5 Tips for Disciplining Your Toddler
How to better handle the terrible-two stage.
When those terrible twos hit, many parents are unprepared for the challenge. It seems as if children are a whirlwind of activity interspersed with meltdowns and even defiance.
As always, parents can better manage their toddlers if they understand that there are very valid reasons for their (bad) behavior. Toddlers act in this way because they have become more mobile. They have moved passed the crawling, cruising stage to the running, climbing stage. Parents now need to set even more limits: “No, get down from the counter!” “Move away from the oven!”
This angers children; they can’t take all the “Nos”. Developmentally they haven’t learned how to handle frustration in productive ways, so they cry and whine and eventually meltdown.
At the same time, children are learning that they are separate from their parents. They are now starting to understand that they have their own body, thoughts and feelings. They start to assert their independence. Now they need to feel in charge of themselves. This is when they start to say “Me do it!” They get really angry when they are unable to buckle themselves into their car seats, or they are not allowed to walk by themselves in the parking lot.
So now that their behavior makes a little bit more sense, here are five simple ways that parents can handle these toddler years.
1. Prevention is worth an ounce of cure:
The most relaxed parents are the ones who set themselves us for success. They know that they shouldn’t take their children on an errand at the end of the day or will skip the visit to the highly stimulating amusement park. Most children (and adults) do not work well when they are hungry, tired and overwhelmed with sights and sensations,(loud noises and bright lights).
The simplest way to ensure good behavior (or at least some sort of reasonableness) from your toddler is to make sure that they are getting a good night sleep, appropriate naps and are well fed. Although it is not always possible, it’s best if you take them to a venue that is age appropriate for them, like parks, mini-amusement parks, and the baby pool.
Another trigger for bad behavior is rushing. Most toddlers cannot transition from activity to activity easily. They need a lot of wiggle room. It is helpful to give children a lot of advance warnings before you need to leave home, get them into their pajamas or before putting them to sleep.
Similarly, if you know your child spends a lot of time in the bath and hates getting out, make that a part of your schedule. Parents often know when a temper tantrum is coming. Don’t act surprised. Try to schedule in that inevitable meltdown. So if Eli usually cries when he has to put on his pajamas and it takes him about 15 minutes, until he calms down, schedule in that extra time during your bedtime routine.
Since toddlers are experimenting with independence, they like to feel like they’re in control. Giving them choices allows them to assert their autonomy, but safely, because you, the parent, are still in charge. Choices foster a sense of self as children come to learn that their preferences can be communicated and respected.
Some simple choices are:
“Do you want to take your book or a snack to the doctor?”
“Do you want me to buckle you or do you want to buckle yourself?
“Do you want the blue or green cup?”
“Do you want to put your pants on first or your shirt on first?”
These questions seem as if they can take a lot of time, but can save you hours in avoiding those toddler power struggles.
A sense of humor is a must when dealing with toddlers; they respond so well to playfulness. When moving children from activity to activity, parents can make it fun, “Let’s pretend that the bath is the ocean and we are dolphins! We need water to live! Let’s get to the bath fast!” “Let’s pretend we are vacuum cleaners and pick up all the puzzle pieces!”
Singing is also a great way to help get kids transition, “We are going to eat dinner, to eat dinner, to eat dinner….”, “It is time to leave the park, the park, the park…” Most parents, when it is time to clean up, have definitely used the clean-up song to get everyone going.
4. Kids are never too young for empathy:
Enforcing limits time and again can be frustrating for both parties. However, limits given along with empathy can soften the blow. It sounds like this:
“You are so sad because your video is over. You want to watch another video so badly. The rule is one video.”
“It is so frustrating, you wanted to stay longer at the park. It is time for us to leave.”
“You sound so mad! You wanted another candy. The rule is one candy.”
This doesn’t mean that your child will stop resisting. You might have to use these phrases over and over again. However, it gives parents something to say that is kind and helpful while enforcing the rules. It often keeps parents calm and can be soothing for children.
5. Patience is physical.
I was complaining to one of my very smart and kind friends about how tired I was and how I seem to be losing it with more and more with my toddler. "I feel like my patience is shot!"
She said, "You need a break, you can't raise a family if you are not filling up your on gas tank. Patience is physical, my dear!"
She is right. Patience is physical. I have a lot more patience with my kids if I have eaten a healthy dinner, had my multivitamin and gotten a good night sleep. As parents we can’t always do that, but we should strive for it. It should be our number one priority.