Top 5 Toddler Behavior Questions Answered with Christine Brown of Bella Luna Family! Podcast Episode #233
April 11, 2024

Top 5 Toddler Behavior Questions Answered with Christine Brown of Bella Luna Family! Podcast Episode #233

Kristin Revere and Christine Brown address everything from handling tantrums to managing a child’s big feelings in the latest episode of Ask the Doulas.  You can listen to this episode on your favorite podcast player.  

Hello, this is Kristin Revere with Ask the Doulas, and I am thrilled to chat with my friend Christine Brown today.  Christine is the CEO and lead sleep and behavior consultant of Bella Luna Family.  Welcome back, Christine!

Thank you so much for having me again!  I’m so excited to be here!

Yes!  And our last conversation was all about potty training, and I consider you our expert since you’re part of our Becoming course as our expert in potty training and we always refer to your podcast and blog with our clients.  So thank you for sharing all of your knowledge!  Our topic today is one of your other specialties, behavior.  I would love to dive into that.  We chatted earlier about some of the typical questions that you get from parents that you work with in regards to behavior.  What is your top question that you get asked, Christine?

I think probably the biggest thing is, do you have anything quick that I can do to improve behavior with my child?  Because sometimes too much, we get too much advice and try to implement it all at the same time.  That can feel a little bit overwhelming.  Sometimes it’s easy to just focus on one small thing, especially if you feel like you’re in a cycle with your toddler or your preschooler where you’re just not cooperative very well.  And so that thing that I recommend the most is, focusing on the positive.  I know that sounds so simplistic, but what happens is – I don’t know if you remember this, or you might even go through it now.  But when we’re in a difficult phase of our child’s development or we’ve got a lot of stuff going on in our lives coupled with our child just going through normal developmental things that are age appropriate for them, it’s easy to start focusing on all of the things that we don’t like about our child’s behavior.  And I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, what we focus on, we get more, right?  And so the number one thing, and I joke when I say this, but when I start feeling like I want to run away from home, because I think sometimes moms, we’re just like, oh, my gosh.  This is so much.  I don’t know how to deal with all of this.  When I start to have those types of feelings, I recognize, man, I’m really focused on all of these things that I don’t like, and I really need to change my perspective and start focusing on all of the things that my child does and says on a daily basis that are amazing because sometimes we lose sight of that.  And we don’t give that positive feedback to our little ones.  No one performs or acts better when they’re feeling worse about themselves.

So true, yes.

And one of the ways I like to think about it is, imagine early in your relationship, if you have a partner – and I’m going to be very gender stereotypical right now, so just pardon me on that – but it’s like, oh, my gosh, thank you so much for taking out the trash, right?  So grateful.  And oh, my God, that was the best dinner ever.  It was so great.  And then what happens is we get into marriage or our relationship; maybe we have our kids, and then it’s like, he didn’t even put a bag back in the trash can, right?  This again?  And so what happens is when we start to really focus on those types of things, it makes us less likely to want to serve.  And our children really do want to make us happy, even though sometimes their behaviors are challenging, and so if we just start focusing on all of those positive behaviors on a daily basis, we’re going to start seeing more of that flow out of them, and it really can change the energy in the house very, very quickly.

Makes sense.  Excellent.  So what’s next?

So other things that can also help increase cooperation in toddlers: there’s really two kind of main things that toddlers need developmentally at this point, and the first one is attention and connection.  And sometimes the worst behavior is a call for attention or connection, and this can be hard because sometimes we’re like, I’m with my kids all the time.  But we may be doing a lot of different things while we’re with our kids, and we might be distracted.  Our kiddos really need something short, even can be 10 or 15 minutes a day, but really getting down, focusing, doing child-led play with them, and really filling up that cup of theirs.  That can really help improve behavior because the more connected our children feel to us, the better their behavior is going to be.

That makes sense.

And if you’re having bedtime battles with your little one, I love doing after dinner shutting off all screens, putting all technology and devices away, and just getting down on the floor and pouring in because that can make the disconnect at bedtime much easier because they feel like that cup has been filled.


