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Toddler Discipline


For a normal toddler, discipline problems may be easier to prevent than to deal with once they have started. A hungry, tired, off-schedule or starved-for-attention toddler is more likely to act up. Of course, very young children cannot be expected to behave all the time, but behavior problems can often be prevented and temper tantrums can be cut short when parents pay attention to their child’s needs and refuse to reward bad behavior.

Young children thrive on routine. Once a baby progresses beyond the initial months and begins to sleep more during the night than during the day, having a set bedtime and a bedtime “ritual” is extremely helpful. For instance, a nightly bath or storytelling session helps calm the child down and signals that bedtime is near, which lessens the battles you’ll have to face once it’s time for the little one to go down into the crib. (And telling your toddler what comes next in the routine – such as “We’ll have supper, and then you’ll take your bath, and then it’s pajama time” – also helps him or her prepare to learn about time and sequences of events.)

Not only the bedtime ritual, but also the amount of sleep once the little one is in the crib or toddler bed, is vital for preventing behavior problems. A 2-year-old who doesn’t take a nap during the day can easily sleep for 12-13 hours at night; one who does nap needs less sleep at night, but only an hour or two less.

Paying enough attention to your child and making sure your toddler receives adequate stimulation during the time he or she is awake is also vitally important for avoiding bedtime showdowns. A child who attends (and enjoys) playgroup or preschool has a chance to exercise and socialize with other toddlers, and will often sleep well at night.

If your child stays at home with Mommy or Daddy all day, make sure to work in some exercise – whether it’s a walk around the block or a session of silly dancing in the living room with the child’s favorite music – and provide mental stimulation as well, by reading books or playing games together. The most important thing is to give the child undivided attention at some point so he or she will feel loved and secure enough to part from you at bedtime.

If your child is well-rested but is beginning to act up more than usual, make sure it hasn’t been too long since his or her last meal or snack. Your toddler may be hungry without realizing it, and if this is the case, a healthy snack may be all that is needed.

Sometimes, however, you’ve done everything right and your child still has a temper tantrum. If you’re at home and your child throws himself kicking and screaming on the floor because you stopped him from drawing on the walls, just walk away calmly and say that you’ll come back when he stops screaming (or something to that effect). The important thing in dealing with a toddler tantrum is to remain calm and unflappable – so the child will soon see that his performance does not have its desired effect.

Other bad toddler behaviors, such as refusing to be buckled into the car seat or defying parental orders, require a different strategy. Try a bit of humor, if the situation allows. For instance, if your toddler has reached the boiling point because she doesn’t want to put on her pajamas, offer to put them on the family dog or cat or Daddy instead – this silly suggestion may just give her the giggles long enough for you to squeeze her into the PJs. Or she might suddenly become very possessive of the PJs – “No, mine! I want to wear my pajamas myself!” Either way, you’ve won and the pajamas go on without tears.

If the child is behaving badly because he’s overtired, keep in mind that he’s having a very hard time controlling himself. Keep your own calm, as difficult as that may be, and talk to him quietly until he calms down – or put him down for a nap in a quiet room if you are unable to calm him. He may cry for a while, but he has most likely reached his threshold of stimulation and nothing you say will help the situation; sleep is what he needs and he will eventually calm himself down.

Deciding whether or not to spank your child is a very personal matter, and one that also depends on your family, the child, and her response to gentler forms of punishment. No matter which punishment you choose – whether spanking, scolding or time-outs – it is absolutely vital that you administer the punishment calmly and with love. Make it clear that you don’t enjoy punishing the child and you would rather reward her for good behavior. Tell her you know she’s a good child who just needs to act better. And finally, remember that the toddler years, as difficult as they are, don’t last forever – and you may just miss them when they’re gone!

