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  • Writer's pictureLeah Vizgan

How to Discipline Toddlers: Challenges and Strategies from a SAHM of #2under2

Updated: Oct 10, 2019


Don't get me wrong, my toddlers (2.5 yr old and 1.1 yr old) are pretty good overall and I do my best as a stay at home mom and I think I am doing a pretty damn good job but I have some difficulties. I am struggling with discipline in particular matters...


Challenges:


In our home:

They fight over toys (Sharing), my oldest will take the toy right out of her younger sister's hand. I would tell her not to do that, to let her play with it and when she is done, she can play with it, to take turns, to share. I have asked her to get another toy and offer it to her sister and ask her if she can have the toy she currently has in exchange. But she only does that when I am helping her to do it, when I turn my head or in the other room, she takes, grabs, demands and even pushes to get the toy out of her sister's hand.


My oldest will also hit, kick or push her younger sister down very roughly, my youngest has hit her head or been kicked in the face so hard. I was so angry, but I count to ten to myself, calm down and then teach my oldest not to ever hurt her sister, look how her sister is crying, to show her love and be nice, to say sorry and give her a hug and a kiss.


Outside our home / In public places.. My oldest walks, runs, or rides her bike very far away from me sometimes out of sight. I then look like a physco screaming "Come back here now".

In stores or offices, she will not stay near me, she wanders the place, touches things, climbs the walls - people tell me she's not allowed to do that, I tell her "stop, no, you're not allowed" she doesn't listen and continues.


I look like a bad mom who can't control her kids and I feel so embarrassed I literally don't want to go outside. After seeking advice from other parents on how to discipline toddlers, this is what I have learned.

Strategies on how to discipline toddlers:


Sharing is always tough and very hard for children under 3 yrs old. Do adults even share? I mean do you just let others walk off with your phone?

Waiting for your turn or standing in line is a skill that carries through all ages. It teaches patience and finding another way to occupy their time.

It's not strange at all for a toddler to snatch toys away from their sibling or other kids.

  • Don't expect too much from a toddler under 3.

  • You really have to guide them.

  • Take Turns instead of requesting them to share.

  • Verbalize, “now it’s this kid’s turn. Now it’s that kid’s turn. Now it’s your turn.”

  • Push "wait your turn" and state when that will be (ex: when the other one walks away from the toy, after 5 minutes, at the end of this song, etc.)

  • Make sure that you praise A LOT any time you see a good sharing behavior or good sibling interaction. "Wow, I saw you give your sister the toy so you could both have fun. She's so happy to get a turn. What a nice thing you did!"

  • Read books about sharing, no hitting, etc. : “Hands are not for hitting”, “Llama Llama Mad at Mama”. Or change the words in a story to reflect the lesson you want (“Dragons Love Tacos” becomes “Dragons Share Tacos”).

  • Mind Games, Tell the oldest that if she wants something that the baby is playing with, she needs to offer the baby a different toy and sneak away with what she really wants.

  • When children refuse to share, they are letting it be publicly known that they own ownership over a toy someone had to purchase for them. The child did not buy that item himself/herself, and should be reminded that the toy is not truly their's. The toy is actually yours. Any toy that a child cannot be used properly should not be given to that child. In this case, if they both can't share the toy, then neither of them can have the toy. This will later introduce the idea of respecting your stuff.


Hurting, throwing or using hurtful language is automatic time out.

  • Time Out (Sit in Chair - one minute for each year of their age)

  • Give everyone a chance to re-set.

  • Try to talk to them about other actions to use instead, and try to help them make amends.

  • When they hit, do not allow them to play with his sibling or yourself while you are playing.

  • Hold their hands, which they don't like. Explain that you are holding their hands because they hit and you will not let them hit you or anyone else. You will only let go when they're ready not to hit anymore.


Consequences:


Setting consequences and following through can help limit the times of complete disobedience, but I don’t think there’s any way to entirely avoid it.


First start by sitting down with the whole family (husband included) and make a list of rules.