And the flip side of that, especially with our toddlers and our preschoolers, is lots of choices.  We control so much of our young children’s lives, right?  We control who their friends are, where they go to school, what they eat, their choice of clothes, all of that.  And one of their primary needs is to feel like they’ve got some power.  The way we can do that is offer age-appropriate choices because that way, once they feel like they have some of that power, they don’t have to dig their heels in and push back on us so much because they feel like they’ve gotten control over their own lives.  I always think about it imagining if someone controlled every aspect of our lives and we didn’t feel like we had any choice.  I always think about that from our children’s perspective.  They need to feel powerful so that they have that agency over their own life, but age appropriate choices.  Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?  Do you want to use the green cup or the yellow cup?  Do you want to put your shoes on yourself, or do you need my help?  Do you want to climb in your car seat and I’ll buckle you in, or do you want Mommy to put you in there?  Lots of those types of age appropriate choices really gives kids that power that they’re craving.

Excellent.  And as a parent of twins, I’m sure that you’ve had to navigate big emotions and giving them choices probably reduces a lot of those tantrums and so on.

Yeah, it definitely did.  My twins definitely liked to have – my son and I even had an incident last night where – he’s nine.  My twins are now nine.  We had a bit of tussle last night, and I had to take a deep breath and be like, it’s okay.  We can undo anything.  Just give him the opportunity to do that.  And I think one of the other things that’s important with choices, too, is knowing when to use them.  So if our kiddos are overtired, overstimulated, or hungry, that’s probably not a time to offer a lot of choices because their emotional reserves are low at that point.  So offering choices in other times, but sometimes we need to make decisions for our kids when they’re in those.

So you mentioned mealtime or hunger.  What are your tips for managing behavior issues during mealtimes, whether it’s at home or in public?

So from my perspective, I think sometimes we have really big expectations of what our children are capable of doing when it comes to mealtimes.  So the number one thing is having realistic expectations of a parent, like how long our children are actually going to be able to sit in their seat and stay still.  I like to use visual timers for children that get up from the table a lot.  Saying ten minutes is how long we have to stay at the table and actually having the child have a visual timer can be really helpful because then they know when they can get up, and that can be a game changer, especially if you have a child that’s up every one or two minutes.  If we’re setting small increments of time and expecting them to just stay there for that amount of time, that can be really helpful.  I have a lot of parents come to me and they’re like, well, we’re still eating, and our little one wants to get up.  And I’m like, yeah, but they’re two.  They can’t sit there for very long.  That’s just not how our little ones are.  They need to get up and move, so kind of letting them do that.

If children are throwing food, to me that means they’re done eating, and so at that point I pick up and plate and say, if you get hungry, you can come back and finish, but when you throw your food, you’re telling me that you’re done.

What other things do you hear from parents as challenges that they come up against?

Naptime, certainly, and getting up frequently, complaining, just the struggle with, of course, bedtime as well, but certainly naps.

Yes, naps can be challenging.  I’m a firm believer in that there’s three things that children can control: eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom.  From an eating and a potty perspective, I think that should really be child-led, but from a sleep perspective, I think we do have to help our children make choices in that respect.  They can’t actually make the choices.  We have to make the choices for them.  And when it comes time for nap, I always like to say, especially to toddlers and big kids, you don’t have to sleep, but you do have to rest.  And so they have quiet time, whether that’s an hour or 90 minutes or two minutes depending on the age of the child, where they’re in their room, in their crib or in their bed, where they’re having some down time.  That way, they have the downtime, and how they choose to spend that time is up to them.  They can be upset or they can just relax or they can choose to sleep, but they still have to have that down time.

Yes.  What are your tips when a child does have those big feelings?  What do you recommend parents you work with as far as tools to navigate that?

The number one thing is that sometimes our children’s big feelings are very triggering for us, especially if our own feelings weren’t validated when we were younger.  So when they’re having big feelings, it really can trigger us, and it can make us react to those big feelings.  The first thing I recommend, number one, is staying calm, because if our child is having big feelings and we get really upset, we’re just adding fuel to the fire, and it oftentimes will make the feeling even larger and can prolong any sort of tantrum that could be happening.