The following lists out some ways for toddler discipline:

Time OUT. This is one of the most common toddler discipline method. Keep the time brief around one minute per year of age. Toddlers don't usually stay in the corner so it means stopping what you are doing and standing over them with your side or back to them so that they can't engage your facial/body language. Once time out is over, you can remind them what they did wrong in very simple language and then if they do it again (as most toddlers will immediately do upon being released from time out until they have the concept) they go back into the corner. Discipline must occur at the time of the action and not an hour or longer after. So even if you are out of your home, you must be prepared to discipline them. Be discreet, and remember always NOT to do it in front of others to avoid bringing down his self-esteem. Remind toddlers of the rules frequently when out on an outing or in the house if necessary.

Distract and divert. The best form of toddler discipline is redirection. First, you have to distract them from their original intention and then, quickly divert them toward a safer alternative. Give them something else to do for example, helping with the household chores and soon they will be enjoying themselves rather than investing a lot of emotional energy into the original plan.

Ignoring temper tantrum. Ignoring the behavior or making statements such as when you throw a tantrum I can’t hear you or I don’t like watching temper tantrums so let me know when you are finished and we will talk, will both show and tell the child that their display of temper tantrums will not gain them control over the situation or the parent.

Temper tantrums are usually dramatic, intense and full of emotion. With a little practice and persistence, parents can learn how to stop the drama of a temper tantrum and change the situation to a calm, quiet discussion. Keep control and keep the peace.

Encourage cooperation. Your child is more likely to do what you say if you uses soft approaches like these: - Ask rather than tell. Say "Would you give me the book, please?" instead of demanding "Bring me the book."

Set Limits. Much of your toddler discipline depends upon your ability to set limits. Boundaries provide security for the child whose adventurous spirit leads him to explore, but his inexperience may lead him astray. For example, your toddler doesn't want to hold your hand as you cross a street or parking lot together. You firmly set a limit: street or parking lot crossing is only done while holding hands. There is no option. We need to achieve the right balance between freedom and constraints for our toddlers.

Limit-setting teaches a valuable lesson for life: the world is full of yeses and nos. You decide what behavior you cannot allow and stick to that limit. This will be different for each family and each stage of development. Toddlers want someone to set limits. It makes them feel secure and loved, and helps them to understand boundaries. As a parent you have to ensure that the rules you set are simple, easy to understand, and consistent.

Provide structure. Set up conditions for toddler discipline that encourages desirable behavior to happen. Structure protects and redirects. You free the child to be a child and provide the opportunity to grow and mature. Structure creates a positive environment for the child. By a bit of preplanning you remove most of the "no's" so that a generally "yes" environment prevails.

Structure changes as the child grows. At all developmental levels restructuring the child's environment is one of your most valuable discipline strategies. When your infant reaches the grabby stage, you are careful to set your coffee cup out of his reach. When your toddler discovers the toilet, you start keeping the lid latched or the bathroom door closed. The preschooler who fights going to sleep at night gets a relaxing bedtime routine. The nine-year- old struggling to keep up with her homework gets a quiet, enticing place to work in, as well as firm restrictions on school-night television. Structure sets the stage for desirable behaviors to override undesirable ones.

Positive reinforcement. Studies show that toddler discipline using positive reinforcement works far better than punishment. Rather than focusing only on those things that irritate us and becoming habitual scolders, "catch your kids doing something right and reward them."

Remember that toddlers tune out a lot so if you are always saying "No", "Don't touch this", "Don't go there", then all they hear is NO. You want to try and give them lots of positive feedback. Examples of positive feedback are to let them know they did a 'nice job following directions' or 'good job playing', with lots of hugs and kisses. Try using other "No" words like stop. You don't need to yell but you do need to put firmness 'don't mess with me' tone in your voice.

There is certainly no magic formula to toddler discipline but it is imperative that you establish the guidelines for behavior in your house as quickly as possible.

Whatever you do, make sure you are consistent in your toddler discipline. If you tell a child no and then eventually end up letting the child do what he wanted in the first place, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Even if you have changed your mind and decided that what the child was doing wasn’t so bad after all, you need to stick to your decision and let the child know that you mean what you say. If he gets his way after a minute or after an hour, he will know he’s got you pegged. As such, the key to toddler discipline is consistency!

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