Managing Toddler Behavior During the Holidays

toddler behaviorBy Claire Westbrook, My Devising

As we approach the fun Christmas season, many of us find ourselves wrapped up in the chaos of our holiday schedule. Or maybe you’re staying home. If that’s the case, you may be avoiding all of this chaos. But if you’re traveling, whether an hour or a day-long car ride or a flight, things can be crazy.

This will only be my 3rd Christmas as a mom. I have a 2-year-old and it’s amazing how quickly the relaxing holidays can become full of stress. (I talked specifically about surviving the holidays with a newborn here if that’s closer to the phase you’re in.) When it comes to toddlers, it’s all about behavior. Duke’s behavior can either make or break how much I enjoy a certain situation. In my limited experience, I’ve found a few things to be true about managing toddler behavior when it’s not a typical day-to-day scenario.


When it comes to behavior, in my experience, I link it mainly to sleep. Sure, there are the occasional days of teething or sickness that can send a toddler into crazy land making us moms think, “Where did my sweet angel go?” But on a normal day, sleep is the bottom line. So when it comes to the holidays, I think this is the first place to go.

Honestly, you just can’t budge on it. If Duke, my son, doesn’t get his normal 12 hours of night sleep and at least 2 hours of nap time, he is a different person. He is whiny, defiant, and needy. So if it means I have to lug all of Duke’s essential nap gear to someone’s house so he can get a decent nap, then I will. If I have to leave places early to get him to bed at a decent hour, then I will. It’s worth the extra effort. When Duke is happy and well-rested, I am happy and well-rested.


I think it’s best to keep rules the same, whether in my house or in someone else’s. If Duke can’t sit on our coffee table, he can’t sit on his Mimi’s either. I find that the more I let go of Duke’s structure, the crazier his behavior gets and more he tests me. Keeping it consistent and normal is best.


This is one area worth budging on. During the holidays, many times our eating schedules get a bit wonky. If your toddler is like mine, we have 3 meals a day at very normal times. But once the holidays hit, we’re faced with more brunch-ish hours for breakfast, late lunches, or early dinners. So when the kid is hungry, I pretty much let him eat.  Since everything is off, I can’t really expect his appetite to be the same as it is every other day. If you’re snacking throughout the day, then your toddler will probably want to as well.

What works for you? How do you maintain structure and manage your toddler’s behavior during the holiday chaos?

Claire is a stay-at-home mom to her 2-year-old son, Duke. She enjoys teaching piano lessons, songwriting, and blogging at My Devising.

Our Timeout Script


If we understand that the purpose of discipline is to teach, not to punish, it’s important to ensure our kids learn from the experience. No consequence is effective unless the child learns from it.

With this in mind, I always have a chat with my kids after every act of discipline. Timeouts or some form of isolation usually work well for my kids. After every timeout, I make sure to go over a few things to make sure they learned what went wrong and why it was wrong. Here’s our typical timeout script:

Me: “What did you do wrong?”

Child: Either explains what he did wrong or says he doesn’t know. If he says he doesn’t know, I’ll tell him I’ll come back later after he “remembers” what he did wrong. Usually, it’s an issue of them not wanting to own up to what they did. If I can see in their eyes that they truly don’t know what they did wrong, I will prompt them a bit.

Me: “I need an apology.” The child will then apologize if he didn’t already.

Child: “I’m sorry for XYZ.” I ALWAYS require that they state what they did wrong in their apology. I don’t accept a simple, “I’m sorry.”

Child: “Will you forgive me?” This last step is crucial. I don’t accept their apology until they ask for my forgiveness. Lucas is still learning this, as he often says, “I forgive you.” But we’re working on it.

Me: “I forgive you.” Hugs and kisses, and we’re done.

If the child hurt or offended someone else, I then make him apologize to and ask forgiveness from that person.

Here’s what the Ezzos say about forgiveness:

“Humility is the basis for healthy families. Seeking forgiveness for an offense and humbly admitting error in an effort to be restored with the offended party is a prerequisite for a loving and enduring relationship. This is serious heart business. Children and adults who are in the habit of asking for forgiveness take ownership of their wrong actions. They show they believe the relationship is worth the possible embarrassment often associated with admitting wrong,” (On Becoming Childwise).

