Dealing with Disagreements and Setting Limits

Dealing with Disagreements with Your Child

Few things are as strong as the will of a two year old who knows what he wants. At this age, children will tell you what they want to do and what they do not want to do. They will tell you what they want to eat and what they do not want to eat. They will stomp their little feet and throw tantrums. They will embarrass you in the supermarket. This often leads to problems between parent and child. Do not be drawn into these arguments. You are older and smarter than this child. 

There are things you can do: 

  • Be clear. Say exactly what you want him to do.
  • Tell him what you don’t like about how he is acting, not that something is wrong with him. “I love you, but I do not like that you will not clean up your toys.”
  • Praise and encouragement go a long way. “Remember the last time we cleaned up and what a good job you did?” This will make the activity of cleaning up something your child is proud of before the cleaning up even starts.
  • Making consistent rules helps your child understand his world. These rules help him know what is expected of him. Problems are less likely to happen if your child is used to having to clean up every time after taking out his toys. 

A typical argument occurs when playtime must end or your child has to stop something she really enjoys. It helps to warn your child ahead of time that the pleasurable activity is about to end. You might tell your child, “We will have to clean up and go in 5 minutes.” Then try to make the cleaning up into a little game. 


Mealtime is another possible problem at this age. Sometimes parents expect too much from a 2 year old. One of the problems is that the food likes and dislikes of young children change from day to day. How can a parent know what foods their toddler will sit and eat today?  Many parents expect their child to sit at the table and eat with the family by age 2 or 3. This can also cause a problem. Your child may have trouble sitting through an entire meal. He gets bored. Maybe he wants to get back to playing. He starts acting up when he sees that he cannot leave the dinner table. Offer him different food choices. Be reasonable about how long he can sit there. This will limit the arguments. 

Setting Limits

Parents are a team. Both of you must keep the same rules as often as possible. This makes everyone’s life easier. One parent saying, “yes” while another says “no” is confusing to a child. This also teaches a child that he can play one parent against another to get what he wants. Parents also have to understand that different people in the child’s life will each handle rules a little differently. For example, childcare providers and grandparents may have a different approach. Just try to agree on the big rules in advance and handle the details as they come up. 

It is more difficult when there is more than one child. An older child may be able to do things the younger child cannot. Talk to your child. Always try to explain why the rules are important. 

The time will come when your child refuses to listen. He gets angry. He’s stubborn. The best thing to do is to remain calm and try to redirect his attention. Often things calm down quickly. If that does not work, try to remove him from the situation so he can get his emotions under control. A little time alone without any feedback from you often will help an upset child calm down. 

Setting limits is a hard job for every parent. It is not fun because you are the one setting rules for your child who has a mind of her own. But it is your job and responsibility as your child’s parent to set limits. Your child will not develop discipline and self-control she cannot be successful in life. 

Never turn to physical punishment when your child breaks the rules or does not listen. Never shake, hit, or spank your child. Violence is not effective with children. Hitting a child teaches that child that hurting someone is the way to settle things or to get your way. This is not a lesson you want your child to learn. 

Teaching Self-Control 

This is also the age of growing reason. You will be able to start explaining to your child why certain behavior is not allowed. You will be able to tell her what will happen if she breaks the rules. Thinking into the future about what can happen to her if she does not behave is an important lesson for a young child. 

  • Never hit, spank or shake a child.
  • The goal is to teach the child how to control herself.
  • Your methods must be firm and consistent, yet gentle and respectful. This is a difficult balance, but, with practice, can be done. 
  • You are your child’s main role model. The way you deal with stress and anger is what she will model later. 

—- from First5 Advice for New Parents

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