How to Handle What Your Toddler Just Did (Without Losing your Mind)

You may laugh about it later, but how do you get through it today?

Your toddler just did WHAT? Deep breaths.

The holidays are over, and now the l-o-n-g months of winter stretch before you. You know what that means:

Cabin fever.

And cabin fever tends to bring out the ornery side of antsy toddlers, doesn’t it?

By now, your toddler is probably an expert at all these easy toddler activities. So much so that he might no longer wait for your permission before he gets creative all on his own.

  • He stops up the bathroom sink and plays “sink the battleship” with your phone.
  • He gives his baby sister her first haircut. “Look, Ma, new bangs!”
  • He colors dry erase boards with permanent marker and finger-paints your clothes with smooshed bananas.

And each time, you’re left wondering how exactly to respond. Well, let’s start by taking some deep breaths. Phones can be replaced, hair will grow back, and you’re already a crackerjack at getting out stains.

I’ve got some smart ideas to deal with his destruction without crushing your son’s naturally creative spirit, which begs the question…is he being naughty? Or is he being three?

Is He Being Naughty?
Or Just Childish?

Do you remember those scenes where  Dennis the Menace keeps doing disastrous things to Mr. Wilson? Most of the time, Dennis isn’t trying to be mean. He’s just too curious for his own good—or rather for Mr. Wilson’s.

The same could be true for your little Dennis. He could just be acting childish, and there is nothing wrong about a child acting childish!

Trademarks of Childish Behavior

Childish behavior is innocent (albeit annoying) behavior. It means he didn’t intend to break the rule or disobey.

  • He wasn’t mature enough to know it was wrong. He was just being curious. He was being silly, not realizing the domino effect he would cause.
  • He was overly tired, and isn’t getting the daily nap his brain still desperately needs.
  • He needed more supervision. He was cutting paper when you last checked on him, but you were in the other room on the phone with the doctor longer than you expected, and thirty minutes later, baby sister’s hair looked much more interesting for him to cut.

These aren’t excuses, they are just realistic reasons. A toddler’s judgment is not inborn. We have to train it. Honestly, if you haven’t told him not to do something, he honestly may not know he shouldn’t. But what if it’s more than that?

Trademarks of Naughty Behavior

Naughty behavior has willful intent to do the exact opposite of what you have asked him to do (or not do).

If he is now lying, blaming others, hiding the evidence, or disobeying something you already clearly told him, that’s a clear indicator that he already KNOWS that he has done something he shouldn’t have done.

Naughtiness isn’t acting in innocence, but in willful disobedience, and needs gentle correction through discipline.

Oh….We said the “D” word!!!

Discipline isn’t about a parental ego trip (“Because I said so and I’m in charge!”), it is about protection. 

When he runs into the street after that shiny red ball, you won’t have time to “persuade” him to stop. You need him to stop immediately when you shout STOP! because he’s learned that life is a lot safer when he submits to your authority. He doesn’t know the dangers of this world, but you do.

So teaching him to obey isn’t about parental arrogance, it’s about teaching him to listen to your words and instruction, so you can keep him safe and teach him how to behave properly in the world.

As a parent, our “authority” will change as our children grow, but at this very young age it is very important, for the health and safety of our young brood, that they learn to submit in our wisdom and follow our lead.

Handle What Your Toddler Just Did:
Be Proactive

You know those times when you’re holding the latest piece of destruction, wishing you’d had your 20/20-hindsight before it happened?

Well, don’t delay! Think about potential toddler disasters in your home and then put plans in place to keep your things safe. Here are a few ideas to get your started:

  • Secure your phone. Find a place to put your phone where your daughter’s hands can’t reach. Periodically, teach her not to touch it.
  • Secure your danger zones. You’ve probably already done this, but if not, make sure your home has been childproofed. All tall furniture and heavy TVs need to be anchored on the wall against climbers, and outlets need covers more permanent than a plug, like these.
  • Secure your markers. Remember: Your toddler can’t read the difference between dry-erase and permanent. Consider marking your dry erase markers with duct tape and add a similar piece to the dry erase board, so they match. Then, just put all the permanent markers out of reach. Also, consider buying these Color Wonder Markers which only write on special paper.
  • Secure your scissors. It’s important that he learn the skill of cutting. But hopefully not on his sister. The answer is a life hair-saver: kid-friendly scissors that ONLY cut paper. Then, to ensure he only cuts mom-approved paper (and not those wedding pictures), grab a box that can be decorated and fill it with scratch pads and construction paper. He’ll love his very own paper chest!

Taking a few minutes to show him what he can use and what he can’t could save you many headaches later. Then, if he gets into things that you’ve taught him not to, you can know it’s time for some discipline.

Handle What Your Toddler Just Did:
After He Does It

You’ve been proactive. You’ve redirected and addressed his childishness. But what if he wasn’t just being childish?

If you’ve gently instructed your little mischief-maker several times and he’s still damaging things, sometimes your little guy needs more than redirecting. He needs consequences.

So, how do you handle naughty behavior?

Counting to Ten: It’s Really for You

This 10-count isn’t for your son. It’s for you.  

It’s your cooling-off period.

When you find your child has destroyed something, don’t react immediately. Count to ten to let yourself calm down.

The Trick to an Effective Time Out

Sometimes your little tornado needs to be removed from the fun and games. It helps him think about what happened, the response it earned, and what should have happened instead.

