Tips for Toddler Discipline

My 2-year-old son is fascinated with toy cars. One of his favorite things to do is race them back and forth across the floor with his 5-year-old sister. But, typically, big sister wins and little brother gets mad. Before I know it, toy cars are being slung across the room. My daughter’s temper was never as action-oriented as my son’s. I find myself having to constantly make him apologize for being too rough and the time-out corner is like a second home for him these days.

If you’re like me, doling out effective discipline is one of the toughest and most frustrating tasks of parenting. It’s basically a never-ending test of wills between you and your child. Just when your 2-year-old “understands” that he can’t throw things at his sister, he’ll latch on to another bothersome behavior, and the process starts over.

So what exactly does it mean to “discipline” a toddler? Some people equate it with spanking and punishment, but that’s not what we’re talking about. As many parenting experts see it, discipline is about setting rules to stop your little one from engaging in behavior that’s aggressive (hitting and biting), dangerous (running out in the street), and inappropriate (throwing food). It’s also about following through with consequences when he breaks the rules. Here are a few strategies the experts suggest to set limits and stop toddlers from behaving badly.

Pick Your Battles

“If you’re always saying, ‘No, no, no,’ your child will tune out the no and won’t understand your priorities,” says Linda Pearson, author of The Discipline Miracle (AMACOM). “Plus you can’t possibly follow through on all of the nos.“ Define what’s important to you, set limits accordingly, and follow through with appropriate consequences. Then ease up on little things that are annoying but otherwise fall into the “who cares?” category – the habits your child is likely to outgrow, like insisting on only eating food out of the blue bowl.

Know The Triggers

Some misbehavior is preventable – as long as you can anticipate what will spark it and you create a game plan in advance, such as removing tangible temptations. Some children act out when they’re hungry, overtired or frustrated from being cooped up inside. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends making sure your child eats healthy snacks, gets enough sleep (a minimum of 10 hours at night, plus a one- to two-hour nap), and plays outside to burn off energy, even in chilly weather.

Be Consistent

There’s no timetable as to how many incidents and reprimands it will take before your child stops certain misbehavior. But if you always respond the same way, he’ll probably learn his lesson after four or five times. Consistency is key.

Don’t Get Emotional

It can be hard to stay calm when you’re disciplining your child for the same action over and over again. But if you scream in anger, the message you’re trying to send will get lost and the situation will escalate. An angry reaction will only enhance the entertainment value for your child, so resist the urge to raise your voice. The AAP says to take a deep breath, count to three, and get down to your child’s eye level. Be fast and firm, serious and stern when you deliver the reprimand.


Local Resources

Need help setting reasonable consequences? Are you engaging in constant battles with your children rather than enjoying your time together? Are you unsure about what behaviors are “normal” for the developmental age of your child? Are you fearful of possibly harming your child? Here are some local resources that can help.

Family & Children’s Services. www.fcsok.org. 918.560.1114. Parenting classes, ADHD parent coaching, anger management, classes for divorced or divorcing parents and more. Also offers counseling.

The Tulsa City-County Health Department, Child Guidance Program. www.tulsa-health.org. 918.594.4720 Educational programs for behavioral issues, child development workshops and groups, speech, language and hearing screenings.

Sprouts Development. Sproutsdevelopment.com. 918.699.4250. Online developmental screening and local developmental resources.

Parental & Pediatric Guidance, Robert Hudson, M.D., FAAP, University of Oklahoma Tulsa. 918.619.4447. Diagnosis, counseling and interventions for children and parenting training.

Parent Child Center of Tulsa. www.parentchildcenter.org. Supports families with programming to prevent child abuse.

Counseling & Recovery Services of Oklahoma, 7010 S. Yale, #215. 918.236.4127

CAPES. www.capesinc.org Team approach to help children and adolescents who have mental health, behavioral, medical and/or educational issues.