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David Baxter PhD

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Your Toddler's Developing Personality
July 23, 2004
by Kelly Burgess, iParenting Media

Uniquely Me--Here's how to help your toddler develop his own personality and stay one of a kind!

The wonderful thing about people is that, like snowflakes, no two are alike – especially when it comes to personality and especially when it comes to toddlers.

The Struggle for Independence
There are a lot of silver linings in the clouds of dissention that you and your toddler may have been engaged in since he hit what is commonly called the "terrible twos."

Dr. Marilyn Heins, a pediatrician, parenting columnist and author of ParenTips for Effective, Enjoyable Parenting (Development Publications, 1999), says there is a basic clash of agenda between toddlers and parents during this time of life. "At this stage, the toddler is struggling for autonomy and the parent is struggling for control, so there are a lot of battles being waged," Dr. Heins says. "It is complicated by the fact that the child is not yet a reasoning person, so the battles have to be waged over and over. The trick is to choose your battles carefully and find opportunities to let your child have autonomy. After all, the only truly important things at this stage are safety and health. You can't allow them to run out in the street, but you can allow freedom of expression in other ways."

Tickle Their Funny Bones
While a toddler is developing a need for autonomy that may often appear as stubbornness or defiance, he is also developing a sense of humor and a sense of fun. Have fun with him!

Toddlers love slapstick. Pretend to trip while walking toward the table and then hop around as if a stubbed toe is the most painful injury in the world. Read silly books. Laugh at your child's jokes, even if they're not funny or you've heard it a hundred times. Tell jokes yourself – the simpler the better. Tell funny stories about when your child or his siblings were babies or toddlers. Keep your perspective on potty humor. We may think it's socially unacceptable, but tots love it. Do, however, gently remind them of socially appropriate behavior in public.

Vive la Difference!
What's most important, according to Rona Renner, R.N., who hosts the syndicated radio program Childhood Matters, is for a parent to understand that each child's temperament is different. To be an effective parent, know your child.

It's also important to respect your child by making sure others understand that he is unique. When you hire a caregiver, make sure you explain your child's likes and dislikes, because these are part of his or her personality.

Just as you feed your child healthy foods and make sure he or she gets plenty of rest and play, remember that the brain is growing too. Think of your child's experiences as food for the brain and try to make them as positive, and as fun, as possible.

About the Author: Kelly Burgess is a senior contributing writer for iParenting Media. She is the mother of three.
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