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How to Soothe a Fussy Toddler: 12 to 18 Months

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Updated on May 8, 2012

After the candles are blown out on your little one's first birthday cake, it's sayonara to the baby days—welcome to toddlerhood! With a full-fledged toddler on your hands, life gets a lot more interesting, but it can also get more frustrating. One-year-olds aren't exactly known for their patience and understanding, which means you have to increase yours when dealing with your tiny tyrant. The good news? Your toddler is finally starting to communicate, making it easier to understand what she wants. Of course, it's up to you to use your ninja parenting skills to curb an all-out tantrum before it starts. Here's how.

  • Toggle nap time. A younger baby might still be taking two naps a day, but toddlers are often resistant come nap and bedtime. The problem might simply be that she's not tired! Hey, we know how hard it can be to surrender that quiet time you get each day, but cutting back to just one nap could mean fewer fights and less crying when it's time to lay down. Play around with different nap times to see if you can come up with a new sleep schedule that works for you both—you shouldn't have to give up naps completely just yet.
  • Offer independence. Toddlers are hyper-independent creatures, which is why you're usually rewarded with screaming any time you set forth limits. Holly Klaassen, parenting expert and editor for The Fussy Baby Site, notes, "Putting her in situations where she's going to be confined (a shopping cart, carseat) may not go so well, so thinking of activities where she has freedom to roam will go a long way to keeping her entertained. Parks, malls, [and] play centers, are all great at this age." Case in point: If you plan on using the stroller at the mall, check to see if there's a kid's play area you can hit afterward. It'll give your little one a chance to stretch her legs and test out her new crawling, cruising, and walking skills.
  • Reward communication. No one wants to hang out with a whiny toddler. Your child's old enough to know how to push your buttons and wear you down with wheedles, even if her communication skills aren't polished just yet. The best way to deal is to ignore it and focus on positive behavior instead. If your toddler correctly identifies what she needs through verbal or sign language, praise her and don't hesitate to comply with her request. Dragging your heels is sure to land you in tantrum territory. By focusing on the positive and ignoring the whining, you teach that positive behavior is the best way to get the item—or attention—she wants.
  • Talk like a caveman. This is an interesting concept from pediatrician and renowned parenting expert Harvey Karp. In his book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, Karp suggests that you communicate at your toddler's level to stop a tantrum. For instance, if you're at the grocery store and you can sense the onset of sobbing, get down to your toddler's level and help her voice her feelings in short, understandable words, such as, "You mad! You want candy. Mommy finish shopping. Then we have ice cream!" While you might feel super-silly grunting at your toddler, it might work, and all parents know that you don't mess with what works, no matter how embarrassing.
  • Run a bath. Bath time is always a great distraction, but it gets better for toddlers when you add in tons of toys. Seriously, just let your budding captain take control, get messy and you'll stop the tears. Whether you allow her to fingerpaint in the tub, throw in some extra bubbles or measuring cups and spoons, she'll quickly forget whatever it was she was crying over. And, since your toddler can sit up and enjoy the bath, you can pull up a chair to supervise and have a mini-break.
  • Head to the doc's. If your toddler had issues that contributed to fussiness early in life, such as reflux, talk about changes with your pediatrician at her next well-baby checkup. A 2011 study published in an issue of medical journal InnovAiT found that most reflex symptoms resolve themselves between 12 to 18 months. So what does that mean for you? If your toddler's still super-fussy, there might be another cause, such as legitimate food allergy or a behavioral issue. Be persistent with your doc and trust your mommy instincts. If you think something's up and your tiny tot's behavior isn't normal, it's up to you to play mama bear and be your child's advocate.

So what if your toddler can be a little demanding from time to time? She can also be hilarious, loving, kind, and completely entertaining. This is the time when you'll really get to see her personality shine through. As a parent, it's up to you to soak up every moment; even if it means plastering a grin on your face and playing along when your toddler demands you eat her playdough cookies.

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