5 Ways To Discipline Your Toddler (& Other Fantasies)


I’m not going to give you a quick list of ways to discipline your toddler.  But with over three decades of working with children, two kids and a grandchild, I can share some tried and tested methods I’ve had tremendous success with. So let’s start with the question, why do you need to discipline your toddler?

To keep him safe? Yes.

To stop him from harming others? Yes.

To make him listen to you? Hmm, maybe.

To stop him from being a ‘spoilt brat’? Really?

Because that’s what parents are supposed to do?

Possibly, but most of our disciplining comes from reacting to a situation, not acting on a situation.

Here is an example of a re-action: When my child was a toddler we were walking down the street together. She let go of my hand and ran into the road. As you know, these things happen in a millisecond. My re-action was to grab hold of her and smack her hard across her leg, (not a proud parenting moment). But my ‘thinking’ at the time was, I would rather her know she will get hurt if she runs into the road, than get injured or killed by a car. My re-action was because I was terrified she was going to get hit by the car. Pure emotion, no thought processes involved. This is so often the case when we discipline our children. Let’s try and take the reactive emotion out of it.

Here are some situations you might be familiar with and some ideas for a more positive response:

Jemma loves the adrenaline rush of jumping off the back of the sofa. Re-action: shout and yell at her and tell her she will hurt herself.  Will this stop her, or stop the tantrum when you tell her ‘NO!’? Probably not. Action: make it a safe place to jump from, pile up the cushions/duvets etc., and let her jump to her heart’s content. Or, try to redirect the behaviour with an alternative, perhaps even consider getting a mini-trampoline, like this one from Houzz.

Aiden has just whacked James across the head with a toy. Re-action: yell at Aiden/ smack him/ give him a time out. Result: two crying children. Action: Comfort James, then take a REALLY deep breath. Get down to their eye level. Take each child in your arms, (or just put your hands gently on their backs if they do not want any closer contact). Show James how and get him to tell Aiden in a very affirmative voice ‘I do not like it when you hit me’. Quickly and firmly find the initial cause of the conflict. Offer a better solution for dealing with it (this is not a philosophical discussion!). Give each child a hug and ask them if they would like to give each other a hug. I can honestly say that in 100% of such conflicts the children have resolved the issue and resumed happily playing with each other. They’re so wonderfully quick to forgive.

Scarlett is having a meltdown in the supermarket aisle, (every parent’s nightmare!). Chances are it’s the aisle where the ‘treats’ are. Re-action: Scarlett is screaming, you are threatening all sorts/yelling at your screaming child/playing at being the perfect parent. Just forget about the tut-tutting old biddies who have forgotten what it’s like to have 24/7 care of a young child and the young singles who are one day going to be ‘THE perfect parent”. Pause with me for second here and let me preface my recommendation for this ‘action’ with this thought: Sometimes, when you’ve been caught with your proverbial pants down, it’s wisest to go with ‘the path of least resistance’. So, action: Give your child the sugar laden treat (a small one) and get the hell out of that aisle! You are not ‘giving in to your child’s every whim’ you are allowing the treats to be ‘collateral damage’ in what could have escalated in to a majorly bad day.

Now imagine you’ve already experienced the above scenario in the supermarket. So, on the next trip take a treat with you and explain before you enter the store, it’s to be enjoyed whist riding in the shopping cart and that you will not be buying more treats. Children like to know what to expect and what you expect of them. A lot of negative behaviour can be mitigated by taking the time to explain to them, in simple terms, what those expectations are.

Let me finish with The Golden Rules of Discipline:

Be consistent with your rules and routines
Be flexible when the need arises
Give your child responsibilities and choices where possible
Be constant with your affirmations of praise and love
Be careful and slow with your criticisms, however well meant

Feel free to connect with me in the comments below. Share your stories of success and ‘failure’, because we all ‘fail’ as parents at some point. Remember, it’s the only job in the world where we expect ourselves to perform flawlessly. Impossible.

Written by: Juliet McDonald, ECE

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