A couple days ago, my daughter asked for more crackers. “Sure,” I said. “Go put your books in your room first.” She violently shook her head, shouted “NO!” then lay facedown while kicking and screaming. Sound like anyone else’s house, or is it just me?
Disciplining toddlers is tricky, right? On the one hand, they’re still almost babies. Their language skills aren’t always great. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure if they even remember the last time you told them not to touch that breakable thing.
On the other hand, sometimes they get that glint in their cute little eyes that tells you they clearly know they aren’t quite supposed to do whatever is coming, but they just want to give it a try anyway.
So what’s a parent to do? The answers aren’t easy, but they are pretty straightforward.
Toddler Discipline Strategies:
- Remember, toddler brains are not adult brains. No matter how many ways you say it, they can’t completely understand that breaking the rules makes you sad or mad (or why).
- Be consistent! Don’t threaten timeout or taking away toys unless you are actually going to do it. If they know that sometimes “Stop or you’ll go to timeout” actually doesn’t mean anything, they will keep going just to see if this time is real or fake.
- Be clear! Try to limit always saying “stop” or “don’t.” You know that “Don’t run” means don’t run right now, but you can do it next time we play outside. However, “Don’t chase your ball into the street” means don’t do it ever. Toddlers can’t figure out as easily when you mean “never” and when you mean “right now.” Instead, try to say “We don’t bite” or “Feet are not for kicking people” for things you don’t want your child to do ever.
- Use reasonable consequences. If your child keeps throwing his/her toy after being told to stop, take the toy. Time-out is a fair option starting around 18 – 24 months of age. Put him/her in the crib, have him/her sit in a chair, or – in a pinch – hold him/her still on your lap. Time-out should last about as many minutes as your child’s age in years. Before time-out starts and after it ends, be sure to explain what your child should do next time to avoid a consequence.
This list isn’t complete, but it’s the basic road map. Remember, if you find yourself losing control, put your kids someplace safe and step outside for a quick breather. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against spanking. Talk to your pediatrician if you need help with additional strategies or referral to a parenting class or therapist.