Second, this is a mantra that I say to myself over and over again when my children are not acting logically.  I have to remind myself, 25.  Because I remind myself that our children’s brains are not fully developed until they’re 25.  When we’re expecting them to react in a way that is logical for an adult brain, I have to remind myself, okay, well, my child may not be capable of my logical, rational adult thoughts right now because their brain is not going to be fully developed until they’re 25.  So that also helps me to be calm and patient because I realize that I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t have a fully developed brain, and that’s going to take some time.  That allows me to stay more patient and calm with my child.

On top of that, just recognizing the feeling, helping our children name those feelings and then validating the feelings because oftentimes many of us – I was raised by boomers, and so I was kind of the, rub some dirt in it kid generation.  Your feelings just didn’t – our parents didn’t get that, and so they didn’t know how to give it.  And now our generation that are raising children are doing things differently, and we are trying to have more respectful parenting.  One of the ways that you can really be a respectful parent is just validating those big feelings that your little ones has.  It doesn’t mean you need to give in to if they’re having a big t antrum because they want another cookie.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give in to that big feeling just to kind of keep the peace.  Just recognize it’s okay for your child to have those big feelings, right?  Our job is to stay calm and just validate.  “I know” are some of the most powerful words in the English dictionary when it comes to parenting because it lets our child know, I hear you.  I see you.  I see where you’re coming from.  I recognize what your feelings are.  And it’s important to, especially when they’re really little, help them understand what that feeling is.  I see that you’re really mad.  I see that you’re really sad.  And then validate it.  I know you want a cookie.  Cookies are so delicious.  Saying something like that instead of like, no, you can’t have a cookie; stop crying.  You’re going to get a much better response from your child if you validate their feelings before holding any sort of boundary.

And that transitions well into the tantrum area.  What are your tips related to how to handle the child who’s on the floor and just can’t be consoled?

Yes.  Like I mentioned, the first thing with tantrums – and again, these can be really triggering for us as adults, too, especially if we’re feeling low on reserves, but still staying calm is just so important because it truly is adding gas to a fire if we get really upset.  So stay calm.  And another thing that’s important here is when your child is having a tantrum, recognizing they are not coming from a place where it’s premeditated.  When children are having tantrums, their logical brain has been shut down, and they are more operating on that emotional, more primitive brain, right?  Trying to create logic and talk to them about their feelings and being logical with them and expecting logic from them – they’re just not capable.  Until they’ve calmed down, they can’t really hear a lot of what we’re saying.  So if we stay calm, and also limit our words.  Oftentimes when our children are tantruming, we’re trying to talk it through with them and trying to figure it out in the moment.  Sometimes it’s better to just say, I see that you’re really mad right now, and I understand.  Mommy’s here if you need me.  I’m right here when you’re ready for a hug.  You let me know.  And just kind of leave it at that.  That’s also going to allow your child to regulate better because you’re just there, calm, being there and present, and we’re not talking a ton about it, which can really create that tantrum going on much longer than it needs to.

Excellent.  What other tips do you have for our listeners related to behavior issues?

