You already know that the toddler years bring big changes for your child, but you may not have realized how much your role would change. Up until this point, you haven't really had to deal with behavior issues. But once your child can walk and talk, she needs your help to learn what she can and can't do. She needs your loving discipline.
These years set the stage for your child's future behavior. That's why it's essential that you take a long-term approach to disciplining your toddler. In his book Creative Parenting (Dodd-Mead), Dr. William Sears is clear that discipline not be seen as "negative punishment," but rather as gentle and positive guidance to help your child learn self-control. According to Sears, the best way to guide your toddler is to get to know him?his temperament, likes, dislikes and fears. As you learn more about your child, you'll find it easier to predict how he'll react in a certain situation and what you can do ahead of time to prevent behavior problems.
As you begin to discipline your toddler, keep these tips in mind:
Remove your child from situations that aren't safe or seem to increase defiant behavior. Guide her toward positive behavior with short, clear instructions, as you remind her of her limits and acceptable conduct. If you know she gets grumpy around naptime, schedule play dates or other activities for a part of the day when she'll be more likely to behave.
Try to keep his perspective in mind. If he gets upset when it's time to put his toys away and go to the store, remember that his tantrum is not disobedience. He's simply having fun with his toys and doesn't want that fun to end. Rather than getting angry, pick him up and carry him out of the playroom, away from the toys. Help your child transition from one activity to the next by telling him, "It's almost time to put the toys away and go to the store," a few minutes before you have to leave.
Use a time-out when your toddler doesn't respond to your words. Even 10 to 20 seconds on the couch can help your child calm down and end a power struggle or hurtful behavior.
Let your words and actions be guided by what you know instead of how you feel. In other words, don't let how you feel (tired, angry, stressed) dictate how you treat your child. Be firm but kind with your words and discipline.
Remember that her misbehavior usually isn't intended to annoy you. She's simply enjoying her growing independence and trying to figure out how her world works. When she misbehaves, focus less on what she did wrong and instead tell her and show her the acceptable behavior.
Explain your rules and expectations ahead of time. If you're about to spend time with other children, talk about negative behavior (hitting, biting, not sharing) and how it can hurt other people. Children at this stage learn best through repetition and practice, so take the time to talk about positive ways he can behave. Be consistent and praise him when he obeys or remembers the rules.
Spend time getting to know your toddler's temperament and plan activities according to his needs. Too much activity can add to more battles if your child is quiet by nature, while a more active child might need more stimulation to keep her busy.
Truly effective discipline is about positive relationships?understanding your child and then training her to understand and stay within her limits.
?Debra Fulghum Bruce
Health writer, mother of three
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