How to Handle Toddler Troubles Like an Expert

For when the kids are a handful...and both of your hands are full.

Photo by Sandro Di Carlo Darsa / Getty Images

Sure, toddlers are fun, hilarious and downright adorable, but there's a reason why people can't agree if it's the terrible twos or threes (or both). Heed this expert advice when the little ones show their rebellious side.

"How do I get my toddler to stop throwing things all over the house and making a mess?" — S.W., via Facebook

THE FIX: Turn his love of throwing into a game. Toddlers tend to throw things because they have little control over their impulses, says psychologist Tovah Klein, Ph.D., the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, in New York City, and the author of How Toddlers Thrive. If your tot is happily tossing toys, he may just be testing limits, or he may be curious about what will happen when the rubber ducky hits the floor (boing!). Instead of fighting him, tell your son what he can throw, then make a game of throwing the right things. When you catch him in the act, redirect him by saying, "Let's throw socks in the hamper" (and demonstrate it for him) or "Let's go outside and toss a ball." With luck, after a few instances of your giving him a place where he can throw things, his behavior will change.

"My daughter takes two hours to eat dinner!" — M.K., via Facebook

THE FIX: First rule out that she's simply not hungry because she is snacking too close to dinnertime. Another possibility? Your daughter's stalling behavior may be a cry for attention. Try 30 minutes of one-on-one time, like reading a story together each night. That might make mealtime go faster. If she's still dawdling after two weeks, slowly impose a time limit to help her transition to a normal schedule, say Lisa Brown and Jennifer Medina, both registered dietitians and the founders of Brown & Medina Nutrition, in New York City. Take her plate away after an hour and 45 minutes, but let her know that healthy snacks are available if she gets hungry later. The following week, remove her plate after 90 minutes. Continue docking 15 minutes each week until you reach a comfortable dinner duration—say, 45 minutes. Don't forget: Talk to your doctor to rule out any medical conditions, such as issues with chewing or swallowing.

"My two-year-old won't take his medicine." — N.L., via Facebook

THE FIX: Many pharmacies can add chocolate or watermelon flavoring to a liquid prescription medicine for a few extra dollars. Or, suggests Tanya Remer Altmann, a pediatrician in a private practice in Westlake Village, California, you can promise to chase each dose with something sweet: a bit of pudding, a swig of juice, or even a lick of chocolate syrup. If masking the taste doesn't remedy the issue, present your child with a series of choices to give him a feeling of control, says Gregory J. Young, a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. A common mentality of two-year-olds is "If it's not my idea, it's a bad idea." Let him decide on the spoon (blue or green?), the location (kitchen or playroom?), and the time (before or after lunch?). Letting him take the reins should help the medicine go down. But no promises on "in the most delightful way."

"My son won't sit still at the salon. He screams the whole time he's getting a haircut." — E.L., via e-mail

THE FIX: Cozy Friedman, the owner of Cozy's Cuts for Kids, in New York City, says that little ones most often lose their cool when they get their hair sprayed with water, put on a constricting cape, or see their reflection in the big salon mirror. So ask the stylist to spritz the comb (not your child's head), bring along an oversize T-shirt from home to use in lieu of the high-necked robe, and have your kid face away from the mirror. Distraction is key, too, says Hailey Arthur, the owner of Pigtails & Crewcuts, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Play a video on your iPad, or read a book aloud until the snipping is done.

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