Dealing with Discipline:
Strategies to use with toddlers
By Kristen Learnard
When I meet a group of first time parents
of toddlers, their most commonly asked question is: "How
do I discipline my child?"
The meaning of discipline: the word discipline
means "teaching." While children are the product
of their parents genes, they are also influenced by the
world around them.
Toddlers need to sense that mom and dad
love them, are firm, kind, consistent, and clear about
boundaries. In turn, the parents will be off to a great
start in raising happy, responsible, and respectful kids.
The permissive parent fails to set consistent
limits and frequently gives in to tantrums or whining.
This type of parent dislikes seeing his child unhappy
or crying. The end result may be a preschooler who does
not abide by simple rules, protests just about everything,
and claims that he is bored most of the time.
Parents must take control over the television-set,
movies, and video games. Successful discipline and inappropriate
viewing do not compliment one another. It is crucial that
young children (ages 14 mos. to 5 yrs.) do not view various
forms of violence: shooting, bopping, killing, dying,
and even talking back. (i.e. X-Men, Power Rangers, Rugrats,
Jurassic Park, many Disney films, the news, and violent
Many kids today are being desensitized from
violence. In turn, the majority of these same young viewers
are more aggressive at home, in school, and during play.
TWELVE MONTHS: First, consider
that it's developmentally appropriate for a toddler to
explore just about anything and everything. A toddler
who is "playing" is hard at work learning about
the world. Be prepared to distract and redirect your child
all day long. Also, realize that during your toddler's
quest for a "sense of autonomy," he will venture
out into the world only to run back to mom or dad for
some reassurance before squirming away again.
STRATEGY: Your one-year
old wants to investigate the glass of juice you accidentally
left on the coffee table. Avoid saying, "No, you
can't touch it." Instead, gently take his hand or
pick him up. In the meantime, briefly explain that the
glass can easily break. Guide him toward the cabinet containing
plastic cups and say, "Look, here are some cups that
you can play with." Then help engage your toddler
in that new activity.
FOURTEEN MONTHS: A few
months have passed and your little one begins to test
you! The scenario: Your toddler purposely glances at you
while he is heading toward those buttons on the television
set. Respond to this normal behavior by immediately removing
your child from the scene. Many toddlers will try to make
their way back to the buttons. Once again, remove your
child from the television. He may cry briefly. It may
be helpful to offer a brief explanation: "those buttons
do turn the television on, but that area is closed. It's
okay to cry if you're upset." After the crying stops,
give him a hug and engage him in another activity.
TWENTY-FOUR MONTHS: "What
do I do now?" ask many parents of terrific two-year
olds (the stage may begin as early as 18 months). From
this moment on, life may be anything but dull. Your toddler
seems to be both an "experimenter" and a "boss."
Expect your child to get into everything, use the word
"no," have tantrums and refuse to cooperate.
STRATEGY: While I do recommend several
strategies to use with twos, the WHEN-THEN rule is effective
when your child refuses to cooperate. It's ten o'clock in
the morning and your toddler is tugging at the front door.
He wants to leave for the park now, not later. The rule
is that the toys must be picked up first. So the parent
says, "Pick up your toys." Your toddler replies,
"No." To avoid a power struggle, use the WHEN-THEN
rule. In a friendly, but firm tone say, "WHEN you pick
up the toys, THEN we can go to the park." (If there
are more than 5 or so toys on the floor, offer help). Never
use bribery to get your toddler to do something.
To avoid many outbursts,
check to see if your child is either tired, hungry,
uncomfortable or becoming ill.
Establish daily routines.
Routines help toddlers learn and to feel safe and
Make eye contact when
talking or listening to your child. Kneel or bend
down as well.
Forewarn toddlers before
Keep in mind that a toddler's
"no" may mean "I need a nap"
or some other message.
Don't forget humor. Sometimes
it's just as well to smile and say something funny.
Compliment your child's
efforts each day.
Kristen Learnard, mother of a toddler, is a parenting educator
and certified teacher. In Trumbull, she conducts parenting
classes at Dr.Bonheim's office and Trumbull H.S. and she
is the childcare consultant at World Gym, Trumbull.
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