Goldstein also says that many parents expect behavior of tots that they’re incapable of. A toddler should not be expected to sit still through an hour-long dinner or to clean up an entire room of toys by himself. Another don’t: Don’t say to toddlers “Think about what you did wrong,” says Goldstein, because they are struggling to learn and may truly not know what they did. And don’t adhere to the mythical measure of one minute of time-out for each year of the child’s age.
“This is not based on science,” says Goldstein. He adds that a time-out needn’t last more than a few minutes. “We used very short time-outs with our daughter as a last resort,” says Eliza Porter, Los Angeles mother of 4-year-old Annie. “A time-out that lasted even for a minute was a big deal. It gave us both a chance to catch our breath.”
Sometimes toddlers just lose it. They’re overcome with anger, disappointment and frustration, and no amount of reasoning can get them to calm down. “In these situations, often a child just needs to be alone to calm down,” says Claire Lerner, who suggests creating a cozy corner in your home as a quiet, safe place where a toddler can feel calm and comforted. “You can say to your toddler, ‘Everybody needs a break sometimes. We’re going to make a place that’s safe when you’re losing it,’” says Lerner. “You know your own kid—put things in the corner that are soothing such as books, action fi gures, crayons and paper. Then you can say, ‘Come out when you’re ready.’”
When your child has calmed herself down or figured out how to adjust her behavior, let her know what a good job she did. “It’s a huge life skill for toddlers to learn how to soothe themselves or deal with frustration,” says Lerner. And give yourself a pat on the back for taking the time to help your child manage diffi cult situations and feelings—a skill that will serve her well in childhood and beyond.