You can start teaching the importance of asking for forgiveness when they’re young and then make it a habit after every wrongdoing.

Correcting Disobedience


If there’s anything that we Babywise parents know, it’s that disobedience needs correction. When our children are blatantly and intentionally disobedient, our correction serves to teach them that their behavior is unacceptable. There’s little doubt that our role as parents is to correct our children’s misbehaviors.

Having said that, it’s this very fundamental idea that trips us up. It’s difficult to answer the what, when, how, why, and to what degree questions that we must grapple with. Even the Ezzos cannot offer specific advice that says, if the child misbehaves in X way, give Y consequence. Why? Our children are human. We are human. And context changes everything.

Plus, we all tend to lean a certain way in our parenting. I most decidedly have a permissive bent. For example, when William doesn’t clean up his Legos when asked, I’ll convince myself that he didn’t hear me. If I could let my kids get away with everything, and stay sane while still raising morally responsible children, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I know it’s unlikely that that’s possible, so I must encourage myself to correct disobedience.

So what do we do about it? The Ezzos offer a few parameters by which we can determine how to correct our children.

“Where should parents begin when considering correction for their children’s intentional disobedience? Disobedient behavior needs correction, but parents should not correct all disobedience the same way or with the same strength of consequence,” (On Becoming Childwise).

There are five factors we can use to determine the appropriate correction:

  1. The age of the child
  2. The frequency of the offense
  3. The context of the moment
  4. The overall characterization of the behavior
  5. The need for balance

And of course, it’s always in the heat of the moment that we struggle with this correction question. Try to memorize these five factors. Then when your child misbehaves, you can run through the list to determine how to correct the child. If memorization isn’t your thing, or you can’t trust yourself to remember, perhaps write these out and post them in a prominent spot in the house.

One important thing to remember is that even if you afford the child leniency due to one of these factors, it doesn’t mean you forget the disobedience altogether. If you see your child blatantly break your park rules because a friend cajoled him to, you might not correct harshly because you realize your child wasn’t the ringleader. Nonetheless, you would take note of your child’s willingness to follow others to disobedience. You might not correct, but you can still use it as a teaching opportunity. Also make a mental note of the scenario so that if it does happen again, you can correct without as much leniency.

Milestones and Behavior

A recent shot of Lucas. If only he were always so peaceful.

There’s a new phenomenon going on in my home right now. I haven’t read about this in any parenting book, but I have heard other moms mention it. There’s something about kids hitting a certain age or particular milestone that sends their behavior completely off-kilter.

Lucas has been 5.5 for 13 days now, and I’ll tell you, it’s been 13 days of defiance, disobedience, attitude, and pretty much any other behavior problem you can think of. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I did the math and realized that he had hit his half birthday. We were doing all kinds of timeouts, logical consequences, pulling our hair out (William included), and more.

I explained this phenomenon to my husband, and he wondered why a half birthday would do it. But I’ve seen it mentioned on the Babywise message board. And it’s not that Lucas is aware of this milestone. It’s just a little change in his development that perhaps has him a little confused.

I think many parents see this phenomenon much earlier in their kids’ lives. Typically, age two and three present big challenges. But for us, with Lucas at least, two and three were a breeze. I’ve always considered it 10% luck, 20% personality, and 70% training. I started training him in the Babywise principles from day one. My blanket time success story was one of our shining moments.

As odd as this sounds, I think part of the reason Lucas was so easy was that William was so difficult. I don’t think anybody who knows William would call him easy-going or laid back. A friend recently described him as intense, and that’s him in a nutshell. He’s intense in everything he does, and he’s been like this from the minute he was born. I remember being in the hospital wondering if it was okay that I went to sleep, considering my newborn was lying in his bassinet bright eyed and bushy tailed! Sleepy newborn? What’s that? Even his entrance into this world was intense since my water broke before I had a single contraction. And then it was 11 hours of painful, intense labor. We had colic, developmental delays, you name it!

When I was pregnant with Lucas, I “told him” that he had to pay me back for all the terror that William caused. The obedient thing that he is, he listened. :) Kidding aside, I think Lucas subconsciously recognized that William was a lot to handle. And he let William do his thing. He let him direct their play. They rarely fought ever because Lucas was so appeasing. You may have noticed that I rarely discuss sibling rivalry. Plus, whenever we were out, Lucas was his brother’s watchdog. He always made sure he was coming, even if I was walking at my own pace and William was lagging behind.

