Sometimes I swear my toddler is a sociopath,” says Laura Ngoh, a Vancouver mom of two-year-old Matteo. “His tantrums seem so much bigger than other kids’, and even though he knows he’s not supposed to do something, he’ll do it anyway and even apologize after. Raising my voice has no effect, except for maybe convincing other parents my child is out of control.”
Toddler brains are egocentric by nature, and it’s a normal part of their development to constantly push the limits, says Dr. Harvey Karp, creator of the book and DVD The Happiest Toddler on the Block (Random House). “And while some kids do have fewer temper tantrums, it’s not because their parents are the best parents, it’s just that their personalities are more compliant. But each temperament has its own behavioural challenges,” he says. Reacting appropriately to the type of personality your toddler has will bring out her best behaviour, keep meltdowns to a minimum and help you discipline without becoming the “screamer mom.”
Zen kids wake up cheerful, are social and tolerate change well. They tend to be active and have predictable eating and sleeping routines.
“Pretty well every discipline technique works with easy kids,” says Judy Arnall, a Calgary-based parent educator and author of Discipline Without Distress (Sandhill). “Some parents come down quite hard on any misbehaviour because it occurs so rarely that they really want to address it.” Instead, keep your expectations realistic — yep, tantrums are normal for all toddlers — and acknowledge the good behaviour you see. Because you can leave an easy kid playing independently or watching TV contentedly for a long time, this personality type runs the risk of being or feeling ignored. Dr. Karp recommends setting aside some special time together each day, especially if there’s a more demanding sibling in the house.
Slow-to-warm-up toddlers cautiously observe before joining new situations. They resist change, need longer for transitions and may be late walkers or very sensitive to smells and noise.
Shy kids are very clear about their own needs. “The first thing you should do, before letting her know what you want her to do, is to acknowledge her feelings in a voice like her own,” suggests Dr. Karp. “Bring it down a notch, since she’s overly sensitive to your face and your tone of voice, reflecting about 20 percent of her emotional energy in your voice and gesture.” And because transitions can be especially stressful for the cautious child, let her know what to expect in advance, especially if the meltdown is predictable—like whenever you head to a particular aunt’s house, for example. Arnall recommends avoiding overstimulation and balancing her increased need for home time with the family’s need for social time.
One in 10 toddlers will have a strong-willed temperament. Whether cheery or moody, they are more active, determined, rigid and intense than their peers.
“No threats of punishments, such as time outs, spankings, taking away privileges and consequences, deter this toddler’s inner motivation,” Arnall says. Instead, she suggests focusing on the three Rs: removing the toddler from the situation; redirecting her attention; and, when you’re both calm, redoing the action, with you demonstrating the appropriate behaviour. Regular naps, healthy snacks and lots of outdoor time are also key for regulating her moods. “This persistence is one of the most challenging personalities to parent,” reminds Arnall, “but it’s this same force that keeps a child on her educational, career and relationship paths later on.”