Toddlers are delightful creatures when they want to be. But as their baby cuteness gives way to limitless curiosity and newfound mobility, it is time to say “No” once in a while. But what does it mean to discipline a barely verbal three-foot-tall person?
There are many answers, and maybe one of these styles will suit you. Here are my Cliff’s Notes to Toddler Discipline Strategies.
The Caveman, via Harvey Karp
Dr. Karp says, “We all get a bit primitive when upset. That’s why we describe angry adults as ‘going ape!’ But, fussy toddlers start out primitive so when they get upset they start acting almost prehistoric!” — we love his video The Happiest Toddler on the Block for teaching parents how to speak the language of toddlerese. (Watch it on instant video or DVD for the best experience)
Meeting Harvey Karp in person was a huge thrill. He’s been a celebrity in my house since teaching me the 5 S’s the first time. I asked him about certain of Sawyer’s behaviors and enjoyed hearing his personalized suggestions about bringing out part of my own inner caveman to communicate more effectively during tantrums. So if you ever walk by and I’m grunting, “SAWYER IS MAD MAD MAD! SAWYER WANTED THAT TOY. BUT MOMMY SAID NO. MAD Mad MAD,” you’ll know why.
Does it work? Usually, he is so grateful to hear me giving words to his feelings that he quiets for a moment just to look at me.
Fill the Baskets, via Amy McCready (Positive Parenting Solutions)
Children as young as this already have an innate need for both power and positive attention. Absent either or both of these, your little one is bound to rebel (AKA tantrum). Be proactive in filling the attention basket and the power basket to lessen the frequency and severity of these meltdowns.
When the inevitable tantrums do occur, remain calm and consistent. Remember, children learn best from our actions — not our words! Read the rest of Amy’s opinions on Two things to know about the Terrible Twos. Or join in her interactive parenting webinars.
Does it work? I think so. Remembering to give lots and lots of positive attention and realistic choices keeps him happy.
Expect the Cycles via Dr. Jessica Michaelson
A tantrum has a predictable rhythm to it. Perhaps if you’re actively filling the baskets (see above), you can head off a few turning into full-tilt boneless scream-fests. Dr. Michaelson explains, “A tantrum is like a fever. When the body is infected with a virus, there is a set cycle through which the body fights and processes the virus, resulting in increase immunity to it. With a tantrum, the brain, body and soul is trying to deal with big feelings, and goes through a predictable cycle to process the feeling and build the capacity to deal with it better next time.”
If you as the parent can be patient through the peak phase, you’ll have a much better shot at providing comfort and love. Read more from Dr. Jessica’s blog post What’s really going on with tantrums.
Does it work? Another yes. When my little guy is at the height of his fit, I make sure he’s in a safe place (like his cozy reading nook) but I don’t try to intervene until the whimpering starts again.
Touch & Explain via Allison LaTona, MFT
First, remember that discipline means guidance and not punishment. Then remember that you’re dealing with someone with limited memory, language, and life experience as you calmly (there’s that word again!) get down on his level and explain the situation. Redirect the the small person to an appropriate choice. Watch this video for more of Allison’s tips on disciplining toddlers.
Does it work? I’ll have to let you know.
The Duck & Cover, by Heather Flett (that’s me)
This is what I tell my sons: “Do not let him hit you. Just get out of his way. Don’t give him the pleasure/experience smacking you in the face with a train track”. Seriously, I know it hurts like a bitch to be bitten and head-butted; when it happens, I cry. Nobody wants that. Just, block already.
Does it work? As a means to avoid conflict, it works pretty well.
CTFD, via David Vienna
The blogger behind The Daddy Complex unwittingly contributed to my round-up of toddler discipline strategies when he struck a chord with me and a gajillion other parents who are trying too hard and caring too much about every effing thing. CTFD = Calm the F Down. And it applies whenever you find yourself expecting table manners, rational discourse, or self-control from your almost-two year old. David explains, “Stressed that your child exhibits behavior in public you find embarrassing? Calm the fuck down.”
Does it work? What do you think?
All of these methods help us to some degree; and all of them fail me too. Feel free to pick and choose until you land on a model that works. Then stick with it consistently until it totally stops working.
Do you have any favorite strategies for disciplining small toddlers? Please share!