When I step back and examine their behaviors, William is much easier to manage now. I’ve noticed a change in him just in the past few months. I don’t know if it’s his occupational therapy, homeschooling, maturity, or what, but something is working for him. Perhaps Lucas noticed that things were a little too quiet, so he decided to fill the void. Not only has he been testing the limits lately, but he’s stopped letting William get his way. Sadly, they fight a lot more now.

I’ve also noticed a few other changes in Lucas’ development. For one, he’s been stuttering lately. I don’t think of it as a problem, but as a developmental speed bump. My niece has struggled with stuttering over the years, and my sister noticed that it’s just one of those things that goes along with their growth. It comes and goes. I can also tell that Lucas’ brain is moving too fast for his mouth. He knows what he wants to say. It just takes a little while for it to come out.

Lucas has also shown big progress academically. Because we homeschool, I see this with my own two eyes. His reading is coming along so well, and he’s at the point now where he reads the words he sees around him. When I read to him at bed time, he’ll point out a few words he recognizes. And he was watching TV the other day, and simply said to himself “fox.” He read the network logo.

What am I to do about all of this? Recognizing the problem and its cause helps immensely. But it still doesn’t get to the root of the issue. If I weren’t a Babywise mom, I might call it a phase and wait it out. But since I know better, I’m going to train this disobedience right out of him! It means my husband and I need to buckle down and tackle it head on. Consistency is the name of the game these days. We can no longer be lax with our schedule, room time, couch time, etc. We will also be looking for logical consequences that “hurt” a little more than a timeout would, because after your sixth timeout of the day, they start to lose their effectiveness! And thank goodness he still naps!

Wish us luck!


Logical Consequence Grab Bag: Say Please!


In our everyday parenting, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with the perfect logical consequence. We always want to strike the balance between teaching a lesson without being too harsh. Having our children say “please” and “thank you” is so important, yet it can be so difficult to ensure they do it consistently.

What can we do to encourage our kids to say “please” and “thank you”? First, be sure to explain the importance of being polite. Explain that we are not put on this Earth to serve their every desire. And expressing thanks is the first step toward instilling a heart of gratitude in our kids.

When our kids forget, there’s a great way to handle it. If your child is asking something from you, never give it to him unless he says “please.” This can be anything from a meal that you are expected to provide no matter what or a special treat. If he asks without saying “please” tell him no, and that he can come back to you in 5 or 10 minutes when he’s ready to ask appropriately. He’ll probably ask again right away. Simply walk away knowing you have told him what you require.

With an older child, you might leave it at that. Make note of the time on the clock and don’t allow the child to come back until 5 or 10 minutes have passed. For a younger child, set a timer. Set it for a solid 5 or 10 minutes so he gets a true sense for how long that is.

This is much more powerful than simply reminding our kids and having them ask again right away. As with all consequences, the “pain” of the consequence must equal the weight of the infraction. If the child says “please” and “thank you” 90% of the time and forgets once or twice, a verbal reminder with no wait might be sufficient. If it’s a consistent problem, a longer wait might be more effective. Always gauge the effectiveness of the consequence by the child’s behavior. If it works, great. If not, try again with a more “painful” consequence.

Correcting Our Faults in Children


What happens when you recognize your own failings in your children? Say you were a super picky eater as a child. What do you do when you encounter that quality in your child? Are you more sympathetic because you’ve struggled with it or do you tend to react more harshly?

A good friend recently mentioned this idea to me, and I find it so interesting. She says that one of her biggest faults is clumsiness. No matter the reason, she’s struggled with being clumsy her whole life. I wouldn’t think of clumsiness as a major fault, because it’s not one of those things that you can necessarily control. But it is definitely something she struggles with. The reason she mentioned it is that she realized that she tends to correct her kids more harshly when they act clumsy.

I can imagine why this might be the case. She has recognized it as an unbecoming fault and doesn’t want to pass it along to her children. Or maybe because she’s recognized it as a weakness in herself, there’s no doubt in her mind that clumsiness is a weakness that everyone should avoid, her children included. But she laughed at it because it’s kind of ridiculous and almost hypocritical for her to judge her kids for a quality that she hasn’t yet been able to conquer.

