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How to Raise a Toddler Tyrant

By Jim Fay

Three-year-old Stephanie is not so cute anymore. She refuses to cooperate with her parents and is constantly throwing fits when she doesn't get her way.

Today is no different. Her father asked her if she would like to get in the car so the family could go home. Stephanie refused. Her parents spent the next fifteen minutes begging and pleading with her to do it on her own. She finally agreed, but they would have to buy her a soda on the way home.

It took these loving parents less than three years to create a tyrant. How did they do it? Judging from this example it appears the parents are trying to be more open and democratic than their own parents. However, it seems they have gone to the opposite extreme, allowing Stephanie to run their home.

You can probably predict what Stephanie is going to be like as a teenager. Her demands will be greater. Instead of being bought off by a soda, it will probably be a new car she demands upon turning sixteen. When she gets into trouble the parents may want to blame educators, television, or the declining morality of society instead of looking at their failure to set firm limits for Stephanie when she was young.

I watched another parent in the airport systematically producing a youngster who would become a major frustration later in life. During a one-hour period, this mother issued at least eighty different demands to a three-year-old boy. They went on and on:

“Come back here, Mark!”

“Don’t go over there, Mark!”

“Why don’t you ever listen, Mark?” “I mean it, Mark!”

“Don’t run, Mark!”

“You’re going to get hurt, Mark!”

Mark eventually found his way to where I was seated. He was smiling at me while ignoring his mother, which is exactly what he had been doing for the last forty-five minutes. During this time, Mom had issued order after order. Unfortunately, she never enforced one of them.

Just then I heard her yell, “Mark, you get away from that man! You get over here this instant!”

I smiled down at Mark and said, “Hey, Mark. What is your mom going to do if you don’t get over there?” He looked up at me and grinned. “She not goin’ to do nothin’.” And then his eye twinkled and his grin became wider. He and I had a special understanding about who ran his home, and it wasn’t his mother.

It turned out he was right. She finally came over to me, apologizing. “I’m sorry he’s bothering you, but you know how three-year-olds are. They just won’t listen to one thing you tell them.”

I could just imagine how she will talk to her friends when Mark is fifteen. She will be telling them how difficult and frustrating he is, but by then she will have a new excuse. She will probably blame his bad behavior on the fact that he is a teenager. Maybe she will even tell her friends, “You know how teens are. They won’t listen to a thing you say.”

These situations are tragedies. They don’t need to happen. We can raise kids who are well-behaved and who listen to and respect their parents.

If children were meant to run the home they would be born larger.

You can avoid raising a tyrant if you are willing to:

1. Say it once. Never warn or remind.

Parents who raise tyrants like Stephanie usually teach their kids that they don’t have to listen the first time. They do this by failing to provide a consequence when the child does not respond. Instead they keep reminding and eventually either get mad or give up.

Tell your toddler what you expect. Do not say it again. If he/she fails to comply, sing the child to their room with, “Uh, oh. Bad decision. This is so sad. A little bedroom time’s coming up here.” If you’ve timed the trip to the bedroom right, the child should be going into the room about the same time you finish your little song.

Time-out in the room starts only after the child is calm. Thinking does not go on while the temper tantrum is going on, so give the child ten minutes to do some heavy-duty thinking about his/her bad decision. Lay on lots of love when the child returns. Be sad that they made a bad decision, and reassure the child of your love.

This process needs to be repeated over and over. Be consistent, and you will be rewarded.

2. Remember the golden rule of Love and Logic.

Love and Logic parents have a golden rule for their children: “You get to be around me when you behave and are fun to be around. You get to be by yourself when you’re not.”

People who are really successful implementing this skill purchased Toddlers and Preschoolers


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©Jim Fay
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For more information, call the Love and Logic Institute, Inc. at 800-338-4065.

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