How to discipline a toddler
Minimize meltdowns and create healthy boundaries
Children will inevitably test your patience. One minute your toddler is the sweetest, most adorable little human, and the next, she is hitting her brother with a block. Just remember that it is your child’s job in life as a toddler to test their limits, play, be curious, and explore the world around them.
Your toddler isn’t always trying to defy you and get in trouble. Being curious and testing is a normal part of child development. As a parent, it is our job, however, to make sure they are staying safe and are respectful. This is where discipline is necessary to help guide our little ones safely through childhood.
This guide will help you learn some useful techniques to help you discipline your child.
Expect tough times
Tough times are bound to happen with toddlers. Not only can they not fully express themselves verbally, but they are also filled with confusion and uncertainty several times throughout the day.
When your toddler gets passed around at a big family gathering, for example, you can’t expect them always to be comfortable with this. Or let’s say you had to miss their nap time in order to make an event. If they are acting out and pushing boundaries, you probably could have predicted this since they missed their nap.
Try to anticipate times that might be hard for your toddler. While you can’t shield them from everything, you might be able to prepare for a rough time with some welcome comforts. Snacks, rest time, and a little one on one connection can go a long way to calm an upset toddler.
Choose your battles
You can’t say no all day. If you always say no, your child will eventually become immune to it. They will start to tune you out. Instead of always saying no, say yes when it is within reason.
Sometimes, the thing they want will be old news within a minute anyway. Kids have very short attention spans. If they want to see something you are working on, just let them now and then. They will love the little engagement with you, and you’ll be able to have a quick chat with your curious tot.
Often, your child is just doing to get a rise out of you. If they are seeking attention, give them some positive attention instead.
Keep it short and sweet
When talking to your tot, keep things brief. While toddlers understand a lot more than they get credit for, they really don’t have the attention span to listen to you babble for hours on end. Give them clear, concise directions, and keep things simple.
When you want to give your child direction, be assertive, and stay on track. If you lose focus, so will they. If your toddler is doing something dangerous, just remove them from the situation and clearly explain why you can’t let them do that.
As far as discipline is concerned, you should try and stay as consistent as possible. If you aren’t staying consistent, your child will feel uneasy. Instead of feeling your confidence, they will know that they are in control. This will be very unsettling and your child may seem like they are lashing out.
Stay strong when you dole out a ruling on something or give an answer they don’t like.
When you need to give a consequence, do so. Show them how cause and effect works. If your toddler wants to brush their teeth ten times before bed, then just clearly explain that this means only one story tonight.
The younger your toddler is, keep the consequences relatively immediate and straightforward. If you delay a consequence for four hours from the incident, chances are they will have already forgotten what you’re even talking about.
Give a consequence right when the action happens.
Talk about the behavior, not your child
If your toddler is acting out, it may be easy to say that they are bad or they are tired. Instead, focus on the behavior or the action that is wrong. They aren’t a bad kid. Hitting their sister, however, was a hurtful action.
Avoid calling them names or talking about them in a negative way. This isn’t a healthy discipline for either of you.
Everything about your toddler’s world may seem out of control to them. If you want to give them a feeling of independence and control in a world of chaos, give them some choices. The beauty of this is that their choices can both be something that gives you the results you want.
If you want your child to put their shoes on for preschool, give them two weather-appropriate choices and let them decide which to wear. If they don’t pick and put them on, then the choice gets taken away. They feel some independence, and you get their shoes on faster.
Yelling doesn’t help
Raising your voice, screaming, and yelling doesn’t work. Instead of hearing what you are saying, they will only hear shouting and feel afraid. They won’t respect you more for yelling louder. If you just start screaming, anything you say will just get lost in the noise.
Talk to your child like a person, respect them, and speak at their level. Get down to look them in the eyes, and assertively tell them what you need to say to them. You don’t need to walk on eggshells and never correct them, but you also don’t need to scream.
Praise good choices
If you see your child helping their little sibling out or doing something without being told, praise them. When you don’t congratulate them for every little thing that they do, the times you do will carry a lot more weight.
Praise them for making good choices, being respectful, being helpful, or anything else you think they need to hear. This will give them a nice boost of encouragement without overdoing it.
Model good behavior
We can’t expect our toddlers to do something we don’t do ourselves. Toddlers are like sponges. If you’re doing something hurtful or disrespectful, they notice.
Be the person you want them to be. Model good behavior, and they will pick up on it.
Never resort to physical punishment
Physical punishment, like spanking, is never OK. It doesn’t teach them anything except that physical violence is acceptable. They will fear you and not respect you. They won’t learn what a positive behavior is or what the reason is they shouldn’t do something. Instead, all they will learn is that when they make a choice that you don’t like, they get hurt.
As parents, you are supposed to be their safe place. If you feel out of control, step out of the room and take some breaths. Come back when you are calm and just look your child in the eye. That personal connection is what you both really need.
When it comes to discipline, the best thing you can do is connect with your child. Get down on their level and simply explain why they can’t continue with the behavior or action. Use clear, assertive directions, and stay consistent. If you need to give a consequence, do so on the spot and stay strong.
When times are tough, show your child that you respect and love them, and this will go a long way. You’ve got this.
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