Last week I introduced the first 10 of my 22 field-tested strategies for disciplining toddlers. Here are the remaining 12.
1. Get down to your child’s level. When you’re talking to your child—specially to criticize—kneel or sit. You’ll still be big enough that he’ll know who the boss is.
2. Don’t lecture. Instead, ask questions to engage the child in a discussion of the problematic behavior: “Is smoking cigars okay for kids or not?” “Do you like it when someone pushes you down in the park?”
3. Criticize the behavior, not the child. Even such seemingly innocuous comments as “I’ve told you a thousand times…” or “Every single time you…” gives the child the message that she’s doomed to disappointing you no matter what she does.
4. Reinforce positive behavior. We spend so much time criticizing negative behaviors and not enough time complimenting the positives. Heartfelt comments like, “I’m so proud of you when I see you cleaning up your toys,” go a long way.
5. Play games. “Let’s see who can put the most toys away” and “I bet I can put my shoes on before you can” are big favorites. But be sure not to put away more toys or to put your shoes on first—kids under five have a tough time losing.
6. Learn to recognize the things that trigger your child’s tantrums. The most common ones include exhaustion, overstimulation, hunger, and illness. Keeping those factors to a minimum will go a long way toward reducing tantrums.
7. No spanking. It’s bad for the kids and bad for you. Children who get spanked are more likely to suffer from poor self-esteem and depression. They’re also more likely to believe that it’s okay to hit other people when they’re mad. After all, you do.
8. No shaking. It may seem like a less violent way of expressing your frustrations than spanking, but it really isn’t. Shaking your baby can make his little brain rattle around inside his skull, possibly resulting in brain damage.
9. No bribes. It’s tempting to pay a child off to get him to do or not do something. But the risk—and it’s a big one—is that he’ll demand some kind of payment before complying with just about anything.
10. Be a grown-up. Biting your child or pulling her hair to demonstrate that biting or hitting is wrong or doesn’t feel good will backfire. Guaranteed.
11. Offer cheese with that whine. Tell your child that you simply don’t respond to whining and that you won’t give him what he wants until he asks in a nice way—and stick with it.
12. Set a good example. If your child sees you and your partner arguing without violence, she’ll learn to do the same. If she sees you flouting authority by running red lights, she’ll do the same.
Above all, make sure you understand your child. Trying to discipline him without understanding why he’s doing what he’s doing is a little like taking cough syrup for emphysema: the thing that’s bugging you goes away for a while, but the underlying problem remains—and keeps getting worse with time. The most direct way to solve this is to simply ask your child what’s going on and why she’s acting the way she is—in many cases, she’ll tell you. If she won’t tell you or doesn’t have the vocabulary to do so, make an educated guess (“Are you writing on the walls because you want me to spend more time with you?”).
Have you discovered any great discipline strategies that you’d like to share with others? If so, please email them to me.