Sometimes my 2-year old acts in such a way that I feel like a complete failure as a parent. That, or I just realize that I really don't know what I'm doing. Her latest things lately are to shake her pointer finger at me and say, “Mom! BE NICE!” anytime she doesn't like what I'm keeping her from doing (like pouring water on the floor or eating her boogers). This week she added a new phrase to her vocabulary: “Stop mom! STOP!” Once again, an exact repeat of a phrase I have used with her. She's been learning to drive her Mustang lately, but the problem is she hasn't developed the instincts on when to stop. She could literally drive the thing for hours, but I can only handle so much running around the yard repeatedly
saying yelling “stop. stop. STOP!”
This is the only toy we have ever really “splurged” on and mostly because I wanted one my entire childhood!
Anyway, she has so much personality and so ridiculously fun to be around, but sometimes I find myself completely exhausted and frustrated with her strong will and attitude.
There are a few things I have learned work with her, and usually when we've had a bad day it's because I have forgotten one (or ALL) of these principles. Chances are you have heard them before, but we all need reminders on the hard days. So check them out and comment below if you have anything to add. And if you've had a particularly hard day with your toddler, you might want to read this guest post by my own toddler: the Terrible Twos from a toddler's perspective.
Positive Discipline for Toddlers
First, remember that toddlers are learning what is right and what is wrong. Discipline should be about teaching and not about punishment.
The art of Distraction. This one has saved me so many times. There was a time when she was throwing a fit in the car about something and I finally said, “look! a dog!” and her face immediately relaxed as she uttered, “ruff ruff!” Haha, so hilarious. It's like she just can't help herself, she loves dogs so much. Or the other day when she threw a fit that I wouldn't give her Easter candy for breakfast (harsh, I know) I put on my super happy voice and said, “Where's daddy?” to which she couldn't help but reply, “my daddy at woke.” Haha! When we are driving in the car I can usually tell when she's about to get whiney, and the rest of the drive becomes a game of distraction. Here's a few minutes of our drive the other day:
Choices Choices and more choices. My toddler is going through a clothing phase right now. Not only does she want to dress herself, but she wants to change outfits a million times in a day (that or just strip naked and chill in her birthday suit). Every morning it used to be a fight over what clothes she was going to wear. Now I know better. I never pick out her outfit or try to convince her to like what I want her to wear. Instead I pick several options and say, “which one do you want to wear today?” Sometimes I will even pick a pair of pants that matches practically anything and say “Okay….pick any shirt!” Or…if we aren't going on any special outings I use those days to let her wear whatever the heck she wants. It's really important to toddlers that they get to be independent and make choices on their own (as frustrating as it can be sometimes).
Think Their Age. This one helps me a lot. Toddlers do frustrating things because it's part of their development to touch and explore. Sometimes I just have to think, “okay, what are her thoughts right now?” probably “THIS IS SO MUCH FUN!” and not “how can I annoy mom today?” When I take the time to “be her” for a second, it usually makes me smile. Why did we have to grow up and become so serious anyway? I had to remind myself the other day that bath water can be dried up, and that the look of pure delight on her face as she splashed around was priceless. Try to say yes more than you say no. That's another thing I have to remind myself of. I know that she likes to play in water, so I asked her to do the breakfast dishes with me the other day–even though I knew it would result in water everywhere and dishes that weren't really clean 🙂 If the behavior is really something that can't be allowed (like running in the road), get on their level, explain why, and then distract and give choices!
Be consistent. Toddlers need to explore, but they also need limits and restrictions. It's part of helping them feel secure and loved, and restrictions are a part of life. Toddlers often test limits to see if you are serious. Say yes more than no, but always be consistent with the nos. For instance, some of the “no's” in our house involve safety and respect: we never play with knives, run into the road, or hit our little sister 🙂 “You can't use this knife because it could hurt you, but here is something you can play with instead…would you like this one or this one?” (distract and offer choice).
Use Natural Consequences. I heard this one in my parenting classes in college all the time, so you'd think I would be good at it, but I'm not. Consequences should be connected with the behavior and make sense (for instance, “you threw your food, you get it taken away”). Which means all those times I've sent my toddler to timeout probably haven't been effective discipline. Instead, she just sits in her room for those 2 minutes and probably feels isolated, confused and angry. But sometimes it can be so hard! When I DO do a timeout, I try to sit there with her so that we can talk about what just happened (and also so I can have time to think of a consequence). Timeouts should be used as a quick moment to calm down (I do minutes according to age: 2 years old gets 2 minutes).
Reverse the Negative. Try to catch your negative statements (“Don't do that!”), and turn them into a positive. This can be really hard when you are in the moment, but if you practice (even after the fact) it will become more of a habit. Because a toddler's brain is still developing, it is actually really hard for them to reverse a statement in enough time to reverse the action. If you say “don't hit your sister,” as the arm is already extending, it's much harder for them to process the reverse action than if you just give a suggestion for what they SHOULD do with the arm that's about to act (“Be soft!”).
Here is a great article I read about Toddler Discipline without the Shame.
What Discipline Techniques Work For YOUR Toddler??