No parent wants to be a pushover, but punishing toddlers and preschoolers can often seem ineffective. At the same time, it's important to teach young children how to be safe and well-behaved. During these early and formative years, it helps to think of discipline as educative and instructive, rather than stern and punishing.
Physically punishing young children can be ineffective, particularly during the toddler and preschool years. For example, young toddlers often can't make the connection between a parent hitting them and the action that merited the reaction. According to Ask Dr. Sears, even a simple physical punishment like slapping your toddlers can have negative effects. In a study by psychologists, toddlers whose caregivers slapped their hands tended to be less skilled at tactically exploring their surroundings. Many parents notice that spanking is simply ineffective, even if it doesn't appear to have negative effects on their children.
Consistency is Key
Once your child hits the preschool years, emotional punishment might become more of a frequent occurrence than the occasional slap on the wrist. You might find yourself making threats to take away a favorite toy or activity. At this stage, gentle correction combined with consistent consequences is key. If you tell your preschooler she has one more chance, don't give her another one when she transgresses. Your child needs to see that negative consequences are certain if she misbehaves so she doesn't continue to push your buttons.
Time-out can be an effective way to punish toddlers and preschoolers. KidsHealth recommends using time-outs for toddlers when they exhibit aggressive behavior such as biting or hitting. Keep in mind that your child doesn't need to be in time-out for a long time at this stage because toddlers and preschoolers really don't have much of a sense of time. Five minutes of time-out is adequate for most preschoolers, although some experts recommend that the time-out last as long as your child needs to calm down.
Staying positive is a key element of discipline at any stage, but especially in the toddler and preschool years, when children may not really understand other forms of discipline. Some forms of punishment can be downright confusing at this stage. For example, a toddler might be thrown off if Mom raises her voice at him for screaming in public. Try to use praise and reward good behavior for positive reinforcement. When you do have to correct your child, offer an alternative behavior for her to follow so she knows the right way to behave.