Many parents know that raising a toddler can be a period of incredible frustration for both parties. As these tiny humans start to test boundaries, parents are often at a loss for managing their behavior. On the other hand, parents should understand that children are built to experiment and explore. While toddlers are trying to gain independence, they often don’t have the skillset, so they get frustrated. At this age, the focus should be on managing behavior, not necessarily discipline.
So how do you guide your toddler’s behavior? Just as your child is experimenting with their behavior and boundaries, you should also experiment with your discipline techniques. Your techniques will depend on your child’s age, temperament, and values as a parent. Here are some discipline techniques for your toddler.
Always thinks ahead and ask yourself, “How can I make this a successful day?” This means setting up the environment to promote good behavior. If your child likes dressing themselves, make sure you have lots of pants with elastic waists and shirts that are easy to put on to cut down on frustration. Also, allow extra time to get dressed in the morning. When it comes to play dates, plan to curtail conflict. It would help to make sure there are enough toys to share and various activities to cut down on boredom. A child who’s hungry, thirsty, or tired is more likely to misbehave, so forgoing a snack or planning a play date during nap time is a surefire ride on the Meltdown Express.
Because toddlers are experimenting with independence, it’s essential to give them safe, reasonable choices to assert it. For example, you could ask them, “Do you want your juice in the red cup or the green cup?” Toddlers want to make choices. If you say no, they want it even more.
It may not seem like a discipline tool, but you can’t help your child learn appropriate behavior if you aren’t there to coach them. This doesn’t mean stepping in to solve every problem but guiding them on how to behave. The more you watch, the more you’ll be able to tell what situations set them off and how you can help.
Set expectations and consequences.
Children can’t follow the rules if they don’t know the rules. Make sure regulations and instructions are clear and straightforward. Establish eye contact and check that they’re nodding when you talk to them. Directions that use “I” appeal to toddlers who want to please. For example, you could say, “I’m scared you will fall off the chair. Please sit down.” Also, be clear about what will happen if the rules aren’t followed.
Show and tell.
Toddlers are very visual. While words are important, so is modeling the behavior you want. Consider turn-taking, for example. You could try saying, “It’s your turn to put the piggy bank, now it’s my turn, now it’s your turn,” and so on.
As selfish as toddlers are, they still want to please you. Complimenting your child when they come to the table the first time you ask shows them good behavior and reinforces your bond. Children need lots of attention, as parents, it’s your job to give it to them. Be careful to give attention to appropriate behavior.
If you see a tantrum building, distract them with something they like to do. For instance, if your two-year-old is frustrated that her older sister won’t share her new doll, say, “Let’s play with your stickers at the kitchen table instead.” At this age, kids love to help. Ask them to help you put the condiments on the table or put the clean towels away. Redirection can also unstick your toddler from a no-no she can’t get off her mind. Get them involved in a completely different activity if they’re drawn to grandma’s stereo system like a magnet. Along with redirection, naming a child’s feelings may also be helpful.
If no amount of coaching and distraction works, it may be time to say, “If you can’t take turns, we have to leave.” With all discipline strategies, you have to follow through. Establish a comfortable, quiet spot where your child can go with you when they lose control. It’s not punishment but rather a place to calm down and relax.
Don’t just say “No.”
It’s more helpful to tell and show children what to do rather than what not to do. Instead of “No yelling,” try saying, “Please use a quiet voice,” and say it quietly. Of course, there are situations where a firm no, coupled with swift action, is necessary, like when your child reaches for your mug of hot coffee or walks toward the road. Still, save no for when you need it.
Don’t just let them have their way.
Sometimes, toddlers pitch a fit despite our best efforts or refuse to be swayed. Be sympathetic, but don’t cave in. Your child needs to see that you mean what you say and are strong enough to stand firm, even in the face of toddler fury.
Don’t tell them, “Think about what you did.”
Though it seems to make sense to talk to a child after an incident of misbehavior, that’s pointless with toddlers. Because they aren’t developmentally there yet, they won’t understand why you’re telling them to think about what they did. Bringing the incident up again won’t accomplish anything. Instead, try to find a way to let them know that their behavior was unacceptable and there will be consequences.
Raising children isn’t for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to toddlers. Trying to find a way to discipline toddlers is hard, especially when they may not understand. However, as a parent, it’s your job to teach your children right from wrong and show them acceptable behavior. When disciplining a toddler, it’s best to focus on managing behavior rather than punishment. The best thing to remember is to show your toddler that even when they mess up, you still love them and that everyone makes mistakes.