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How to Soothe a Crying Toddler: 18 to 24 Months

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Updated on May 8, 2012

Once you've passed the 18-month mark, you're no longer dealing with a fussy baby; you've got a temperamental toddler on your hands, and he's ready to fight to get what he wants. When your little guy was just a baby, his cries were easy to remedy with bottles, burping, or a quick cuddle. Now, a tantrum can take even the simplest, most mundane task completely off the rails. Learning how to deal with a crying toddler will help restore your sanity and keep your kid happy. Here's how.

  • Offer discipline. Your toddler is old enough to understand basic, simple discipline. While he might not "get" a lecture on proper manners, he understands when you withdraw attention for negative behavior. Instead of giving into his demands, offer simple discipline by ignoring the outburst. Or if you're at home, put him on time-out in a secluded area of the house, so you withdraw your presence. You'll definitely get some protests at first, but over time your child will learn that negative behavior results in less attention, not more.
  • Give choices. Allow your little one to explore his newfound independence by letting him call the shots at snack time or when it's time to play. Give him a limited number of acceptable choices—such as asking if he'd like yogurt or fruit—to help him feel in control. Pediatrician and parenting expert, Dr. Fran Walfish, says, "This phase of development usually is packed with your toddler claiming himself as a separate being from mommy and daddy." Offering your tiny explorer two choices can usually stop the tears. Instead of demanding that he take a bath, say "Would you rather read a book or take a bath first?" A two-year-old can say yes, no, or point to what he wants.
  • Keep him busy. Do you really want to make your toddler mad? Let him get bored. Your little one needs tons of stimulation to stay engaged and happy. And no, we're not talking about the TV here. Planning playgroups, outings, and kid-centric trips can help keep your little guy tear-free, because he's not focused on little things that distress him. Just make sure to schedule your trip to the zoo after nap time and eating lunch, or risk cranky crying.
  • Play. It's no secret that you're busy, but when your tot's screaming for your attention, it's sometimes best to get down on the floor, grab a car, and get down to playing. In fact, if you spend five minutes of quality time with your toddler, it's likely he'll become absorbed in independent play so you'd have a better chance at getting stuff done. Holly Klaassen, a parenting expert and the editor for The Fussy Baby Site, suggests hands-on activities. "Interactive, hands-on activities are best in terms of helping with crankiness," she says. "Playing with water, loud, upbeat music, finger painting, crafts with colorful, textured papers and materials, soothing back rubs, play-dough, etc."
  • Say yes. This might go against all of the advice you've gotten about standing your ground and not giving into tantrums, but sometimes it has to be done. If your toddler is sobbing for something, say "yes" when you can. Really, is a few goldfish crackers before dinner a big deal? If you know what your toddler wants, take the time to consider it before just blurting out no. As long as it's not dangerous, expensive, or against behavioral rules, it's OK to give in to head off or stop the tears. Hey, you might actually have fun!
  • Play with food. Letting your child mess around with his meal might get him to curb any tableside wheedling. In fact, try making snack time a calming ritual in your home; offer a couple of different choices on a plate, turn on a movie or some music, and bond over bananas. Just make sure you don't offer food solely as a way to make your child stop crying. A study published in the 2011 issue of Appetite found that parents who soothed tantrums with food tended to have heavier children overall. Using food as a crutch for your crying kid could create an unhealthy reliance on emotional eating later in life.
  • Evaluate naptime. Sorry to say, but some two-year-olds can be done with naps about this time. Of course, some still need that extra sleep, so it's up to you to decide. If you're getting tantrums and fights at bedtime, try shortening or cutting out the nap to see if it helps. On the other hand, if your little one habitually melts down at 1:30 p.m. every day, it's definitely nap time. Make sure that you schedule sleep around cranky times so you're not left apologizing to your book club or playgroup for unruly behavior.

Hey, we've all been there! Testy toddlers are pretty much par for the course for most parents. On the bright side, your vocal kid can actually tell you what he wants, which helps cut down on interpretation issues. It might not always be sunshine and rainbows at home with a toddler, but for every tantrum there's story time, slobbery kisses, and a first "I love you"—making all the hassles completely worth it.

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