Five Elements of Successfully Disciplining Your Toddler
By Andy Eig PhD.
Moms ask me all the time how to talk to toddlers (ages 2 to 4) so that they can be understood when they are trying to instill discipline. Here are a few tips that can be very useful in trying to tame your delightful little beast.
1. An Ounce of Prevention.
The old adage is true—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A tired, hungry, or bored toddler is trouble waiting to happen. Kids listen best when they are kept to an that allows them time to play, rest, and eat. If your child is tired, irritable, or cranky much of the time, chances are he or she is not able to follow the rules of the house. Check your child’s schedule and make sure they are getting enough time to rest as well as enough time to be active and play time (especially play time with their parents).
2. Be positive.
Rewards and praise work much better than punishment. In fact, at this age, I would avoid punishments altogether. Toddlers have a difficult time understanding what a punishment is. They end up feeling confused and bad about themselves. When your toddler is following the rules, praise him or her. Motivate your child by offering small rewards such as stickers or small toys. They will gain a sense of accomplishment through earning rewards.
3. Keep it simple and direct.
Set limits in a calm, firm tone of voice. If you are too angry or upset, your child may be reacting more to your tone than to the actual words. Tell your child what you want to be done and why in a way that they can understand. Something like, “Susie, time to brush your teeth. We brush our teeth everyday so we keep our teeth from getting sick.” Or,
“David, we can’t run here. The sign says it is too dangerous for children to run here.” Toddlers have short attention spans. You need to tell them what to do in simple, specific, non-judgmental language.
4. Avoid power struggles.
Every parent of a toddler knows that it is impossible to avoid all power struggles with toddlers. True, but pick your battles. A great trick is to offer your child a choice between 2 or even 3 activities. For instance, if you are trying to get you child to join you in drawing a picture, ask her if she wants to start with the purple or red crayon. You can also ask her which crayon you should use. Similarly, if it is time to leave the playground and you know your son will not want to leave, start the two minute rule. Tell him that in two minutes, you will be leaving the playground. This technique may take some time to work. But soon, your toddler, will be following the two-minute rule and even ask when two minutes are up.
5. Consistency is key.
Parents should be a united front when it comes to discipline. They need to agree on the rules and stick to it. If there is a disagreement between you and your spouse, discuss it away from the children and come up with a consistent plan. Children need firm and consistent guidelines from their parents.
I hope that some of these tips help you get through the toddler years. Keep in mind that challenging you and being unruly is developmentally appropriate for toddlers. If you are having continued difficulty with your child or just want to learn more, seek out help from your pediatrician, educator, or child psychologist. Many parents find that even one consultation with a specialist can be immensely helpful.
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