Skip to main content

Have a Positive Influence on Your Toddler's Behavior

Read tips on how to positively reinforce your child's good behavior.

Have a Positive Influence on Your Toddler's Behavior

Bribes and rewards, punishments and threats don't work at this age. So if you want your toddler to behave in a certain way, you'll have to resort to trickery (though some might call it "guidance"). Remember, your willful one-year-old will "be good" only if he wants to do what you want to do. So all you have to do is figure out a trick that will make good behavior something your toddler wants to do.

Like Mary Poppins convincing Jane and Michael Banks to clean up their room, or like Tom Sawyer tricking other boys into whitewashing a fence for him, you can often get your toddler to do what you want without shouting, threats or bribery. It's simple really: If you make it seem like fun, your toddler will want to do it.

Do you want your toddler to pick up his toys? If you try ordering him to do it, your child will probably fight you every step of the way. You can yell, punish, grab your child's hand and lead him over to the toys, even wrap his fingers around one of the toys you want off the floor. But nothing you can do will make him pick up those toys unless he wants to.

Psst! Here's a little secret: You're more clever than your toddler is. So you can probably figure out a way to make him want to do what you want him to do. Try singing a cleanup song, like the one on Barney. Or make a game of picking up the toys. Open up the toy chest and see how many toys he can toss into it. Or challenge your toddler by saying, "Bet you can't clean up all these toys by the time the next song is over."


If your child becomes fixated on doing something dangerous, you'll have to make it impossible for him. Childproofing is not a one-time deal, but an ongoing process. As your toddler explores his world, he will discover perils that you never even imagined. Remove these dangers so that you won't have to curtail your child's explorations again and again.

Another strategy that works well with toddlers is redirecting their energies. You can get your child to stop doing something unsafe or unacceptable by providing him with safe alternatives. If, for instance, your toddler picks up a breakable object and starts to throw it or drop it, offer him a trade. You might say, "Oh, do you want to throw something?" or "You want to play catch?" Then offer him a soft ball or something else safe to throw and take away the more fragile and dangerous object. Or if your child climbs up on the piano, pick him up and say, "Pianos are not for climbing, slides are for climbing." Then immediately bring him over to the plastic slide and get him interested in that.

A third strategy that works involves distraction. Your one-year-old still has a relatively short attention span. You can use this to your advantage by employing distraction to lure your child away from unsafe or unacceptable behavior. If you get your toddler interested in something else that's safe, he may soon forget what he had wanted to do before.

As a parent, it's your job to protect your child from himself and to safeguard others from your toddler's harmful impulses. If your child tries to do something that's unsafe for him or for others, it's your duty and responsibility to frustrate his intentions. But this doesn't mean you have to abandon your toddler to his state of frustration. If you simply tell your toddler that he can't do something that he wants to do, your child will probably create a scene. He may cry, he may kick, he may scream. But don't give in. Explain your reasoning and then quickly use trickery, redirection, and/or distraction to guide your child to more acceptable behavior that he also enjoys.

Subscribe to Family Education

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.