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The Refrigerator List: 7 Healthy Ways to Handle Behavioral Problems in Young Children

January 16, 2015
Authored by Dr. Marc Cerrone

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Parents often ask for tips regarding how to handle behavioral problems in toddlers and school-aged children. 

In response, I’ve come up with what I call the “Refrigerator List,” because I encourage parents to post it on their refrigerator so that everyone who cares for the child can see it:

  1. Plan for 10-minutes of one-on-one “Special Time” with your child, every day, no matter what. Use a timer to end it and let the child choose the activity.
  2. Remember to “catch” your child doing good things during the day and praise them for the good act. Positive reinforcement during the day should occur much more frequently than negative reinforcement.
  3. Give your child lots of choices during the day, such as “which shirt do you want to wear? or “which snack would you like?” Your child is at an age when independence is important - so let them feel they are making some decisions. Remember to keep the choices to 2 or 3 things.
  4. Maintain a fairly predictable schedule each day - kids this age love routines and predictability. Do not plan things for their nap times and keep meal, snack and bedtimes the same each day.
  5. Remember that you can often distract and redirect toddlers if you anticipate a “meltdown” - humor often works well for this!
  6. You as a parent are your child’s main role model - they will imitate behaviors they see you do (good AND bad!), so minimize yelling and use of physical force or they will copy these behaviors.
  7. When you feel like you are about ready to lose it - give yourself a time-out - separate yourself from the child for a few moments to allow yourself to calm down, this will also give your child a chance to calm down, and you can both safely proceed!

Marc Cerrone, MD, is medical director, Pediatrics, Day Kimball Medical Group and medical director, Pediatric Hospitalist Program, Day Kimball Hospital.



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