds me of my nephew. He is highly function autistic. Have you had him tested for a speech delay? What does ped say?

    Does he folow instruction?

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