Kind of on that same vein of handling tantrums, time out is a really highly debated topic, right?  I’m a fan of time out because time out truly means to just rest, take a break.  That’s what it means.  So when our children are in a really heightened state, sometimes they do need a time out.  But it’s not like the traditional time out where you think like, oh, you’re going in your room to think about your behavior because oftentimes when we try to do that, our child feels more isolated, and that can really amp things up even more.  And so I’m a big fan of putting together a peaceful pillow or a cozy corner, someplace where our children can go to calm themselves down that’s not a negative place.  It’s in the main living area.  And they can go there if you see that your child is about to go into a tantrum phase.  You can do that in advance.  Like, I see that we’re starting to get really mad.  Let’s go sit together and read a book or something like that.  Sometimes we can preemptively get in front of it.  And sometimes I – unless a child is really breaking a golden rule, and golden rules are, I will not hurt myself; I will not hurt others; and I will not destroy property.  I’m not a fan of sending them necessarily to time out as a punitive way of doing things, but if they are breaking one of those golden rules, I do think that they need some time in a spot that’s a positive place.  It’s not just a negative place, and they’re not isolated, to tell their body to stop, to stop that behavior because it’s not safe.  And then once they’ve stopped the behavior and they come out of time out, just focusing on what went right.  You told your body to stop hitting.  Great job.  Do you want to come help me do X?  Something like that.  We don’t want to punish because that’s not how our children learn, but once everything is really calm is when we have the opportunity for teachable moments.  Our children are going to make a ton of mistakes.  That’s part of it.  We’ve all gone through the process of making mistakes, right?  I’ve made millions of mistakes throughout my life.  And that’s part of how our children learn so they have to make mistakes and we have to let them make mistakes so that they can learn from it.  If the child has been throwing or hitting or kicking, that’s when you can talk about what could we do instead.  That really hurt my body.  Next time you’re feeling really mad, you can’t hit.  That’s not safe.  I love myself too much for you to let you hit me, and I love you too much to let anyone hit you, right?  So what can we do instead next time when you’re feeling really angry?  For a younger child, you could say I’m really mad; you can stop your feet and say I’m really mad.  Give them approved behaviors and ways of expressing those big feelings.  And then if the child has broken a golden rule, sometimes we have to help them figure out how make it right, whether that’s a logical or natural consequence.  Natural consequences are like cause and effect, right?  You threw something and it broke, and now I need you to help me fix it.  Another thing is if a child hit another child, I always say to my son, how can we make this right?  And at first, I had to help them figure out ways that they could make it right.  Like, if that person wants a hug, do you want to give them a hug?  Do you want to say I’m sorry?  Do you want to color a picture?  Those are different ways I’ve helped them, and now I ask them that same question.  I’m like, how do you want to make this right with that person, and they’ve come to the place where they can actually make those decisions and figure that out for themselves.

I love that so much, Christine.

And it’s important because that’s how we truly change behavior is if the child has natural or logical consequences; that’s where they learn.  They’re like, oh, I don’t want to have to keep doing that.  I don’t want to do that again.  And when you’ve given them other tools and other ways of doing things, it might take a little while for them to get there, but you’re going to be so proud when instead of hitting, they’ve said, like, I don’t like that; I’m really angry.  That’s when as parents we’re like, oh, this hard work is working!

Yes!  So how do you navigate technology?  You mentioned screens off near bedtime and on the floor play.  I feel like this is a common issue for parents of younger children like toddlers, as well as older kids, because there’s so much even in school related to working on computers and technology.  It’s a part of our lives now.

Yeah.  So I am not the technology police at home.  I have read all of the studies.  I know the benefits and the downfalls.  We do live in such a technology focused society, and I do understand, it’s addicting for not just children, but it can be the same for adults.  For younger kids, I think following the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations overall is good, positive, helpful guidance.  As they get a little bit older, they’re allowed to have a little bit more, but also ensuring that lots of breaks are happening in between.  We’ve been through phases – one of my sons has ADHD, which means that his brain is wired for what he’s interested in, and he’s interested in technology.  So we’ve gone through phases where we’ve had to go on more of a technology diet than others because of the behavior that was resulting from having too much screen time.  But I think as parents, we’re just trying to strike the balance.  And reevaluating as time goes on.  My husband and I for a long time had a no technology during the week policy, and that didn’t mean TV; it was more like games and screens.  But my children have gotten to a place where they’re nine and a half now, and they’re better at turning it off and going and doing other things instead of just staying on it all the time.  And when they’re asked to get off of it, it’s not a big struggle.  And so we’ve actually recently loosened up a little bit more so they get a little bit of screen time at home during the week.  At this age, it’s so important for them to connect with their friends, and that’s one way that they’re able to do it.  I think it’s just reevaluating as our kids get older, what makes sense for your family, how your child reacts to technology, and making your rules based on your own specific child and your family’s philosophies.

Very helpful.  So what other questions are you seeing from your clients related to behavior that we didn’t cover?

I think another one is not listening.  Lots of, like, how do I get my child to listen better?  This is a big one, and let’s be honest, as moms, nothing is more frustrating than repeating yourself a thousand times; am I right?

Yes!  Even with teenagers, I feel like I’m still repeating myself to my 13-year-old.

