Reading books while snuggling. Chatting and singing to your baby. Playing peekaboo. These are some of the precious moments you share with your child. But the fun and games seem to end when your little one learns to say "no." Here are experts' tips on how to adjust your parenting style:
Start with this premise: My toddler has an emotional gas tank that needs to be refilled daily. If it's running on empty, he'll fall apart.
Try to understand why your child is acting the way he's acting, suggests Amy McCready, author of the upcoming book, "If I Have to Tell You One More Time," (Penguin Group, $24.95, 2011), and founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, an online parenting course. What's behind the behavior you want to change?
A survey done for Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, a nonprofit child advocacy group, indicates that parents generally understand that their little ones need a routine; need playtime with other children; need comforting when upset; and need rules that are enforced.
But when it comes to a child's outbursts, many parents are at a loss. A lack of knowledge about a child's emotional milestones (for instance, what is expected behavior at certain stages of development) can lead a parent to have unrealistic expectations. Tantrums, crying and out-of-control emotions are among the most commonly mentioned child-rearing challenges parents say they face.
One source of parenting know-how is McCready's online course at www.positiveparentingsolutions.com. Her philosophy:
*Children want to feel like they belong. They need to feel capable and a part of your family. They need to feel power in positive ways or they will resort to negative behavior.
*Foster independence with limits. Give your kids some sense of control. Set up clear rules and consequences so that your children know what you expect of them.
*Time-outs spur power struggles and do not teach a child appropriate behavior, according to McCready. Counting ("...you have until the count of '10' to do that...") just gives your child time to stall. Strive for "time in" -- individual attention at least twice a day for 10 minutes each time, she says.
Eve Sullivan, author of the handbook "Where the Heart Listens" (Parents Forum, $18.95, 2010), agrees that knowing your child's developmental stage is key.
Parents benefit from reassurance, practical support and information from other adults, says Sullivan, founder of Parents Forum, a nonprofit, community-based organization. The website is www.parentsforum.org.
Her advice: Children need love and guidance, discipline balanced with affection. Focus on what you want your child to do, rather than what you don't want him to do. Strike a happy medium between being too permissive and being too harsh by changing how you communicate with your children.
If you're able to identify your own feelings and be empathetic, your child will learn from your compassion how to control his own feelings, Sullivan says.
A resource for information about a child's developmental stages is Zero to Three, a national, nonprofit group geared to promoting the health of infants and toddlers. Go to the website at www.zerotothree.org to register to receive their newest resource for parents, "From Baby to Big Kid." The parent e-newsletter offers researched information on how children learn and grow each month from birth to age 3.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and teaches preschool. If you have tips or questions, please e-mail her at email@example.com or call Parent to Parent at 704-236-9510.