infants & toddlers
Dealing with Discipline: Strategies to use with toddlers

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 video games).

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.

  • 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 secure.
  • Make eye contact when talking or listening to your child. Kneel or bend down as well.
  • Forewarn toddlers before changing activities.
  • 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.

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.

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. Contact her at 203.375.4566.


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