It shouldn't be super long or hard - our rules are No Hitting, Listen to Mommy and Daddy, Pick Up Your Toys, No Screaming in the House, and Don't Touch the Computer. Once we made the chart, my daughters decorated it and we hung it on the wall.


Next, Figure out what are the consequences for not listening and doing things that aren't allowed? What happens when you tell a toddler not to do something and they do it again?


  • Make them sit in the stroller, grocery cart, stand on the stroller ride-along board, etc.

  • Create some instances that would be immediate grounds for going home.

  • Remove the motivator. (If one is being rough, one of the kids needs to be removed from the room)

  • Take toys away (Decide how long you believe it would take for her to miss the toy enough that they'd be willing to cooperate, and don't give in to get pleading).

  • Counting 1, 2, <repeat consequence>, almost 3, 3.

  • Ask twice to do something, the third ask is a final warning (use those words) and then count to 3.

  • Make them sit in 'Time Out' (one minute for each year of their age)

  • Explain why they got time out so they understand

  • In public, I ask them to stop and if they don't, take them to the bathroom and talk to them. Let them calm down. Sometimes removing them from the situation is the only option.

  • Time out in public (at a restaurant you can take them out to the car so you aren't disturbing other people's meals. Otherwise, find a place for them to sit and linger nearby. Once they are sitting, stay near to keep an eye out, but don't make eye contact until the time out is over. Then once it's done and they say sorry, do hugs, kisses, and go about your business.)

  • Abandon the cart and go sit in the car until the child calms down. Talk to them about what behavior you expect. Go back into the store and resume shopping. Some parents leave notes on the cart “be right back” and save dairy/frozen items for last.

  • Let them tantrum. Turn your back, stand there, and “ignore” them saying “I’ll talk to you when you calm down”.

  • Encouragement for deep breaths and/or “stomp three times to make yourself feel better” from Daniel Tiger.

  • When they blatantly disobey, tell them "I'm not proud of you and your behavior".

  • Consistency, one warning, a logical consequence


If it's something little that they do, (pretty much anything outside of hitting and not listening) we usually just tell them they are breaking the rules, ask them to apologize, and move on. Same thing with accidental hits. Hits on purpose there are no warnings, straight to time out.


If they go to time out, once the time is done we have a talk afterward, making sure they know why they went, what they did was bad, and get them to say sorry. Then they get a hug and a kiss, and then it is over.


One thing I've noticed is that when they fly into a tantrum, nothing in the world will make them sit down in a chair. I will literally grab them and rock with them until they calm down. Once calm, they still go in regardless - they did the crime, they deal with the consequences.


Try Saying:


Try to phrase things in terms of what they can do instead of what they can't.

  • "Don't run, walk instead"

  • "Wait for me"

  • "walking feet"

  • "stay close"

  • "whisper / quiet voice in the library"

  • "gentle hands" instead of "no hitting"


Kids respond even better if you give them a challenge or make it into a game.


The Listening Game. It's a conditioning or training thing.

The game is basically like Simon Says, except there's no trick to it. You are the boss and you give a command and the kids do it and that's it.

For example, "Bobby, go touch the green lamp! Good job! Give me five! You listened! You are a great listener! Now touch your toes! Jump three times! Good listening! Give me five!"

Then reinforce "good listening" through praise and encouragement. Consistency and engagement are KEY! When you give an instruction that isn't followed, don't yell or repeat yourself or threaten punishments. Instead, get up and gently guide the action you requested. If a temper tantrum happens, do not engage because there is absolutely no point to do so. Don't even look at them when their screaming or rolling on the floor.

Making it a game and removing the "listen to me!" thing as much as possible from a punishment/correction/stress situation helps to teach little ones what it actually means to listen to instructions and follow them.

Training your kids to listen to you and follow commands has such a broad application that it makes life across the board easier.


