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Discipline Ideas for Toddlers

by Jeri Carr

Here are a few common discipline situations that face toddlers and their parents and a few solutions. These are some ideas that have worked for other parents. Please take what you need and leave the rest.

Your child wants to play with/touch something that is off limits

  1. Babyproofing will help make your house safer and less frustrating to your toddler. Cover electrical outlets with covers especially made for that. Put cords out of reach. Put up anything that you would be angry at your child for breaking or that is too dangerous for him to play with.
  2. Use alternatives to "no" when possible. For instance, use descriptive words. . . if your child wants to touch the hot faucet, say, "Hot!" Some parents say, "Stop!" (And then offer your child something he *can* touch.)
  3. Tell your toddler to put his hands behind his back instead of telling him "no" all the time. This enables him to lean forward and really study an object and may help get rid of his urge to touch it.
  4. Teach your toddler how to "just touch." In our family we taught our children that meant they could reach out an index finger and gently touch the object (that way they couldn't grab it, but could satisfy some curiosity). Reach out your index finger to the object and thus help your child remember how to touch (not grab) the object; perhaps draw their attention to the texture of the object, "Feel how bumpy (or smooth) this is."
  5. Sometimes it can help if you let your child touch, or even hold something in their lap, under your guidance. Show him how to touch things gently. You can say, "Gentle touches," and demonstrate.
  6. If touching is not an option, then distract them. This is kind of like changing the subject. "Hey, take a look over here. Isn't this cool?"
  7. Say, "That's not for **insert their name," or, "That's not a toy." Then add, ". . . here is something you can play with."
  8. If possible, offer them an alternative that is similar to the desired object. If they want to play with your breakable glass snow globe, offer them a child's plastic snow globe.
  9. Sometimes an object is high enough that a child can't reach it, but is so desirable to your child that they get very upset that they can't have it; if offering alternatives or distractions don't work, consider putting the object away in a closet or room where they can't see it so it doesn't continue to make them upset.
  10. Give your child a special drawer or cupboard in the kitchen full of toys--perhaps measuring cups, plastic plates, cups, spoons, etc.--your child can play with while you are in the kitchen. This can work for other parts of the house, too. . . for instance, if there is a bookcase with books your child likes to take out and throw on the floor, offer him a shelf on the bookcase with books and toys of his own "You cannot play with these books, but this is your shelf, and you can play with the books on this shelf."

Your child doesn't want to leave or stop a certain activity when it's time to stop.

  1. Encourage your toddler to say "bye-bye." It seems to give them a sense of closure. If they have to stop playing with a certain toy, for example, try waving your hand at the toy and telling your child, "Say bye-bye to the car." Or, "Say bye-bye to the ball." My 13 month old is starting to get this!
  2. Have a toy handy to distract your little toddler with.
  3. Give your child a "warning" before making them change activities. "Ellen, we will have to leave in a couple minutes."
  4. For an older toddler, sometimes also counting to ten helps. Then they know for certain how much longer they have left to play. Tell them, "You can play with that until the count of ten," or "It'll be time to get out of the bathtub when I count to ten." This certainly doesn't work with our one year old, but it worked for our daughter when she was two, and we still use it now that she is four (only now we count to 20). This took a little while for her to learn, but after counting she is usually ready to go on to the next activity. Or, you could use a timer.
  5. Don't bribe, but you can tell them something fun they can do after they do what you've asked. "After you clean up your toys, we will go for a walk in the park." (And help them clean up.)

Your child hits you (or sibling, cat, etc.).

  1. Tell your child that hitting hurts and that hitting people (or animals) is not allowed. "We don't hit people." (Suggestion... try not to overreact when you say, "Ouch!!" or your child may think it's funny and do it again for your reaction. :-/)
  2. Show your child how to touch gently and find a kind of code word or phrase that you consistently use when he hits as a reminder of how to touch such as "gentle," "gentle touches," or "soft."
  3. Quietly say, "We don't hit people," amd then redirect his attention to an appropriate activity.
  4. Depending on the situation and a child's ability to understand, offer him your hand so he can give you a "high-five" or give him something else to hit, like a pillow. . . "You cannot hit me, but you can hit this pillow."
  5. As they learn to speak, teach your children to "use their words" instead of acting wrongly to get their way. Instead of hitting, help them learn to say, "I'm mad." "You've hurt my feelings." Even before they learn to speak, verbalizing for them how they feel can help them understand their feelings better and can help them feel understood.
  6. Set a good example and don't hit or slap your child or in front of your child--whether under the guise of discipline or in a joking manner. For instance, some people might tell someone, "Oh, you're being silly," and then "playfully" punch that person on the shoulder. Some people "playfully" give their child a slap on the rump.
  7. Be careful of what your child watches on TV.
  8. Choose his playmates carefully.
  9. Sometimes your child might need a little "**insert child's name*** time" or some "quiet time." This should not be a time to make him feel bad or to punish him, but instead the goal is to diffuse an explosive situation and help your child calm down. If he is a child who likes routine, he may appreciate doing the same thing each time in the same place, but don't make a list of rules that he must follow during his quiet time. Your toddler might just like to sit in your lap and cuddle; a nursing toddler might like to snuggle and nurse. How about a book? If he would enjoy a little time alone, that can be a good choice sometimes, but don't leave him alone to cry and be angry, and don't leave him alone if he is scared. As he gets older, help him create a special, comfortable place with calming activities (perhaps drawing paper and crayons, play dough, books) where he can go when he starts feeling upset. Be sure to go with him if he needs your presence.
  10. If your child won't stop hitting you, as a last resort, consider holding him in your arms until he stops. Let him be angry and let him cry to get his anger out. Tell him, for example, "It's all right to be angry, but I can't let you hurt me when you are angry." Assure him that you love him and are there for him. Perhaps kneel down behind your child, embrace him, and put your arms around his arms so he can't hit you; being forcefully held while facing toward a parent makes some chidren much more angry.

Won't stop throwing a toy

  1. Distract your child. . . get him interested in something else--another toy or activity such as turning on music and dancing, playing "ring around the rosies," or blowing bubbles (and if necessary, quickly hide the toy).
  2. Show your child acceptable ways to use the toy. "We don't throw trucks, we make them go vrrrrrm, vrrrrrm." If it's a ball your child is throwing, and you don't want him to throw it inside, say, "We throw balls outside; inside we roll them," and show him what you mean.
  3. Give them an alternative toy that they can throw, perhaps a bean bag or a scarf. "You can't throw that, but you can throw this."
  4. Show your children acceptable ways to express their anger. Maybe they could hit a pillow (have a pillow fight with an older toddler!). Empathize and tell them "I can see that you are angry, but that toy is not for throwing. You may do **insert option** instead."
  5. Teach them to "use their words." Instead of throwing a toy out of anger, maybe they can say, "I'm mad." "You've hurt my feelings." "It makes me angry when you **insert what makes them angry."
  6. Explain to your child that he will not be able to play with that toy if he continues to throw it ("this toy will have to go bye-bye for awhile"--and offer an alternative). Put it away if he continues to throw it and take it out another day.

This version of this article was first published on Suite101.com.


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