10 Tips For Motivating & Redirecting Your Toddler Without Nagging

"Try to only have 1 or 2 rules when your child is really young. (18-30 months)"

If you've heard me ramble about parenting, you've probably heard me say that before. Perhaps it's made you think, “Okay, Caleb, that's nice, BUT what about the long list of important rules like:

Listen KID: You’re not the electrician so don’t touch electrical sockets!

Crayola products are for paper - not walls.

It’s not your job to unload knives from the dishwasher.

Books look better ON the shelves.

Computer keyboards aren’t for pounding.

Daddy is the only T.V. channel changer.

PLEASE save your loudest voice for times when your baby sister is NOT sleeping.

You and the tub should be wet during bathtime...not the floors or ME.

Here’s some practical advice for handling these types of situations without making your list of rules too long:

1-  Try not to say the word, “No,” too much.  “No,” can lose it’s meaning and effectiveness if a parent uses it too much.  Save “No,” for emergencies or very serious infractions.  (i.e. when a toddler is about to run out into the road or threatens to throw the iPad off of the table)  If a toddler wants something she can’t have, instead of saying, “No,” tell her when she can have it (as in the examples below):

Toddler: “I want cookie.”
Parent: “Cookies are yummy, aren’t they?  You can have a cookie after you eat all your rice and 3 bites of avocado for dinner tonight.”

Toddler: “Can I watch T.V.?”
Parent: “You can watch T.V. for 30 minutes tomorrow morning.  Right now we’re going to go outside and ride your tricycle.”

2-  Redirect.  Instead of telling a toddler to stop a certain behavior, tell them what they should do instead.

Toddler is dripping water from her sippy cup onto her dinner.
Parent: “Water is for drinking.  Drink it like this and then put your cup here.”

Toddler is eating a napkin that fell off the dining room table last night.
Parent: “This is yucky trash.  Trash goes in the garbage can, not in our mouth.  Come with me.  Let’s put it in the garbage can.  Can you find anything else that should go in the garbage can?”

3- Distract.  Instead of telling a toddler to stop a certain behavior, give them something else to do instead.

Toddler is opening a kitchen cupboard that contains things she should not play with.
Parent:  “Here you go.  Play with the tupperware in this drawer instead.  This is for you.  This is, ‘Yes.’”

Toddler is playing with an older sibling's favorite toy.
Parent:  Give another toy/object and say, “This is a nice toy for you to play with.  Nice job playing with this.”

4-  Physically move the child’s location if she’s playing with something you don’t want her to play with.

5-  Child proof it.  It’s good for a toddler to have chances to learn to obey the sound of your voice.  However you can’t teach a young toddler everything you want her to touch and not touch.  A long list of rules to follow is too overwhelming.  Child proof it if you don’t want her to touch it and you aren’t making it a training ground for learning to obey the sound of your voice.  You should also childproof it if it’s dangerous and can’t always be supervised.

Toddler is in the habit of touching buttons on the T.V. or stereo.
Parent puts the audiovisual equipment out of reach.

Toddler learns that the cabinet under the sink can be opened.
Parent puts a snap lock on the cabinet to keep bathroom chemicals out of reach.

6-  “Say, ‘Hi,’ to it.  Not touch.”  Young toddlers like to touch almost everything they can get their hands on.  It’s a way they can explore and learn about their world.  It’s good to allow them to explore and touch under your supervision.  However if there is something that is not appropriate for a young toddler to touch, consider the, “Say, ‘Hi.’  Not Touch” principle.

Toddler wants to touch the candy at the grocery store check out aisle.
Parent: “Oh that’s nice, isn’t it?  That’s called candy.  Right now we will just say, ‘Hi,’ to it.  Wave.  Say, ‘Hi.’  We won’t touch it we’ll just say, ‘Hi.’”

Toddler wants to touch Grandma’s picture frame.
Parent: “Just say, ‘Hi.’  Say, ‘Hi.’  Not touch.”

7-  “Look at what Mommy does with this.  Look at how Daddy does this.  This is how Baby will do it.”  Sometimes a young toddler doesn’t know how to behave acceptably in certain places.  If the toddler has never had a chance to learn the appropriate behavior, parents should never get frustrated at a baby.  Instead they should teach the baby.  Don’t assume that your toddler knows all the social norms that you do.  Help a toddler know the right manners by helping them look at people who are exemplifying the appropriate behavior.

Toddler is at a restaurant standing up on her chair.
Parent: “Look at Daddy.  See how he’s sitting down on his chair?  Look at Uncle Roger.  He’s sitting down.  Look at the lady over there.  She’s doing a good job sitting down.  You do a good job sitting down too.”

Toddler is talking loudly during church service.
Parent: (whispers) “See how Mommy is sitting quietly?  See how Mr. Mike is sitting quietly?  See how Sister is sitting quietly?  Right now is a time to be quiet.”

8- First this...then that.  

Toddler is having fun playing at a friend’s house and Mom knows it’s time for Toddler to get a diaper change.
Parent: “You are doing such a good job playing.  You can keep playing this after you get your diaper changed.  First diaper change.  Then keep playing.”

Toddler is having fun playing and Dad knows it’s time to leave Grandma’s house and go back home.
Parent: “First, come to Daddy.  Then go in car.  Then we’ll see Grandma a different day.”

(Personal note: If you’re like me, sometimes you’ll get nervous when it’s time to give your toddler an instruction, especially when you’re in a public place.  I get afraid that my child will protest or throw a fit.  If I start feeling these things a lot, I tell myself that it’s time to provide my child extra chances to practice following my leadership.  To do this, first, I tell her that I’m going to start having her practice because I’ve been seeing that it’s not easy for her to want to obey.  Next, I pick practice times (and places) that will allow me the space for effective training.  Finally, once the practices are helping her change her attitude or patterns of behavior, I start testing her by asking her to follow my authority in other places, like outside the home or with other people around.

If I don’t have time to practice, and I’m still nervous that my child might protest, I use this eighth principle.

9-  Bring Two Things.  Sometimes a child is having so much fun with a toy that it’s hard for her leave it in order to obey an instruction.  In this case you can try the Bring-Two-Things principle.

Toddler is playing with a doll’s house.  It’s almost time for bath.
Parent: “It’s time for bath.  Do you want to bring two things with you to play with in the bath?”

Toddler is playing.  It’s almost time to go to the doctor’s office.
Parent: “It’s time to go in the car.  Do you want to bring two things with you?  Okay, let’s go.”

10-  We will do this a different time.  Use this tip when it’s time to be done with a very fun activity.

Toddler has been having a blast at a cousin’s house.  It’s time to say goodbye.
Parent: “It’s been so fun playing with your cousins.  They are so special.  We have so much fun playing with our cousins.  We will do this a different time.  Now it will be time to say goodbye, but we will come back a different time.  Say, ‘Bye-bye!’”