Toddler Behavior: Loving Ways To Discipline A Toddler

How to discipline a toddler in a loving way, and to help a child learn and correct problems.

When people try to correct their toddlers' behaviors by reasoning with them, I am reminded of a scene from an old movie. A mother used a very sweet voice to suggest that her child remove the greasy screws from her mouth because they probably did not taste good. The child ignored the mother and swallowed a screw. Toddlers do not yet have the well developed reasoning skills of adults. They do not understand that swallowing screws can have future consequences. Does this mean that adults should not talk to toddlers about their behavior? No, but talking to children is only a part of disciplining a toddler.

When your child is doing something wrong, the first thing you need to do is to stop the behavior. If there is immediate danger to the child, lift the child away or remove the item and verbally correct the child. Words such as "No," "Danger," or "Hot" are important. Don't sit down and chat with your child about how hot a stove is while the child attempts to touch a burner. You want to make a strong impression in the child's mind that the behavior is unacceptable.

If an older toddler attempts to repeat the behavior, you may need to give a time out. For toddlers, even a minute is a very long time. Place your child in a secure environment and explain why you are giving a time out in simple words. For example, you might want to say, "Stoves are hot and will burn you. I don't want you to get hurt. Sit here for a minute and think about the time you fell and hurt your knee. Being burned would hurt a lot more." Children this young will not be able to understand a long lecture and they will not be able to easily figure out the reason you are giving a time out by themselves.

However, a younger toddler will not understand the concept of a time out at all. How do you correct a child of this age for repeating a bad behavior? Again, you will need to remove the child physically and then give a verbal correction. Instead of a time out, try distracting the child with a safe activity. When the situation is under control, you can still explain why you corrected the child, but this is mostly for your benefit, since a young toddler will not grasp most of the concepts.

Sometimes you will need to discipline a child for behaviors such as biting or kicking. Under no circumstances should a parent bite a toddler back. Unfortunately, I've heard more than one parent recommend this to another parent. Look your toddler in the eye and tell the child "You hurt me. That is not nice." Discuss other ways your child can express emotions. Model appropriate behaviors. Older toddlers should receive a time out. If the behavior continues, look at why the child is biting or kicking. Another child may be teasing or provoking your toddler. While your child will still need to be corrected for biting or kicking, you will need to remove the element that is causing the behavior as well.

Finally, remember that discipline actually has two sides. Many parents forget to apply positive discipline. When your toddler stops and stares at the stove or says it is hot instead of running to touch it, give enthusiastic praise. Younger toddlers love actual applause. Older toddlers may prefer hearing a phrase such as "Wow, you are so great. You remembered the stove was hot." A combination of positive and negative discipline will help you to lovingly raise a well adjusted, safe toddler.

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