We see the effects all around us of adults who haven’t learned self-control, the ability to follow rules and understand limits. Developing self-control begins at birth and continues throughout adulthood.  Children learn self-control through group play and from guidance given from parents and other loving adults.

In order to help toddlers cope with limits we need to provide guidance and intervene when appropriate. Things we can do:

  • Stop the behavior.  Firmly, but not angrily, tell the child, “No hitting, hitting hurts.”

  • Label the emotion.  We need to feel understood. “You are angry that he took your toy.  It’s okay to be angry, but we do not pinch our friends. Pinching hurts.”

  • Offer an appropriate “Can Do,” like jumping up and down or stomping feet.  A favorite of mine is the sign for “Stop” as it can be expressed emphatically.

  • Help the child solve their problem.  Go to the friend together and ask for the toy back.  Or, give them livable choices: “Do you want to play music while we clean up the toys?”

  • Be a role model for handling frustration.  “I’m feeling frustrated that I can’t find my phone and we’re running late.  I’m going to take a deep breath before we look for it.”

  • Create a cozy corner in your home.  This is a positive and soothing place to go when you need a break, not a time-out punishment.

For more information like this on child development, including other ideas for social-emotional development, go to Zero to Three, National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families at

Jordan Sicht