This also had me thinking about my family. When you look at our genetic makeup, William is 98% my husband. He looks and acts like him so much it’s creepy. You would never know the child is my offspring. But I think this is a problem in our house. I find that my husband is overly critical of William, and it just occurred to me recently that it could be because he identifies with William’s failings so much. Aside from a few SPD tendencies, I hardly identify with William at all. When I look at him, I don’t see myself. So in a way, it enables me to parent him objectively (if that’s at all possible).

I will say that if I see any faults in my children, I do tend to look at myself first. I’ve been struggling lately with William’s perfectionism. It tends to hinder our homeschooling, and it’s so pronounced that he recently said he “wanted to be perfect for the rest of his life.” Uh oh. When he said that, he may as well have been pointing a mirror right back at me. I’m a HUGE perfectionist. I like everything to be just so, and if I can’t make it perfect, I don’t try. I don’t know if you’ve noticed the horribly sized picture on my Facebook page, but it eats at me. I don’t have the software to fix it, so I’m stuck and do my best to push it out of my mind — which is more difficult than it should be. (Hey, if anybody has Photoshop and can help me, I’d so appreciate it!) And my kids don’t have baby books, it’s that bad. I’ve always wanted baby books for my kids, but I’ve tried. And I’ve tried. I just can’t make them perfect, and because it’s so important, it has to be perfect. It’s messed up, right?

I have to say, though, that I don’t overly criticize William for his perfectionism, partly because I haven’t really owned up to it being a fault (which I seriously need to do). But I will definitely say that there are certain qualities in Lucas that I criticize more than my husband does. Lucas is much more like me (not quite 98% but close). He likes his comfort foods, he likes being cautious, he likes it when life is predictable and pleasant. But sometimes, even though I’m exactly the same way sometimes, it drives me nuts! I’m much less forgiving of his faults than anyone else in my family. I don’t give in to his picky eating. I make him stop whining the minute it starts. I encourage him to try new things, and so on.

It’s really interesting because you’d think I’d be more forgiving of these faults because I can identify with them. I was a picky eater as a child. I whined all the time as a child. I was super cautious as a child. I get it. I’ve been there. But I suppose I’m more critical because I’m aware that these qualities are faults and that they will be something he’ll have to overcome later in life. That, or find a spouse who will cater to these qualities. Thanks, honey! ;)

I suppose the point of this post is that we should ask ourselves whether we are being fair to the children who possess those qualities that we deem to be faults of our own. Are we being hypocritical to be overly stern when we see these faults in our kids? Or are we simply trying to save them the heartache that we have gone through by having to manage these faults in ourselves?

Logical Consequences Grab Bag: Apologies


In our everyday parenting, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with the perfect logical consequence. We always want to strike the balance between teaching a lesson without being too harsh. Over the next few days, in posts with a similar title, I’ll offer a few ideas of logical consequences for common misbehaviors.

What do we do when our kids offer insincere apologies? You know the type. You ask a child to apologize to you for some misbehavior, and rather than look you in the eye and offer a heartfelt apology, he averts his eyes and mumbles the word “sorry.” Sometimes it’s so imperceptible that you’re not sure he even said it. What do you do when this happens? We all know that every form of discipline is done in an effort to teach. Discipline is all about heart training. If we don’t teach them a lesson or reach their hearts, we haven’t done our job.

So what’s the consequence that will reach their hearts? The next time your child apologizes to you, require that he ask for forgiveness. Require him to look in your eye (or the eye of the offended party) and say “sorry” as if he means it. Then have him ask for forgiveness.

It’s too easy for a child to utter a mindless, insincere apology, especially when he doesn’t want to take ownership of whatever it was he did wrong. Nor does he want to put his guilt into the hands of someone else. But these are exactly the reasons why we need to require it. Make no mistake: asking another person to forgive you is a very powerful thing. It tips the scales and requires the offender to give up all power over the situation and put it in the hands of the other person.

My kids took a little while to get used to saying it – and to not confuse the asking of forgiveness with the act of giving it. But it has been a complete game-changer in our house. Whenever a child goes into timeout, or otherwise hurts someone, we require not only an apology but a request for forgiveness. William, in particular, has a tough time with it because he knows how powerful it is to ask someone else to assuage your guilt.

