Disciplining a child can be hard for a parent. As a mother of three children, I have gained experience about what works (and what does not) when establishing and enforcing consequences. Toddlers can be especially difficult when deciding on the best course of action. Communication and understanding can be limited when compared to an older child, and discipline needs to be tailored to address a toddler’s unique age and ability. Through trial and error, I have found the 10 following techniques to help prevent the necessity to discipline a toddler, and when the need does arise, being the most helpful at stopping unwanted behavior:
1. Establish Control
Toddlers should be given choices and allowed to explore, but parents need to maintain control. A child should not run the house. Toddlers exhibit more positive behavior when they are not the boss.
2. Set Limits
A child cannot be expected to follow the rules when they do not know about them! Even toddlers can understand basic directions and limits, and parents should share the information in a firm and concise manner. When toddlers are aware of what is expected, they are more likely to follow the rules.
3. Be Consistent
What is expected of a toddler should not change from day to day. If one day they are allowed to play with the television remote control, the child cannot be expected to know not to play with it at another time. Both rules and consequences should be as consistent as possible.
4. Provide Structure
Toddlers thrive on routine and structure. When children know what to expect next, they are more likely to cooperate. Routine doesn’t have to be rigid, but maintaining nap, bed, meal, and snack times can really help keep toddlers happy and well-behaved. I know I tend to be grumpier and less cooperative when I am hungry or tired!
5. Provide Time and Attention
Simply spending quality time with your toddler will help prevent unwanted behavior. I find that when I give my toddler my full attention for at least a small portion of the day, she is much less likely to require any form of discipline.
6. Positive Reinforcement
When a toddler is engaged in approved activities, parents should lavish on the praise. Whenever my youngest daughter plays with her puzzles or matching games, I always try to give her encouragement and words of praise. Not only does it make her want to continue playing with these great learning toys, it has made her more likely to choose them to play with at later times.
7. Distract and Redirect
If a toddler is playing or engaging in an activity not approved by the parent, a simple distraction can end the behavior. Offer a favorite toy or fun activity to the child for redirection. Do not focus on the misbehavior. Drawing a large amount of attention to the unwanted behavior can thwart a parent’s desire to end it!
If a toddler is throwing a tantrum, the best reaction is none at all. When the child realizes the behavior is not gaining attention, it will stop. Of course, it is much easier to ignore a tantrum at home when the screaming and kicking is not bothering anyone else. At the grocery store, a tantrum is much harder to simply tune-out. Maintaining consistency and not giving in will help lessen the frequency of these embarrassing outbursts.
9. Take Away
A favorite toy or game can be taken away when a toddler misbehaves. It is important that the child understands the toy is being taken away because of an unwanted action, so it must be done immediately and explained in simple words. Removing an item at a later time makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a toddler to correlate the two occurrences.
10. Time Out
A brief time-out directly following unwanted behavior can be very effective when disciplining a toddler. A good rule is to match minutes to age when establishing time. The child should be placed in an area without toys or on a set time-out pad or chair. At my home, we have a time-out cushion on the couch. By utilizing the above techniques, however, I have found that I only rarely have to use it.
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