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Discipline for Toddlers

by Jeri Carr

New babies seem so innocent, but as the first year goes by and their baby becomes a toddler, parents often start worrying about the big "D" word. . . discipline. What about tantrums, head banging, scratching, hitting, biting? "I don't want my child to be a brat!" they worry to themselves. "What will people think?" "What will that child's mom think if my baby hits him?"

Our job would be easier if there were one pat solution that would work in all cases, but there's no way around it: good discipline takes dedication and creativity. In a search for discipline ideas you're sure to come across parents who say, "Just spank 'em." Others will tell you, "Time outs always worked for my kids," or "Ignore your child when he acts up, and he will stop." For every parent who tells you one of these "solutions" work, there will be many who disagree.

At this age, children are just learning what is right and wrong. They should be taught in a loving manner which sets an example of gentleness, respect, and patience. It is impossible for a toddler to obey consistently on a first time basis. Toddlers have a very short memory and are highly impulsive and inquisitive. Be ready to tell them something over and over and over and over. . . well, you get the idea. Eventually they will learn--without the need for spankings, slaps, yelling, or ostracizing. Parents need to be actively involved in guiding their toddlers. Sitting in a chair across the room and barking commands will not cut it.

It's important to choose your "battles" wisely. When you pause to think about each situation, sometimes you may notice that, while your child may be doing something annoying or may be doing something unconventional, his behavior really isn't all that bad. Many behaviors will disappear or improve naturally as he grows older, especially with consistent positive modeling by you.

In situations where your child's cooperation is not negotiable (i.e., when a child is doing something potentially dangerous or harmful, when he needs a diaper change, etc.), give your request with a simple, short sentence, "You need to. . . " Explain why, and offer him alternatives when possible. If he doesn't do what you need him to do--whether it is out of apparent defiance, because he doesn't understand, or for whatever reason--ask him if he would like you to help him. If he finally does it, great, but if he asks for your help or still refuses to do what you asked him to do, then calmly and gently help him do it.

One of the most important bases for successful discipline involves really getting to know your child. Is he "overly" sensitive? Is he a highly active child? Does he get angry easily or over-stimulated easily? Be aware of his limits. Also, know what to expect for a child his age. Be sensitive to his needs. Put your child's needs ahead of your "need" to avoid embarrassment (you will know what I mean when your toddler throws a tantrum in the grocery store). Try to find ways to work with your child and get rid of the notion that your child is your adversary.

When you are at a loss as to what to do, remember the golden rule and treat your child as you would want to be treated. You are the adult: but don't let that give you a power trip; instead let it help you learn humility for you can't expect your child to be more mature than you are. It's inevitable that you will make mistakes; after all, you are only human (as is your child). Apologize, and move on. And, perhaps most importantly, remember that when children are the least lovable, they need love the most.

This article was first published at Suite101.com.


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