I am wondering how not to be harsh with a toddler. With all the love I have for my boy, I do lose patience and get angry with him once in a while! Any ideas on how to deal with such a situation.

  • True love is not selfish. When we as parents grow impatient, angry, or harsh, it is almost always because we have started putting self first.
    – gahooa
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 17:23
  • Short answer: Very carefully Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 12:45

4 Answers 4


I liked the book "Becoming the parent you want to be" for these types of things. It had an approach that was aiming to adjust for individual parenting style, and had a lot of useful things in particular for parents of toddlers (there are too many books for babies - not enough for toddler stages). Lots of useful things about temper tantrums, demanding behaviour, and generally about how to have actual communication with your kids. It's not everybody's cup of tea, but check out Amazon reviews, and see if you might care for it.

  • Thanks Aino. I am about to collect "Becoming the parent you want to be" from local library. Thanks for this reference. Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 22:23

Welcome to parenthood and the $64,000 question. The best thing I ever did in managing that was either taking a 30 second breather outside while my son played in his room (I could see him from the window), or if you have family local, calling them for some backup.

The times I couldn't do either of those, the only thing I could do was repeat in my head: "He's only two, he's only two, he's only two" or whatever your child's age. Keeping that perspective and reminding yourself that they're one giant ball of uncontrolled Id might not make things easier in the moment, but did help relax me enough to handle the situation a lot better than lost patience and anger.

It's a very natural thing to have a shortened temper and get upset. That does not ever imply that you love your child less or anything along those lines. Raising kids is not an easy job.

  • 2
    If it reassures you any, every parent gets this feeling sometimes - especially with your first child. Sometimes it can feel like it is a never ending struggle.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 9:27
  • 4
    I try to make myself think logically, which is very hard to do with a misbehaving child in front of me, and think about how getting mad could possible improve the situation. I have yet to come up with a single instance where my yelling or being harsh would improve the situation and end with a quiet well behaved child. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 13:29
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    And think of it as exercising your patience muscle. It's about as much fun as push-ups, but as beneficial, too. My wife and I use the 1..2..3..time-out method, which at least gives a limit the child will understand rather than just repeating yourself until some arbitrary "enough". As soon as I say "one", my kids understand than I mean it and I don't usually have to go any further. 2.5yrs is about the youngest that seemed reasonable. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:45
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    @DaveNelson: Do you actually manage to use this technique to calm yourself? Impressive! Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 18:55
  • @Torben Gundtofte-Bruun I am able to pull it of about half of the time. It is very hard, but I think I am getting better at it. Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 18:36

First, I would like to say, you are not alone. There is a reason they call it the terrible twos and the threes aren't really that much better (I referred to them as the tyrannical threes).

Kids at this age still don't really know how to communicate well - particularly about feelings including hunger, tiredness and frustration. You probably do this already, but just in-case, I'll recommend that to avoid as many outbursts as possible in the first place be prepared. Have snacks at the ready, have sleep options and try to schedule things so your child is getting basic needs met in a regular and scheduled way.

When your child is doing something frustrating, use the proverbial "count to ten rule" while you take a few deep breaths and remind yourself who this kid is and that he is a kid. If you are trying to get something done and your child is "pestering" you. He probably just wants some attention. Can you involve him so you can still get your stuff done, while also offering the attention he needs?

Make sure you are taking care of you. Are you getting enough rest? The right food? Do you get a break from the kids once in awhile? It is hardest to maintain patience when you aren't at your best either.

Realize that sometimes (often) what they did isn't really bad behavior at all but an effort to communicate, OR an effort to help. I once found Alice with a spray bottle full of water, spraying the wooden closet door over and over to the point of forming a puddle below the door (Her dad was in the room, but on the phone and hadn't noticed - I had been in the shower, so it was REALLY wet!). If she hadn't had the chance to say, "look mommy, I wash the door for you" I may never have connected that she thought she was cleaning. Instead of being angry (well, I had a few words for my husband later), I was able to laugh, help her clean it up and explain the difference between how windows and wooden doors are each washed. It very soon became her job to wash the mirrors (at three years, with help and supervision of course).

To help your child develop language to communicate needs faster and more easily, state what you think he wants, feels. . . before laying down the law. For example, "I know you want chocolate milk, but you NEED to eat food first". OR "I know you want to get out of your car seat and run around right now - I do too, but we can't just yet." By telling your child what it is that he or she feels or wants first, you are letting him know you understand and care and second, giving him the language to express himself in a constructive way (when he is ready, he'll start using it too which is less frustrating than the alternative, grunts, pushes, crying and tantrums).

Avoid SOME tantrums and struggles by offering your child's blossoming personality a chance to express itself through choices. Whenever possible, offer up two choices you can be happy with (before frustrating behaviors are occurring). For example, instead of putting out one outfit for your child to wear, put out two. Both outfits should be suitable for the weather and whatever your requirements are for the day (i.e. able to get dirty for play at the park, or formal enough for church) but then allow your child to choose between the two outfits. This actually helps them feel like they have some control over their day which can lead to more flexible children at other times when you can't offer a choice. It also helps them practice decision making.

Lastly, I'd like to refer you to some other related questions on Parenting SE - just in case they are also helpful.

How can we discipline our toddler?

How can I negotiate with my Toddler

How do I stop my toddler from biting

Grumpy three year old when she wakes

What to do after you've raised your voice with your child

How strict should we be with our fourteen month old?

There are more, but this sampling should be good enough to help you find more specifics if you need them. GOOD LUCK!

  • Beautiful story regarding the door-washing! Too cute! And how wonderful that it became her 'job' and opportunity to contribute and feel important! Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 1:58

Role model self-regulatory behavior. Both to help yourself in the situation, and also because watching you do it is how children learn. (look up mirror neurons)

"I'm too frustrated right now, I'm going to go cool down" "I can't listen when you yell, it hurts my hears. Can you ask me nicely?"

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