Say what you will, parents, but most of us know that the toddler years are a mix of adoration and exasperation. That goes for both parties. We love how cute and fun the kids are at that stage, but dealing with toddlers requires skill.

You love them, teach them, and trick them. Yeah, sometimes it’s necessary to use a sprinkle or two of deception to get them to do what you want. It’s okay – even psychologists know it! This is especially true when confronted with the dreaded tantrum. What starts out as an assertion of your little one’s power can be defused with some clever mind tricks.

An interview with Dr. Tovah Klein, an expert in toddler development, highlighted the idea that the key to beating toddler tantrums is to outsmart their egos. Klein encourages parents to understand that kids this age are all about their own ideas and what they want, but parents can leverage that.

The best way to thwart a meltdown or reduce one that is already in motion is to let your child think she’s getting what she wants. Her way. Her idea. We’ll break down Klein’s four points here:

  1. Task Assignment

    We know how to delegate. Let your child help out with one thing but play up its importance. It doesn’t have to be something kid-centric, Klein explains. It could be an activity like helping you find something in the store or holding an “important item”, but you have to hype it up as a playful activity.

    When at home, allow them to assist you so they feel like “a big kid” and a part of your work.

  2. Distraction

    Direct your child’s attention to something she’ll feel excited about, and feed that feeling while you’re handling adult business. You might decide to act silly or give her your phone to play with. Other distractions include a TV show, a favorite toy, or coloring activity.

    Klein does caution against this being your sole tantrum cure, as it could be framed as bribery and set your child up to think bad behavior gets rewarded.

  3. Decision Inclusion

    This is a biggie. Have your kiddo help you make a choice, but set it up to where you already know the outcome. “This or that?” becomes a fun game that tricks your child into believing they are calling the shots.

    Klein points out it could be a decision that involves produce at the grocery store or small items from the home improvement aisle. As a bonus kid ego-booster, tell the cashier how your little one picked it out on her own. If you’re working on a project, give him options to choose from, and make him feel like his contribution is huge.

  4. Positive Reminder

    To really spotlight your kid’s endless pot of great ideas (which is the art of trickery), remind him how happy you were with his decision, or let him know how much you loved his idea. “I’m so happy you thought of that!” will go far.

Dr. Klein has over 20 years of experience working with young children, and authored the popular parenting guidebook, How Toddlers Thrive. Her extensive advice to parents about meltdowns includes watching out for triggers and stopping a tantrum before it begins.

Catering to toddlers’ developing sense of self (egos) isn’t about caving to their whims and wants, but rather understanding things from their perspective and making their wants works for you. Have them believe they’re in control, but you know they’re not.

There is plenty of parenting advice out here, and you’ve probably learned how to approach challenges with a combination of methods. Toddlers are a finicky, unpredictable bunch at times, and not so much at others. You’ve just got to find ways to establish boundaries while keeping the peace.

What do you think of Dr. Klein’s approach about promoting your child’s “ideas”? Do you agree or disagree with using tricks that play to the toddler’s ego?