For many moms, having to discipline toddlers is one of the most difficult and hair-raising experiences they will ever have. Toddlers can’t control their emotions yet, but moms need their kids to learn how to manage themselves without a constant battle of wills. These are our four best principles for effectively disciplining toddlers.
Consistency is Key
Being consistent about expectations and rules is probably the most important thing you can do as a parent. That doesn’t mean consistency is easy! When your toddler cries, talks back or gets angry, you will be tempted to jettison your rules. But remember the rules are for their benefit, and enforcing them is how you ensure that toddlers grow. Consistency of rules will be important throughout their lives, so get started now. Remember, the more consistent you are about rules, the faster your child will learn what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior. And as they age you will see the benefit, because when they know your expectations, they strive to meet them.
Reward Good Behavior
When you think about discipline, the first thing that comes to mind is punishment. But punishment is not the whole story. It’s equally important to reward your toddler’s good behavior. Positive reinforcement highlights the behaviors you want to encourage and it is actually easier to get children to behave with positive reinforcements. You don’t want to go overboard with giving your child candy and toys each time, but think about different levels of reward and it will go a long way towards teaching your toddler.
Model Good Behavior
Charles Barkley once famously declared “athletes are not role models.” He was right – parents are the primary role models in their children’s life. When it comes to modeling behavior, your kids are always watching you. All children, like their animal counterparts, learn primarily from watching their parents. When you want to teach your toddler how to share, be polite, and say please and thank you – make sure you model this behavior.
Be Aware of Triggers
When children are in the toddler stage, some of their behavior is predictable. You probably already know which situations are going to trigger a tantrum. In some cases you will be able to prevent the misbehavior by removing the triggers. If you child is throwing something across the floor, pick up the object and put it out of reach. If sharing is a problem, remove the most triggering toys before the playdate. The same is true of meltdowns triggered by being hungry or tired. If you’re going on a long road trip, make sure you bring snacks. Make sure they don’t miss their afternoon nap if being tired always has negative ramifications later. You can’t avoid and prevent every misbehavior, but when it’s feasible to do so, remove the temptation ahead of time.
Take a Time Out
Time outs are good for kids and their parents. Reserve time outs for when nothing else is working. Experts recommend a time out of one minute per year of age, but let your own instincts guide you. Make a habit of warning your child that if they don’t cease their bad behavior, a time out is coming. If they don’t listen, then remove the child to the time out space in your home. Always set a timer and when it expires, ask your child to apologize. Then always follow up the apology with a hug and a smile, so your child gets positive reinforcement. Since toddlers do not want to be alone away from parents, a time out can be very effective. A time out is also a good thing for parents, who need a few minutes to take a deep breath.