If you have a toddler, aged 2-4 years, you may wonder how it got to the point where you found yourself enslaved to a person one-third your size. For some children the ‘terrible twos and beyond’ phase only consists of mischievous curiosity, and a few incidents of stubborn refusal to do as you ask. For other children, it may be a case of temper tantrums, hitting, biting, and bedtime hysteria. They appear to have no discipline whatsoever.
When your child is not listening to you and their behaviour is out of control, you can as a parent feel as though you are doing everything wrong. You might be led to feel like a bad parent, like your child wouldn’t behave so badly if you were a better mother. That is a horrible feeling to have and it just corrodes your confidence and make you feel completely overwhelmed, which only makes the situation worse. It is probably worse when you go out with your child, shopping or to visit family and friends and you cannot get them to listen to you. You are always afraid that they will have a tantrum and then everyone will judge you for not being able to control your child. You may even sometimes resort to bribing your child, so that they can behave themselves.
However, with the right approach to disciplining your child, you could be back in control once again. All children are different and there is no one explanation for a toddler’s sudden spate of bad behaviour. As they come into their own and test their newfound independence their behaviour can change from that of a placid child to one whose behaviour is out of control.
As children go through different stages they are constantly testing limits, expanding their horizons, and trying to take charge of themselves. Parents need to know the developmental stage of their child and then set limits. It is important to note that the limits will not work if they are not appropriate to the child’s developmental stage.
If you are having problems with your toddler, there are some discipline techniques you can use to make your life easier and to more easily communicate the boundaries to your child. You don’t have to resort to screaming or spanking Before we look at these tips, there is one important distinction to make: It is important to distinguish between the child and the behaviour. You can let your child know that you don’t like their behavior, but take care not to disapprove of them. It is always important to remember that is the behaviour you do not like and not the child.
One way of disciplining your children is giving them time out. The rule of thumb is 1 minute for each year, so if they are 3 years old they get 3 minutes. When using this technique, it is important to give your child a warning first, and if they continue with the behaviour, then take them for quiet time. Tell the child exactly why you are having them time out, and once finished, explain to them once more why their behaviour was not acceptable.
If your child takes awhile to calm down after they get upset, use a ‘time-out’. Have them sit in a chair in the kitchen or living room. Remember you are teaching your child discipline so don’t send them to their room as punishment, unless there is no other choice. You don’t want them to see their room as a bad place to be, and you would like to observe them as they simmer, so you know they are not breaking things or misbehaving further.
When teaching your child discipline, give them the guidelines and instructions upfront. Don’t wait until they break the rules to explain the rules. It helps to tell children what they can do, rather than what they cannot do. Or, tell them what kind of behaviour you want, rather than what you don’t want. Use plain, clear language. Remember, a toddler is capable of understanding complex concepts, but you don’t want to use words they don’t understand or explain your requirements as a ‘throw-away’. Go to the child’s level by kneeling or picking them up, and slowly and carefully explain what you want them to do.
When disciplining your child, do not raise your voice or hit your child to get them to obey you. Keep an even tone. You may use a stern or firm tone of voice, but remain calm while you are talking. Remember, you are teaching them how to react when they are angry or upset. You don’t want to reinforce this behaviour by displaying your own temper tantrum. If when disciplining your child you are in danger of losing control, stop the discussion and walk away before you do any physical harm.
Try to be consistent in the way you react to their behaviour, and try to keep that consistent with how they are expected to behave elsewhere, e.g. at nursery. It is also important to have everyone involved in looking after your children have a consistent approach to discipline. Let your partner, grandparents and babysitters know exactly how you would like your child disciplined and make sure they carry it through, otherwise they will sabotage any progress you have made.
Parents should never spank their children, because this has been shown to have no effect on the child’s behaviour. The child learns to accept the spanking and to wait it out, with no lasting effect on the behaviour you wanted to change.
One of the best ways to encourage good behaviour is to praise your child when they do share, or when they do go to bed as you requested, or when they finish their meal. Positive reinforcement can go a long way toward breaking bad behavioural patterns.