Toddler Discipline Tips

How to discipline your toddler: follow these suggestions to help prevent or punish your child's bad behaviors.

For a normal toddler, discipline problems may be easier to prevent than to deal with once they have started. A hungry, tired, off-schedule or starved-for-attention toddler is more likely to act up. Of course, very young children cannot be expected to behave all the time, but behavior problems can often be prevented and temper tantrums can be cut short when parents pay attention to their child's needs and refuse to reward bad behavior.

Young children thrive on routine. Once a baby progresses beyond the initial months and begins to sleep more during the night than during the day, having a set bedtime and a bedtime "ritual" is extremely helpful. For instance, a nightly bath or storytelling session helps calm the child down and signals that bedtime is near, which lessens the battles you'll have to face once it's time for the little one to go down into the crib. (And telling your toddler what comes next in the routine - such as "We'll have supper, and then you'll take your bath, and then it's pajama time" - also helps him or her prepare to learn about time and sequences of events.)

Not only the bedtime ritual, but also the amount of sleep once the little one is in the crib or toddler bed, is vital for preventing behavior problems. A 2-year-old who doesn't take a nap during the day can easily sleep for 12-13 hours at night; one who does nap needs less sleep at night, but only an hour or two less.

Paying enough attention to your child and making sure your toddler receives adequate stimulation during the time he or she is awake is also vitally important for avoiding bedtime showdowns. A child who attends (and enjoys) playgroup or preschool has a chance to exercise and socialize with other toddlers, and will often sleep well at night.

If your child stays at home with Mommy or Daddy all day, make sure to work in some exercise - whether it's a walk around the block or a session of silly dancing in the living room with the child's favorite music - and provide mental stimulation as well, by reading books or playing games together. The most important thing is to give the child undivided attention at some point so he or she will feel loved and secure enough to part from you at bedtime.

If your child is well-rested but is beginning to act up more than usual, make sure it hasn't been too long since his or her last meal or snack. Your toddler may be hungry without realizing it, and if this is the case, a healthy snack may be all that is needed.

Sometimes, however, you've done everything right and your child still has a temper tantrum. If you're at home and your child throws himself kicking and screaming on the floor because you stopped him from drawing on the walls, just walk away calmly and say that you'll come back when he stops screaming (or something to that effect). The important thing in dealing with a toddler tantrum is to remain calm and unflappable - so the child will soon see that his performance does not have its desired effect.

Other bad toddler behaviors, such as refusing to be buckled into the car seat or defying parental orders, require a different strategy. Try a bit of humor, if the situation allows. For instance, if your toddler has reached the boiling point because she doesn't want to put on her pajamas, offer to put them on the family dog or cat or Daddy instead - this silly suggestion may just give her the giggles long enough for you to squeeze her into the PJs. Or she might suddenly become very possessive of the PJs - "No, mine! I want to wear my pajamas myself!" Either way, you've won and the pajamas go on without tears.

If the child is behaving badly because he's overtired, keep in mind that he's having a very hard time controlling himself. Keep your own calm, as difficult as that may be, and talk to him quietly until he calms down - or put him down for a nap in a quiet room if you are unable to calm him. He may cry for a while, but he has most likely reached his threshold of stimulation and nothing you say will help the situation; sleep is what he needs and he will eventually calm himself down.

Deciding whether or not to spank your child is a very personal matter, and one that also depends on your family, the child, and her response to gentler forms of punishment. No matter which punishment you choose - whether spanking, scolding or time-outs - it is absolutely vital that you administer the punishment calmly and with love. Make it clear that you don't enjoy punishing the child and you would rather reward her for good behavior. Tell her you know she's a good child who just needs to act better. And finally, remember that the toddler years, as difficult as they are, don't last forever - and you may just miss them when they're gone!

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