This post was written for inclusion in the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted at Parenting Gently. All week, June 27 - July 1, we will be featuring articles and posts about alternatives to punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.
Now that my youngest is 18 months old, I am reminded daily - hourly - of both the joys and challenges of raising a toddler. It's a fantastic age. Everything is new and exciting, filled with squeals and exclamations. I love it.
But it is also, for him, filled with frustrations, and he doesn't yet know how to express those frustrations without a lot of yelling and crying.
Since this is my second time around the toddlerhood block, I have the benefit of being able to look back on those days with my first. I can see the areas where I took things too seriously, and I can see that many of my worries were unfounded. Toddlers really do grow out of normal toddler behaviour.
But at the same time, we all need tools to help our children (and our sanity!) make it through this tumultuous stage. So here they are, my top five tips for toddlerhood, with the hope that you'll share your own toddler-related gentle discipline tips in the comments below.
Don't take it too seriously
Take a deep breath. This is just a stage; it will pass. They shriek because they can't talk. They melt down because they don't know what else to do with these huge feelings. They persist because they want what they want and don't yet have the developmental ability to reason much beyond that. The more worked up you get, the more they feed off of your negative energy, so take that deep breath and stay calm.
Give them the words
Yes, they shriek because they can't talk - so give them the words. Reflect their feelings and give names to them while describing what you see.
"You are MAD! You WANTED to play with that!"
"You are crying. You wanted to go with Daddy. You are very sad."
"You threw your toy because it wasn't doing what you wanted! You wanted to stack it and it kept falling over. You were frustrated."
"You fell and bumped your head. Ouch! That hurt!"
As they get older, encourage them to use these phrases themselves, coupled with other appropriate means of expressing their feelings.
Give them alternatives
Instead of focusing on what they shouldn't do, teach them what they should do. Show them better alternatives to undesirable actions. Be calm and consistent in enforcing the alternative.
"We don't hit. Be gentle with your hands. Show me gentle." Stroke your cheek with his hand.
"Be calm. Deep breath. Calm." Take an exaggerated deep breath.
Look for the need behind the action or the cause behind the behaviour. Can an acceptable alternative be offered, allowing us to say "yes" to the driving need instead of "no" to the action? Can the root cause behind the behaviour be solved, such as a nap for the tired toddler or a snack for the hungry one?
Along with teaching appropriate alternatives, redirection is a major tool during the the toddler stage. "Not that...this." You can't play with Daddy's book; here's one of yours. This is not for you to play with; let's go play with that.
Say it and then do it. Calmly and consistently follow through by picking them up, removing them from the situation, and moving them to a more acceptable activity. Distraction can be a great co-tool here - "hey, let's go check the mail!"
Keep it short and sweet
Give them words, but keep your sentences short. No big speech necessary, just short, simple, and to the point. Include a brief explanation with your requests. Teaching the why behind the what is one of our main discipline goals, allowing our children to understand and internalize the rule for a lasting impact.
As their understanding and verbal skills expand, they can be given brief options. "Hold my hand. If you can't hold my hand, I will help keep you safe by putting you in the stroller/up in the baby carrier." If they don't hold your hand, carry through - they go in the stroller/baby carrier. Short and simple. No discussion, no arguing, no endless admonitions. Just make it happen.
The phrasing itself can often be the difference between punishment (which is intended to cause pain) and discipline (which is intended to teach). It is the difference between angrily snatching a toy away with a "this toy is going away since you can't treat it properly!" and calmly telling a child "I see that you are having a hard time treating that toy properly, so I will help you by putting it away until you are calm enough to take care of it." It may sound like semantics, but in my experience, children react very differently to the two types of phrasing. Repeated use of a calm "I will help you by..." was met with understanding by my toddlers, and "help" was often requested on their own part rather than imposed by me. An off week of a more demanding tone was soon met with resistance and anger rather than cooperation and understanding. Phrasing and tone are important.
Reserve a sharp tone for dangerous situations such as hot stoves. This is your startled "danger voice", and it will cease to be so if used for commonplace situations. A loud sharp "OUCH! HOT!" as they get close to the stove will get the message through quickly for most toddlers.
Calm consistency is key with our children, who grow and thrive in the safety of age-appropriate boundaries. For toddlers, consistently give them words, consistently teach appropriate alternatives, consistently redirect, and keep it all short and simple.
The Hows of Discipline
Gentle Discipline for Babies
Attachment Parenting Series
What's your favourite gentle discipline tool for toddlers? Do you have a persisting situation you'd like to brainstorm a solution for?
2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline!
Please join us all week, June 27-July 1, 2011, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. We have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following theme days:
June 27 - Practical Tips for Getting Started with Gentle Discipline
June 28 – It's All About Feelings: Respecting Emotions and Consensual Living
June 29 – A Fork in the Road: Turning Points in Gentle Discipline
June 30 – Gentle Discipline Recipe: Love, Patience, and Cooperation
July 1 – Gentle Discipline Resources