Mind Tricks:

When out in public, tell your child that something they want to play with belongs to a random person you see and they do not allow your child to play with that item or f your child is running, climbing or doing something they are not allowed to do, tell your child that the random person or camera is watching and they do not allow this behavior and if they do not stop that person will come to punish them. Then say to the random person "you don't allow kids to do that, right?" 99% of the time the random person will help you out. Children usually are more willing to behave to stop doing something when someone they don't know tells them not to or they are afraid to be punished by a stranger.


Give Choices / Use redirection:

Offer them a choice between this or that, nothing isn’t an option. They will eventually choose one of the offers. This way they get to experience some autonomy, but within the parameters you find acceptable. Giving them some power over their choices helps a lot. There is a line between letting them control everything and being able to make some decisions about their lives.


  • Give alternative options or choices

  • Telling them to stop something entices them to challenge your limits, giving them a direction to change the behavior is better received.

  • "You can look at that vase, but it's not for touching. Isn't it shiny? What colors does it have? (Hold hand and start to walk away) What else is orange?"

  • “Do you want to walk to bed or hop to bed?”

  • Delegate tasks to them, e.g., “can you be a big helper and hold xyz?”.


"Give clear direct instructions and to focus on the behavior that you want." Rebecca Hershburg

Try not to yell, unless they are about to run into a street. Instead, I run and catch them (also embarrassing!), then talk to them sternly face to face. Yelling seems to lose efficacy if done a lot.


Always Praise Good Behaviour:

When you catch the kids being good, provide a lot of attention and positive feedback!


I try not to get into the "good girl" language, but instead to describe the behavior I liked seeing.

  • "You stayed close to Mommy and held my hand, I felt very safe. Thank you!"

  • When they do listen to us, we always praise them and thank them for listening.

  • Say “thank you for being patient, I know it’s hard right now"

  • Compliment all the good stuff they do.....ALL OF IT.


Recommended Books, Podcasts or children's shows:

  • Janet Lansbury's podcast

  • Janet Lansbury Book: No Bad Kids

  • Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting

  • "The Tantrum Survival Guide" by Rebecca Hershburg

  • "How to get little kids to listen"

  • “Positive Discipline” books by Jane Nelson

  • Children's books by Monica Arnaldo

  • 1-2-3 Magic

  • Kids Show: Daniel Tiger

  • Blippi (YouTube Kids Show)

  • Little Baby Bum (Netflix or YouTube Nursery Rhymes)


Conclusion:


I feel embarrassed a lot. I think it's just part of parenting. We can't control kids because they are people of their own who are curious and exploring and learning. They have their own agenda, just like how we have an agenda. It's not going to work out perfectly because getting through the day is a negotiation for all of us!

Always remember, you are a good parent. You’re doing a great job! Raising a toddler is difficult. Be patient and remember anyone with kids has been in the same situation. Your kid is going through a normal phase, and you are doing your best.


Remind yourself that your child's behavior does not reflect on your skills to parent them. More often than not it is the intelligent kid that gets into trouble and is the hardest to handle - mainly because they don't always do what their told and would rather think for themselves.


At this age, toddlers discover they can force their will on others around them. This results in disobedience. It isn’t them being a bad child or an undisciplined one, but just them growing and discovering and testing boundaries to their newly found abilities.


They will always do something else or repeat the behavior in different situations but if you're calm and consistent with consequences it should help reduce problems. New problems will always come up and toddlers are impulsive so you're never going to get rid of them fully.


You absolutely need to be consistent though - they are starting to try and figure out boundaries and limitations. How far can they push you, if they throw a temper tantrum will they get what they want?


I hope this will help you and I navigate this stage. It’s a very very long process and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s all about the consistency of consequences. They will eventually figure it out.


I would love to hear your thoughts and how you discipline your children in the comments.


P.S.

If you think for whatever reason your older child's behavior is beyond typical don't be afraid to get help. Since she is under 3 you could contact your state's early intervention program which is typically free. They could even direct you to someone to coach you through managing the behaviors if you think that would help. You are not alone!

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