Oh, for sure.  I mean, usually they’re distracted with technology, right?  This is what I feel like I look like when my kids aren’t listening and I’m repeating myself over and over again is like the cartoons where the steam used to come out of the ears and the head started popping off the body.  That’s how I feel inside.

But there are things that we can do to really get our children to listen better that they just play into looking at things from a respectful standpoint, right?  If we’re constantly ordering and directing and we’re just focused on almost that authoritarian, like, do as I say, don’t question me – oftentimes, you will find that when you take that approach, that children don’t listen as much.  They tend to shut down a lot.  So number one is ensuring you’ve got that strong connection because if our kids don’t feel connected to us, they’re not going to listen to us.  It’s kind of like thinking about, like, do you have a friend who isn’t respectful to you?  Are you going to take their advice when they try to talk to you about something?  Probably not.  You’re going to tune them out a little bit more, right?  So I think about that.  Just making sure that you have that connection, making sure that you’re giving lots of love and affection and attention and spending time together and being interested in what they’re interested in, having that legitimate, true relationship and connection.  That really opens up the ears because even think about it in your own relationships with your spouse or your partner.  If you guys aren’t connected, oftentimes the communication just isn’t there.  We’re less likely to hear what the other person is saying in the way that they meant to say it.  Does that make sense?

Exactly.  It does.  Very helpful.

And the other thing – I have many things about this, but oftentimes the most popular, especially when we have toddlers and young preschoolers, I felt like I was trying to keep my twin boys alive all the time when they were younger.  So my most popular words coming out of my mouth felt like, “No,” “stop,” and “don’t.”  But then when I started doing more behavior work and I started thinking about it, when I have someone – even though they’re children and they’re young – when they hear no, stop, and don’t all the time, they’re going to tune us out a little bit more.  So when we actually need it, when we’re in a safety situation where they’re running away from us in the parking lot, if we always say no, stop, and don’t, they might disregard us when it’s a true safety issue.  So we want to kind of reserve those.  And there’s different ways to say no without saying no that can also decrease tantrums, as well.  “Can I have a cookie?”  What’s our natural inclination?  “No, I’m making dinner.”  Temper tantrum down on the floor.  But if you say, “Yes, after dinner you can have a cookie,” you’ve said no without saying no.  You’ve just told them when they can have it.  “I want ice cream.”  “Oh, I know.”  (Validate the feeling.)  “Ice cream is so delicious.  But today has already been an ice cream day, so tomorrow can be another ice cream day.”  You’re saying no without actually saying no.  That works really, really well.

Lots of “Yes, and.”  I always think about this.  I do this with my husband.  I’ll be thinking – obviously, we have different upbringings, different minds, and he’ll have one idea of a way to do things, and I’ll have my idea, right?  And if I say to him, that’s a stupid idea.  We should do it my way.  He’s going to shut down, right?  He’s not going to be listening to me.  Whereas if I say, “Yes, we could do it that way, or we could do it this way,” he’s going to be more open and receptive to thinking about the way that I think that we should do it.

Nice.  Excellent tips.  So what would it be like for our listeners or our doula clients to work with you and your team at Bella Luna Family?

Essentially, what we do is when we start working with a family, we always start by having you fill out an intake form, and that’s where we collect lots of different information because we like to look at every situation holistically.  So we’re looking at everything from sleep, behavior, potty training, nutrition, where the parents are at, and so that’s how we start everything.  From there, we meet with families one on one, and we have conversation about the most challenging aspects that are happening whether it’s potty training or sleep or behavior.  And we kind of have a conversation and share insight and educate on what’s normal.  Parents leave there with action steps on what they can do, and we like to try to keep it really simple.  You’re working on some small things.  Small things can really help improve.  And then we’re continually working with people.  We build on those skills as time goes on.

Excellent.  And you can be found all over social media and your website.   Where would you like to direct our listeners?

I’m thinking I will add a freebie.  If people want to download, I have a Taming Tantrums Checklist.  That tends to be a great way to start.  So if people want more insight about that topic, and also to get on our mailing list.  I send newsletters every other week filled with lots of good insight.

Thank you so much, Christine!  I loved chatting with you again.  What a great resource for all of our listeners!

Thank you, Kristin!  It was so great chatting with you again!


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