Boundless energy coupled with unstoppable curiosity fuels toddlers from the moment they wake until they collapse from sheer exhaustion at the end of the day. At this stage, children are testing their limits, pushing your buttons and figuring out who they are. Consistency and strong guidelines are essential for maintaining order, but old-time punishments can backfire, making some behaviors worse. Adapt non-punitive discipline methods that enforce good behavior without breaking your child’s spirit.
Establishing clear behavioral guidelines goes a long way toward curbing misbehavior. Set limits and reiterate them as necessary. When your child disobeys, which, face it, is going to happen, repeat the boundary rule, “Do not hit others,” and explain why it’s wrong. Again. Establishing limits requires repetition and consistency.
Take Your Child Out of the Situation
An immediate change of environment works wonders for correcting misbehavior. When your child kicks over his brother’s blocks or pulls the cat’s tail, pick him up or lead him by the hand to another room. Parents have successfully used time outs for years to remove small children from situations in which they’re misbehaving. The goal is to break the child’s focus long enough to allow him to collect his thoughts and calm down.
Ignore, Distract or Substitute
Ignore undesirable, but non-harmful, attention-getting behavior like temper tantrums, to dissuade repeat performances. When the behavior threatens someone else, such as fighting over a toy, distract your child from the situation and offer a substitute. “Let Jennifer have that one, here’s another ball/toy/cookie for you.” Help your child refocus on the substitute item until he’s no longer emotionally invested in obtaining the original one.
Shaping Desirable Behavior
“After you pick up your toys, you can help me bake cookies,” gives your child an incentive to perform the desired behavior. Barking out, “Pick up your toys,” and then adding, “because I said so,” is more likely to meet with resistance. That doesn’t mean you should offer bribes. Shape your child’s behavior by illustrating cause and effect. Say, "We’re not going to the park until you put your dirty clothes in your hamper,” and follow through.
Accentuate the Positive
Make a big deal out of good behavior. Your child wants your approval, and when he gets it, he's more likely to repeat the behavior. “I’m so proud of you for sharing your toys with Timothy,” helps your child internalize the positive aspects of sharing. “Thank you for clearing the table. I appreciate your help,” is more likely to result in table-clearing assistance in the future.
Model Desirable Behavior
Treating your child with care and compassion teaches him to be caring and compassionate. Children model the behavior of the adults and older children in their lives. Take the time to listen to your child. Help him understand that you value his opinion and his feelings. You still have to be the adult and set the rules, but you don’t have to be the tyrant who enforces them with an iron fist.