In my house, my kids are required to also say what they are sorry for. So it all goes something like this: “I’m sorry for breaking apart your Lego guy, Lucas. Will you forgive me?” I usually have to coach them through it, which is fine. The other benefit of this trick is that it makes the offended party much more likely to forgive. Lucas is always quick to say “I forgive you” whenever his brother asks for it.

Recently, Lucas hurt William pretty bad, and while Lucas was trying to sort out what he had done, I sent him into the bathroom for a timeout. When he was done and had apologized to ME (he hurt my son), he was required to apologize to William and ask for his forgiveness. William was very quick to forgive Lucas (even though he had a red mark on his cheek), and they then hugged each other. It was a very sweet, loving moment between my boys. If I had allowed an insincere apology, there’s no way they would have reached this moment of forgiveness.

Prevention: Lay a Foundation


Earlier this week, I talked about the benefits of outdoor play and cultivating the imagination in our children. Both of these ideas speak to the heart of what it so important in training our children: laying a foundation. By laying a foundation for our kids and our parenting, we do more to prevent problems with our children than to deal with them after they occur.

A few weeks ago, I asked you all what you wanted to read more about. Many of you said you wanted to learn more about consequences. I feel like I’m shirking my duty in giving you what you need. But I also feel like you’ll have more success as a parent if you lay the right foundation. It’s better to do your work ahead of time and set your child up for success than it is to discipline a child after the fact.

I certainly relate, though. When I first got my hands on On Becoming Childwise, I skipped ahead to the chapters on discipline. I felt like I needed a fix and I needed it now! I felt like if I could just get my hands on the right discipline method (timeouts, logical consequences, etc.) I would have my answer. That was so short-sighted of me. If there is anything I’ve learned in my 8.5 years of parenting, it’s that there is no quick fix in parenting.

This idea is even a primary focus in my e-book. Before I get into the specifics of training our children in first-time obedience, we need to set the stage. We need to do all we can to avoid child-centered parenting (couch time), give them independent play, schedule their days, make sure they eat healthy meals and get quality sleep, and more.

This applies to everything we hope to accomplish with our children. It goes beyond behavior. So whether you’re hoping to improve table manners or wanting them to get ahead in school, it’s all about laying that foundation. We need to set an example and create an environment that allows them to succeed.

An example of this is giving our boys outside time. While our greatest desire for our child may be creating a piano prodigy, we need to recognize our kids’ needs and give them the things they will need to succeed. It’s only by giving them outside time that we can expect them to sit still at the piano for any length of time. It’s only be cultivating their imagination that we can inspire creativity. It’s only by scheduling their day that we make sure we have time for it all.

This idea of laying a foundation forms the basis of my parenting. I believe in it so much that it affects everything I do with my kids. If we’re having issues with my boys not listening, I won’t immediately blame them or come up with a discipline plan. I will think through whatever it is that I’m doing wrong in laying a foundation. Whenever we have struggles, rather than blame my kids or lecture them on it, I’ll reevaluate our schedule and find a renewed commitment to follow it. (Following a schedule is one of my weaknesses.)

The other wonderful benefit of laying a foundation is that it’s all under our control. We cannot physically control our kids, but we can use our authority to follow a schedule, make sure they are in bed on time, take them outside, do couch time, and more. Probably the biggest detriment in laying our foundation is believing that it’s important.

Look at it this way. Our society has gotten a little carried away with the idea that popping a pill will cure whatever ails us. Popping a pill is so much easier than changing our diets or exercising. But we all know deep down that diet and exercise are the only true ways to improving our health. The same holds true with our children. Perfecting your timeout routine or finding a new logical consequence is akin to popping a pill. Laying that foundation and setting the stage for success for our children — the equivalent of diet and exercise — ensures a healthy home and children who will live the lives we want most for them.

Trouble with Logical Consequences?


Many, many parenting experts tell us all about the importance of logical consequences. These consequences are imposed by the parent and are supposed to relate to the troublesome behavior. But I think there’s a problem with this. There are too many parents who can’t impose logical consequences because they can’t think of any.

I admit I struggle with this myself. It’s far easier to send my boys to sit on their beds in timeout than to think of a consequence that fits the crime. And deep down, I think I know that to take some prized privilege away will break their little hearts. I’m a little too quick to give them second chances.

