While many parents will say that the teen years are the part of child-rearing they most fear, raising toddlers sure isn’t a walk in the park either! As a mother of three, my kids have more than tested my limits through their toddler years. Laying a solid foundation of rules is important during these early years because it is a basis for expected behavior in later years. After all, as difficult as it seems now to curb unruly behavior, it’s much easier to tackle a behavior problem now when your child is pint-sized than years later when he can look you square in the eye (or even look down in his teen years) and has a more robust vocabulary to boot.
Disciplining little ones is also about keeping them safe, too. Toddlers are known for their unique ways of having fun, like jumping on the bed, standing on table tops, cutting everything they can with kiddie scissors, and more. Disciplining such behavior now is critical for safety!
While disciplining a toddler is critical; however, it sure isn’t easy. Here are some tips to help you discipline your toddler more effectively:
- Explain the Rules. Before you can begin thinking about discipline, you need to first ensure that your child knows the rules you expect him or her to follow. Children can start learning rules from a very early age, but you will find that you have to add rules as they get older.
- Enforce the Rules. Rules carry little weight if they aren’t enforced in a uniform way. For instance, you cannot have a rule that says, “No drinks on the carpet,” and then make exceptions to the rule here and there. Your child will be confused and won’t know when it’s OK to break rules and when it’s not.
- Don’t Count. So many parents say, “I’m going to count to three and…” If you remember “Pavlov’s dog” from your school days, you will see that counting to three is basically conditioning your kids to NOT do what you say until you get to “two.” The next time you find yourself counting, notice that your toddler won’t move until you get to two, and you will see the truth in this. Instead, adopt the theory of expecting your child to do something the first time you ask.
- Avoid Disciplining in Anger. Those little ones sure do know how to push our buttons as parents! It is truly amazing that someone so small can make us so angry. Yet disciplining in anger only upsets your child and makes you feel guilty later. It’s much better to take a moment to gather your thoughts and calm down before you approach the situation.
- Choose a Suitable Punishment. In the world of discipline, there is not a one-size-fits-all punishment. For instance, giving a child a timeout is great for getting him or her to calm down and think about what went wrong, but a timeout may not be the best choice for something like coloring on the wall. In that situation, it may be best to have the child clean up the mess that was made.
- Think Short-Term. While grounding a teenager from TV for a week may be suitable for that age group, such an extended punishment for a toddler is often not best. Toddlers have very short attention spans, and so you want to find a punishment that packs some oomph in a fast and lasting way. Things like timeouts, taking a toy away, canceling a pending play date, and other such actions work well.
- Punish Potty Words. In the “old days” when we were growing up, putting a bar of soap in the mouth of a child for saying potty words was common. However, this is generally considered not acceptable today because of the toxicity of soap. Toddlers do start mimicking those potty words that they hear us mutter or older siblings say, and parents today are opting for other foul-tasting but non-toxic options. Just choose something your child doesn’t like the taste of, such as pepper, hot sauce, or something similar, and use just a small dab of that as punishment. It’s safer and has a lasting impression just like that bar of soap did way back when.
- Punish in Public. Toddlers may be tiny, but they are incredibly smart. If you have an aversion to punishing them in public, they will absolutely pick up on it. This only serves to make your trips with them out in public truly horrible experiences for you both because they will test your limits and know you won’t do anything about it. So do not be afraid to punish them in public! I personally have put all three of my kids in random corners in retail stores, grocery stores, and so forth. Often just hinting that there are corners “here” they can stand in, too, does the trick.
- Talk It Out. Any punishment that you choose to use, from timeouts to taking toy privileges away, should involve an educational component to it. If you don’t want the behavior to be repeated, you need to not just tell them they did something wrong but you also need to discuss why that behavior was wrong and what negative things result with that behavior. You also may want to take time to give your child ideas for what behavior or actions would have been more suitable.
- Prevention is Key. Rules and discipline are all about trying to teach your child how to act “right,” and the fact is that most kids will need a few lessons on a certain topic before they will really pick up on what you are trying to teach them. While sometimes you do want to let your child learn on his or her own through independent experiences, you can help to save yourself and your child some grief by offering reminders on the rules as well as the punishment that he or she received the last time a rule was broken. For instance, if you are leaving the room while your child is coloring at the table, you may want to remind him that the last time he colored on the wall, he had to scrub it off all by himself.
While discipline is important, you should also know that toddlers absolutely love to make their parents happy. You should make an effort trying to catch the doing good things like following the rules, being thoughtful and considerate, sharing, and so forth. By all means, reward good behavior just like you would punish bad behavior! Give them an extra big, heart-warming smile, a warm hug, or spend some extra time doing something they love to do with you as a reward.
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