When your angelic baby starts to transform into a kicking, screaming monster (a cute one, obvs) with something resembling their own opinions, parenting can get TOUGH. So we invited a few frazzled Supermushers to put their toddler woes to behaviour expert Livvy Gormally.

Supermushers are mums who subscribe to Mush to get expert advice, personalised content and access to exclusive live chats every Monday evening. You can give it a whirl here.

Here are a few highlights from this week’s chat.   

How can I implement consistent rules when me and my partner have different ideas of the best approach?

Everyone says that clear boundaries are important, but what happens in situations where as parents you do not agree? If one parent thinks the child should sit at the table until their plate is empty and the other looks at the plate on a meal by meal basis and assesses if enough has been eaten? Many parenting units disagree on what approach to follow and this can be frustrating for parents and very confusing for kids.  It tends to lead to shifting boundaries and you often see an escalation in the behaviours you are trying to reduce.

I think a lot of the time we forget to discuss our approaches and this can lead to tension – it can be hard to find the time!

The answer lies in compromise, trying to meet in the middle as this has much better results than trying to stick to a rule that you fundamentally don’t believe in. I call this “1 parent 1 rule.”

Try to take some time to discuss your approaches and agree a middle ground. Look at the challenges on a situation by situation basis, eg. for the example above you may want to look at the amount of food on the plate, see if your expectation of empty plate is realistic.

At what age do babies start to understand the rules? Like when you say no to them for example?

It depends per child but from around 6-8 months they start to more consistently respond to simple everyday rules

How do I juggle the needs of my newborn and my toddler when out and about?

If your baby is struggling to feed, I wouldn’t recommend a big meet up in a busy café, be kind to yourself and meet friends at home or go to a friend’s house.  If it’s your first time out stay local. Be prepared and be realistic with how long to be out.

If your toddler finds it hard to sit for a long time,  meet at a soft play centre or a small park with a nice secure fence! Take a bag of little distractors, little things to occupy the toddler. Also try to praise them for all the good things they do.

Lastly remember it’s OK to say no to meet-ups, it’s OK to say yes but can we meet at (x,y,z), it’s OK to make the timings work for you, it’s OK to go if it’s not working and try another time and it’s also OK to ask for help or to admit you are finding it hard – talking really helps!

The answer is to do what feels right for you and keep your expectations realistic for you and your kids. It’s OK to start small and build up.

How do I implement an effective reward system?

Choose a “currency” that works for them. Keep your expectations realistic and age appropriate – younger children need rewards little and often (even several times per day) whereas older children can work on accumulative reward systems. Know your child and what makes them tick.

Reward chart language should be positively framed. If you are working on reducing hitting, your reward chart should say “nice hands chart” as opposed to “no hitting chart.”

It is often more effective to pick 1-2 areas to reward. I often recommend rewarding a more general skill like “good listening” as it is easy to reward, easy to identify and easy to find lots of opportunities through the day to reward.

If your system isn’t working look at why? Look at what you are targeting, what the kids are working towards, how motivated they are by the reward, are your expectations realistic etc.

What is the best way to keep my daughter entertained out and about?

My guys always loved listening to nursery rhymes, songs you could sing along too etc. Story books are great too – the Julia Donaldson range is fab as they are quite short and familiar.

Keep your expectations realistic and venue and timings will be key to success. Little toys will work best, but you should not expect her to entertain herself for more than a few minutes at a time at her age

How do I deal with my two year old getting jealous of his 3 week old brother who is in my arms a lot due to breastfeeding and crying when being put down?

This is tough, but try to avoid phrases like “you have to get down because I am feeding the baby”, or “I can’t because I am feeding the baby”. It sounds like attention seeking behaviour, so try to give attention to the positive things, ask him to come sit with you and help, or read with you while you feed, or play while you praise him etc.

My son is two and a half and I find it difficult to deal with situations where he’s doing something he shouldn’t… I’m scared of reacting in the wrong way and often end up not doing anything at all apart from just trying to talk him down. How should I handle it? 

Be directive and consistent and label what you don’t want them to do as this is more specific – also try to make sure they are getting more attention for the positive behaviours as opposed to the inappropriate ones. Also making sure there is more positive than negative attention – praise the behaviour you want to see more of. It is really important to give a clear message and to be consistent. If you feel like you say no too often, try breaking this cycle by praising all the positive things you see. It is also OK to tell him not to do something. It’s all about balance. 

What are good learning toys for my baby daughter?

This is so child and parent dependent – and really depends on what type of toys you or she favour. You can learn a lot from saucepans and wooden spoons in the kitchen floor, other parents favour more educational toys which focus on early numbers/ letters etc. Having fun is so important in learning so try to keep your focus on that at her age. 

At what age should I be worried if my 2year old is still biting and hitting me? (He doesn’t do it to his friends, only his very close family!)

So these types of behaviour are typically attention seeking (especially if only focused on you or close family), as such look closely at the triggers, the reaction, the attention the biting gets etc – make sure that the biting is not a trigger to divert your attention to him. Also lots of praise for making nice choices – I always recommend addressing the particular behaviour eg “no hitting” but not giving lots of air time to the behaviour as this may give more attention and lead to the behaviour to increase or continue.

Try to be pre-emptive and be prepared. Also look at your expectations at times when he is over excited. Read when he is getting over stimulated and try to de-stimulate before the biting/hitting starts, then you can praise the absence of the behaviour instead

Would you say there is an ideal age gap when planning second baby? What age should the older child be to make it easier to deal with a new baby?

Wow, this is another hard one! It’s so very personal and depends 100% on how you feel, how you are coping, your circumstances etc. Some parents choose longer gaps, others choose to have their kids closer. I don’t think there is an ideal age.

Every Monday night we do a live chat for Supermushers with an expert (and a few special guests you might have heard of) on the topics that are keeping you awake at night (sometimes literally…). Find out more and sign up here.