Dear Mr. Dad: You’ve talked about how futile it is to discipline an infant. That makes sense. But what about toddlers?
A: At one time or another, all parents struggle with discipline—establishing limits, enforcing limits, and getting their kids to speak to them respectfully and do what they’re supposed to do. But discipline isn’t only about correction. It’s also about teaching kids to control themselves and care about others so they can grow up to be productive members of society. I’ve put together a list of 22 approaches that will enable you to help your kids to do just that. Here are the first 10:
1. Be firm. Set reasonable limits, explain them, and enforce them.
2. Be consistent. Your child will learn to adapt to inconsistencies between you and your partner: if you allow jumping on the bed but she doesn’t, for example, the child will do it when he’s with you and won’t when he’s with your partner. However, if you allow jumping one day and prohibit it the next, you’ll only confuse your child and undermine your attempts to get him to listen when you ask him to do something.
3. Compromise. Kids can’t always tell the difference between big and little issues. So give in on a few small things once in a while (an extra piece of birthday cake at the end of a long day might avoid a tantrum). That will give the child a feeling of control and will make it easier for her to go along with the program on the bigger issues (holding hands while crossing the street, for example).
4. Be assertive and specific. “Stop throwing your food now” is much better than “cut that out!”
5. Give choices. If you’re giving your child a bath and he won’t stop pouring water onto the floor outside the tub, you might say something like, “Would you like to stop pouring water on the floor or would you like to get out of the bathtub and go to bed? If he ignores you, gently but firmly take him out the tub, silently dry him off (ignoring the tears), and put him to bed.
6. Cut down on the warnings. If your child knows the rules (at this age, all you have to do is ask), impose the promised consequences immediately. If you make a habit of giving six preliminary warnings and three “last” warnings before doing anything, your child will learn to start responding only the eighth or ninth time you ask.
7. Link consequences directly to the problem behavior. And don’t forget to explain—clearly and simply—what you’re doing and why: “I’m taking away your hammer because you hit me with it,” or “I asked you not to take that egg out of the fridge and you didn’t listen to me. Now you’ll have to help me clean it up.”
8. No banking. If you’re imposing punishments or consequences, do it immediately. You can’t punish a child at the end of the day for something (or a bunch of things) she did earlier—she’s not capable of associating the undesirable action and its consequence.
9. Keep it short. Once the punishment is over (and whatever it is it shouldn’t last any more than a minute per year of age), get back to your life. There’s no need to review, summarize, or make sure your child got the point.
10. Stay calm. Screaming, ranting, or raving can easily cross the line into verbal abuse that can do long-term damage to your child’s self-esteem.
Tune in next week for 12 more discipline ideas.
Previously published on Mr. Dad
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