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Published on November 13, 2014

toddler in a child proofed home

The Toddler Years: Guidance and Discipline (Part 1) 

Toddlers think and learn very differently from older preschoolers, so we need to think differently about guidance and discipline for these little guys. When toddlers behave inappropriately, think about what is happening from their point of view. Avoid punishing them for things they haven’t learned yet.

Set Up a Safe Environment

Some adults will tell you that they never put away the breakables in their home, but instead taught their toddler not to touch them. Yes, this is possible, but it comes at a cost. When toddlers get their hands slapped, constantly hear “no” or are spanked when they explore or try to learn, they begin losing that wonderful curiosity and enthusiasm.

Instead, set up a safe environment. Put away the breakables for a while. Make sure the home is child proofed, and recheck periodically. If you do leave things out that you don’t want your child to handle, try a positive approach. Say, “You may touch that with one finger.” It’s usually hard to break something with a one-finger touch. This satisfies your child’s natural curiosity and need to explore.

Redirect and Distract

When your child is doing something she isn’t supposed to, give a better idea. “Let’s go over here and build a tower” (instead of pulling the cat’s tail). If your toddler is refusing to do something, use words to get her to think of something else.

Kaia dislikes getting into the car seat when going somewhere and never wanted to get out when they got home. Today she is having a fit when mom tries to unbuckle her. Mom says, “Kaia, I wonder what the doggie is doing in the house? Do you think he’s sleeping or playing?” Now Kaia’s curiosity has been piqued and she wants to go investigate the dog’s activities.

Javier found one of his dad’s golf balls, and was delightedly throwing it, narrowly missing the TV. Mom retrieved the golf ball and substituted some rolled-up socks and a box to throw them in. Javier still gets to practice his throwing skills, but in a less dangerous way.

Use Positive Directions

When toddlers constantly hear “no,” “don’t” or “stop it,” they may learn the meaning of those phrases, but they really don’t learn correct behavior. Replace them with a positive statement:

  • “You need to color on the paper.”
  • “Touch the cat with gentle hands.”
  • “You need to walk and hold my hand.”

Later, you can add the negative part to clarify what you don’t want:

  • “You need to color on the paper, not on the wall.”
  • “Touch the cat with gentle hands; no hitting.”
  • “You need to walk and hold my hand; no running.”

If you say “no,” mean it. Ashley whined for a cookie. Mom said “no” five times and then said, “Oh, all right. You can have one cookie.” What did Ashley learn? “No” really doesn’t mean “no,” and if you keep whining, “no” will turn into “yes.” Avoid saying “no” if you’re probably going to change your mind. When you say “yes,” say it with enthusiasm. Kids who hear “yes” don’t have to fight so hard to resist the “no’s.”

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