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Next to love, guidance is one of the most important gifts you can give your child. By 15 months, children begin to understand what is OK and what is not. Start by setting a few simple guidelines, such as holding hands when walking across the street, and treating people and animals kindly.

Guiding Toddlers

When Your Child Has a Tantrum

When your child has a tantrum, he needs your help to calm down. You may need to pick him up calmly and take him away from the problem. You can also try to distract him with something else to do. Some toddlers need a firm hug. And some do best with a few minutes in a “calming corner.” After your toddler has calmed down, talk about what happened. Help him find other ways to express his feelings.

Give Children Limited Choices

When children have choices, they feel more in control and get less frustrated. Let your child choose between wearing her blue or green socks, or eating an apple or a banana for a snack. Offer only 2 or 3 choices. Too many choices can confuse young children.


Setting Limits: Guidance and Discipline

  • Be patient. It takes toddlers a long time to learn self-control.
  • Be consistent. For example, always hold your child’s hand when you cross the street.
  • Make sure that what you expect fits your child’s age. For example, most toddlers will have toilet accidents.
  • Tell and show your child what you want him to do. Be specific. “Draw on the paper, not on the wall” is better than “Stop that.”
  • Criticize the behavior, not the child. “Do not run into the street. You could get hurt!” is better than “You are a bad boy!”
  • Help your child express her feelings in words, rather than hitting, kicking or screaming.
  • Praise and hug your child for good behavior.
  • Make your house safe, so you will not need to say “No” all the time. See the Toddler Safety page in this guide. Save “No” for important limits, like safety issues.

If You Feel You Are Going to Lose Your Temper

  • Do not hit or yell at your child. This can cause lasting harm.
  • If you are too angry to talk, wait until you have calmed down.
  • If you are having trouble dealing with a difficult behavior, you can contact Childhelp: 1-800-422-4453 or Ask to talk to a counselor. Your conversation is private.
  • For more help with guidance, contact the Birth to Five Helpline.

The First Things First Parent Kit was developed in partnership with Health Research for Action/UC Berkeley. © 2018 The Regents of the University of California. Additional video, graphic and other content © 2018 First Things First. All rights reserved.

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