The truth of the matter is that actions speak louder than words. Taking away a child’s iPad privileges for two weeks will have much greater effect than a daily lecture on the problem that seems to happen day after day.

Understanding this, we can see the value in logical consequences. So why is it so hard to come up with consequences? Practically, it can be difficult to think of a consequence in the heat of the moment. Having a plan and making a list help tremendously.

But even more than coming up with a consequence in the heat of the moment is that our kids simply have so much! If I ever take away my boys’ TV or iPad privileges, they’re happy to go play with their Legos. If I take away their Legos, they have a million other toys they could play with. So what do they care if I take these things away?

By the same token, we need to make sure our kids have enough freedoms that we can take them away. When our restrictions are so tight, we can’t tighten them any more.

I was talking to a friend recently about the fact that she allows her teenage boys to have TVs in their rooms. Without assuming I knew better — I have no idea what it’s like to raise a teenage boy — I asked her why and whether she thought it caused any problems. Her response was that by allowing her boys that freedom, it gave her something to take away when they were causing trouble. She simply holds out her hand and expects them to give her their remotes, with the expectation that they won’t watch at all.

It made me think that we need to allow our kids certain freedoms simply because it gives us fodder for logical consequences. All freedoms should be granted according to the child’s age and level of responsibility, but knowing what freedoms are appropriate and which are not isn’t easy. For some parents, the temptation is to give their kids everything under the sun. Other parents are fearful of allowing their children too much that they have nowhere to go for logical consequences. In my friend’s case, her boys seem clearly responsible to have this freedom because there’s no fight when they lose the privilege. It’s clear that it is a privilege that can be granted and taken away according to the parents’ will.

I don’t assume to know all the answers when it comes to logical consequences. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t even think toys or electronics have any huge effect when I’m implementing a logical consequence. When I see my children at their most difficult times, it’s when the other brother is preoccupied with something. Lucas is like a lost puppy when his brother is away at therapy or busy with some other activity. And William will go to great lengths to not have to play alone. Realizing this, having them play separately is a logical consequence that I need to think about.

But on the other hand, do I really want to get in the middle of their wonderful friendship? Lucas won at a game of Sorry the other day, and because William was whining and complaining about losing, I worried that he was going to lose it the minute Lucas won. But he completely shocked me. He celebrated his brother’s win and gave him huge hugs for it! He was so genuinely happy about his brother’s win, it was as if he had won the game himself.

I’d love to hear about logical consequences in your home. Do you use them? What consequences seem to have the greatest effect?

Desperate Times


Sometimes desperate times do call for desperate measures. No matter how much we may understand that threatening and repeating tactics will ultimately fail, there are times when we resort to these measures. And that’s ok.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the idea that parenting is the most important job we will ever do. When we realize that we truly do have the power to shape our children, it’s easy to set super-high expectations for ourselves. When things go wrong, it’s not pretty. Forgiveness — from ourselves and other moms — doesn’t come easily.

That’s what makes parenting so hard. Yes, it’s an important job. And yes, women are highly critical of each other. While I’d love to ask moms to go a little easier on each other, the least we can do is forgive ourselves.

And the truth of the matter is that sometimes counting to three really works. Sometimes bribing our kids works. And sometimes it’s on the fourth time that we repeat an instruction that we get obedience. If the day has gone horribly wrong, and in the middle of cooking dinner, you realize you’re out of the most critical ingredient, it may be one of those times that you need to bribe the children to obey during a quick trip to the store. It’s better to bribe and maintain emotional stability than to run the risk of being sent over the edge by a child running wild in the produce section.

Besides, there’s a difference between knowing and doing. We may intellectually know how we want to train our children and what behaviors we expect of them, but actually implementing these parenting ideas consistently is a different endeavor entirely. Again, that’s ok.

There’s one crucial thing to remember about this: don’t do it often. Sometimes we need to call upon our most desperate measures, but the other 98% of the time, we need to diligently train our kids in the behaviors and attitudes we expect. If your attempts to train go horribly wrong, it’s probably a clue that you’re using desperate measures a little too often.

But before you even think about criticizing yourself for this, remember that you deserve to be forgiven. You are your harshest critic, so go easy on yourself every now and then.