  • Choose a special spot for him to sit, one that you can use every time, like a stair or chair.
  • Calmly remind him that he knew he wasn’t supposed to do what he did. Show him the scissors he was allowed to use, the markers that were his, the toys that were allowed in the water.
  • Set a timer (One minute for each year of his age works well).
  • If he chooses not to stay in the spot the whole time, let him know the timer is being reset, and gently but firmly guide him back to the spot again. Don’t raise your voice or make eye contact, but be consistent! You must win this little battle of wills every time for him to learn that obeying Mommy is something that has to happen.
  • When the time is up, sit him on your lap to talk over what happened, making sure he understands what put him in the spot on the first place. Then smother him with hugs, kisses, and a few tickle games. Do not skip this step! It is essential he receives those positive moments with you to really understand what just happened.

The Art of Removing Privileges

For some personalities, a more effective discipline may be not having the thing they want! They will happily sit in Time Out all afternoon, but if you take away something they want…well, you may want to freshen up your tantrum skills.

Just because it’s hard, though, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it! The goal is to help your child understand limits, not to have an easy few years (and then suffer greatly through the teenage years).

For example, if scissors are the tempting item, here’s how to remove that privilege effectively for a few days.

  • Place the banned scissors in this cool kitchen safe where she can see them but not touch them.
  • Then, make a paper chain, one link for each day that she can’t use them. Draw a simple pair of scissors (or whatever is off -limits) on each piece.
  • Hang the chain where she can see it and remove a link each day at breakfast.
  • When the chain is gone, give her kid-friendly scissors and remind her where the “safe paper” box is.

Having to go without the scissors for 2-3 days will be a great reminder for her the next time she is tempted to misuse them and ignore your previous instructions!

The Most Important Piece: Speak to His Heart

No matter what discipline you choose, it is vitally important that you take the time to process and connect with your child afterwards.

  • Remind him what he did and what it damaged. (An excellent moment to introduce “cause and effect!”)
  • Tell him how much you love him despite his poor behavioral choice.
  • Be consistent and calm.
  • If you were NOT calm, and there was yelling and screaming (we’ve all been there, friend!), make sure to apologize. It will soften their hearts towards you tremendously to know that you are still working on things too! It is a great way to model how to be responsible for your choices.
  • End with LOTS of love, hugs, and a few favorite tickle games.

Why not cuddle on the couch and read together! No, David, a story of a little boy whose mother still loved him despite the fact that he kept getting into mischief, is a great story to choose!

Handle What Your Toddler Just Did:
Fix the Actual Problem

You’ve taken time to wisely handle the discipline piece, but the fact still remains that your phone went through a vigorous game of battleship, your daughter’s hair looks like it met a hacksaw, and you’re ready to throw away the whiteboard, not to mention your banana-covered clothes.

Hang tight. Here are some tried-and-true hacks to reverse the damage—or, in the case of your daughter’s new style, at least make it look cute again until it grows out.

How to Save Your Cell Phone

Scientific experiments with phones aren’t pretty. Thankfully, phone companies are making them more and more water-resistant. Still, it’s best to make sure there’s no permanent harm.

  1. If possible, remove the phone battery. Electricity is typically what will ruin a wet phone, not water, so don’t try to turn it on.
  2. Using a vacuum cleaner hose or a wet vac, vacuum around the phone and battery to remove any water droplets. Do NOT use a hair-dryer. Doing so could push the water further into the phone’s crevices.
  3. Place the battery and phone in a sealable container filled with rice.
  4. Close the container tightly and leave it to dry for several days.

Smart phone in water? It’s likely your battery can’t be removed. But, if you try some of the helpful tips in this article, your phone might still have a chance!

How to Save a Bad Haircut

Thankfully, hair grows back…just not overnight.

Spruce up those sad bangs with adorable claw clips, capable of holding the shortest hair and hiding the crookedest cut. Choose flowers, butterflies, or even rhinestones.

Stretchy headbands can cover a multitude of sins, and in the WORST of cases, why not a sweet baseball cap when you have to go out and about?

How to Save Your Surfaces

Good News: Permanent marker doesn’t actually have to be permanent.

If your toddler used a permanent marker all over your meal planning dry erase board, don’t sweat it. Just take a dry erase marker and scribble over the permanent marker. It will take the permanent one right off. Then just use a napkin or a dry eraser to wipe off both.

But what if he used his permanent marker Picasso skills on your linoleum?

Grab some super fine steel wool and gently buff off the marker. It takes off the color but barely touches the finish of the floor.

You won’t even know the marker was there.

How to Save Your Fabrics

I don’t suppose Gianni Versace ever dyed his fabrics with food, but your son could teach him a thing or two. And nothing stains like bananas.

Don’t worry. If it can be washed, you’ll have it out by tomorrow morning.

  1. Combine 1 cup Cascade (yep, the dishwasher detergent) with 1 cup Clorox 2 (the NON-chlorine Clorox for colors) in a large wash pail.
  2. Fill the pail with the hottest water you can get from the tap. (If you have well-water, for some reason, that works even better.)
  3. Throw any stained washable clothing in the soapy water and let it soak overnight.
  4. In the morning, throw the soaked clothes in the washing machine and wash and dry as usual.

Good as new! And, yes, it works on more than just food stains: blood, grass, motor oil. Even if you’ve already tried to wash them with regular detergent before.

Only have a few clothes to de-stain? Cut the recipe in half and soak it in a clean mop bucket.

If you’re in need of some more stain fighting magic potions, check out Bethany’s super helpful article.

All Cleaned Up and
Ready to Go Grow

Uh-oh moments are par for the course with a toddler. And while they might require you to take some deep breaths, they don’t have to ruin your day—or his.

Instead, you can guide him to enjoy his curiosity safely and, with just a few inexpensive everyday items, you can make the damage disappear.

Not bad for a day’s work!

Have You Read These Yet?

Your toddler just did WHAT? Deep breaths.

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