When it comes to getting a child to behave, there is probably no more challenging age than toddlerhood. Let's just take a brief look at what you're dealing with at this stage of life:
- Toddlers are stubborn because they want to show you they are not babies anymore.
- Toddlers have no conscience.
- Toddlers live by the principle, if it's fun and it feels good, I want to do it.
- Toddlers have very poor judgement. They can't think ahead and anticipate how their behaviour will get them into trouble or into a dangerous situation.
- Toddlers are filled with enthusiasm to explore the world.
- Toddlers are incredibly self-centreed...they want what they want when they want it.
- Toddlers have little tolerance for frustration, so they often go from one temper tantrum to another.
- Toddlers have little self control and can hardly remember yesterday's rules.
Keeping all this in mind, you can understand why the biggest mistake parents make with toddlers is expecting too much from them. The end result is that many parents conclude either something is wrong with my child or something is wrong with me as a parent. I believe a little advanced reading on this stage of childhood will help many parents be easier on their toddlers, and easier on themselves.
There are two strategies parents can rely on to alter the behaviour of toddlers and begin to help them become more civilized. One strategy is called "discipline," and the other strategy is called "management." At this special age, you actually do more management that discipline. Let me explain:
- When you choose a restaurant where the service is fast and if you fill your purse with crayons and a couple of toys, you are managing your toddler.
- When you take blocks away from your toddler and put them on a high shelf because he is throwing them at the lamp, you are disciplining your toddler.
- When you put safety plugs over the electrical outlets in your home and tie the doors shut to your CD collection, you are managing your toddler.
- When you walk your toddler to the corner and stand there with him for a minute because he's just whacked the baby, you are disciplining your toddler.
- When you go to church or temple, sit near the back where there is an exit and not stay for the full service, you are managing your toddler.
- When you pick up your toddler and place him in the playpen or behind a gate so he has a time-out for biting you, you are disciplining your toddler.
- When you pick your battles, knowing at this age you have to have priorities—otherwise, you will go nuts saying "no" to everything!—you are managing your toddler.
- When you catch your toddler doing something you approve of and have wanted him to do and praise him for this behaviour, you are disciplining your toddler. This is called "Catching them when they are good."
- When you make a game out of some task like cleaning up, you are managing your toddler. "You pick up the big toys and I will pick up the little toys and let's see if you can do it faster than mummy."
- When you thank your toddler for cooperating, you are disciplining your toddler. You are providing him with a reward for doing what you want and the reward is giving him your attention.
- When you establish a bedtime routine to help make bedtime a pleasant time, you are managing your toddler.
Toddlerhood is one stage where managing is very important, which is why I love using kitchen timers with toddlers:
- Timers can announce to your toddler that bedtime has arrived.
- Timers can be used to notify your toddler when you have to stop playing with them.
- Timers can be used to set deadlines for cleaning up and putting toys away.
- Timers can be used to let your toddler know when a time-out is over.
It isn't easy disciplining and managing a toddler, but I hope my tips will help you have a better time coping with and enjoying your child.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.