Let's face it: parenting a toddler can be tough. Those terrible twos and trying threes are a time that some parents have come to dread. So how can you help your toddler during this transitional time? And perhaps more importantly, how can you help yourself with appropriate and effective discipline techniques for this age?
“It's important to remember that young children are learning to follow the protocols or rules of the adult world, which sometimes clashes with a child’s understanding of the world around them, ” says Laura Watts-Patrick, Professional Development Coordinator for the Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council. “Sometimes when children are struggling with this conflict between their world and the adult world, they may express themselves by tantruming or crying, which is a normal way for them to express frustration. A parent or teacher of toddlers needs to understand that we need to guide toddlers through this process of understanding, have empathy for the child has they work through their frustrations and have appropriate expectations of young children."
When your young child is exhibiting inappropriate behaviors, try one of these three methods to help get him back on track:
If your child is in a power struggle with another child, try redirecting him to a different activity or toy. It may be helpful to keep a few favorite toys or activities stashed away for this purpose. When an issue arises and your child needs to be redirected, pull something out that you think will interest him.
As you are moving to the next activity, be sure to tell your child why you are moving. For example, “We can’t take toys away from our friends, lets go find another toy to play with over here!” Your excitement for the next activity will help your child to transition more easily.
Help your child learn the appropriate way to handle situations by modeling a more appropriate behavior and giving your child an opportunity to practice the better option.
For example, if your son is pulling a dog's fur, you might say “We can’t pull Fido’s fur, that hurts him. We have to be gentle with him and pet him nicely. See how Mommy pets Fido gently? Can you be gentle and pet Fido too?” Then hold his hand and help him gently pet the dog. Be sure to praise his appropriate actions.
This technique can also work in teaching your toddler how to deal with conflict. If he pushes a child who is in his way, you might say, “We can’t hurt our friends with our hands, we need to use our words. If you don’t like what Ben is doing you can say ‘I don’t like that!’ Can you say ‘I don’t like that?’" Although this may seem like more than your toddler can comprehend, babies and toddlers understand language at a far faster rate than they speak it. If you keep repeating the same message, he will eventually understand and hopefully begin to use the phases you are teaching him through repetition.
Sometimes a child just cannot handle a particular toy at this age. If he is always throwing his blocks, perhaps the blocks need to be removed for a while until he is ready to play with them appropriately.
Some parents don't want to child-proof their house and believe that their children should be able to learn not to touch certain items. They may be setting themselves up for a constant power struggle through the toddler years. It's simply easier to remove breakable or other items until the child is a bit older and able to understand how to take care of them.
If your child is involved in a conflict or having behaviors that are inappropriate, removing him from the situation can helpful. A short timeout (one minute per year of age is recommended) in a chair might be a good solution to give your child the opportunity to calm down before he resumes his activity.
Although the toddler years can be trying and exhausting, they are also a magical time to spend with your child. Although there are ups and downs, remember that you are in the process of teaching your child how to understand and get along in the world. Take pride in your efforts and your child will grow and learn faster than you can ever imagine!