Hazel is 17 months old and she’s beginning to have an opinion and vocalize it (aka, throw tantrums), discover her independence, and test her limits. My girl went from being a sweet baby to a typical toddler. She’s crying when she doesn’t get her way, doing things/getting into things she’s not allowed to, and has occasionally not-so-gently pulled at other childrens clothing. She’s a toddler, a typical toddler, and she’s learning. She’s learning how the world around her works. She’s trying to figure out the best way to get what she wants. She’s testing us as her parents to learn what she can and can’t do. And it is our responsibility to teach her. For some parents, this means saying “no” a lot, yelling, and being authoritative until your child “learns” to behave the way you want them to behave. But I don’t want to be a scary parent. I don’t want Hazel to behave a certain way out of fear. I want her to want to do the right thing because that’s what she wants to do. I want to create a positive environment where she can learn and discover her emotions and how to handle them. That doesn’t mean she won’t be disciplined, but it means she’ll be disciplined in a way that is positive and encourages her to want to behave better. With these 10 tips for positive guidance, discipline, and parenting, I will create a stress-free and happy home for all.
- Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Instead of constantly telling your child what you want or don’t want them to do, show them. For example, if I want Hazel to pick up her toys, I get down on the floor to help her pick them up. Most of the time, she gladly follows my lead. If she still isn’t helping, I grab her hands and pick up toys with her hands for her and praise her while we’re picking up toys by saying “thank you for picking up your toys”, even though I’m the one making her do it. Eventually, she learns to pick up toys all by herself. Another example of actions speaking louder than words is if Hazel is banging a toy against the mirror and doesn’t stop when I ask her, I simply take the toy away instead of continuing to tell her to stop banging the toy on the mirror.
- Let The Natural Consequences Be The Teacher: Sometimes, it’s best to let them learn the lesson the hard way. For example, if it’s a struggle to get your child to wear a jacket on cold days, let them go outside without one. They will get cold and wish they had a jacket. This worked for us to get Hazel to wear a hat on cold days.
- Remove The Problem: Sometimes it’s easier to remove the problem than to constantly get after your child for something. For example, we had piece of home decor on our coffee table that Hazel was really interested in and I was always having to tell her not to touch it. I moved it to a different spot in the house where she can’t reach it and now it’s not an issue at all.
- When…then: Tell them what they can do, not what they can’t do. Instead of saying “If you don’t pick up your toys, you can’t have a snack”, say “When you pick up your toys, you can have your snack.” That simple change in wording is so much more positive. And if they don’t pick up their toys and start throwing a fit because they can’t have a snack, show empathy by saying something like, “Bummer. I’m sorry you can’t have your snack. I was hoping you’d get to have your snack”. This makes the consequence that bad guy, not you, and this makes them responsible for their own actions, benefits, and consequences.
- Limited choices: Offer Choice You’re Ok With. This prevents you from saying “no” and makes your child feel like they have a voice/some control. This tactic can be used in a lot of situations like walking safely, eating, getting dressed, etc. For example, when we’re crossing the street and Hazel doesn’t want to hold my hand, I tell her “You can either hold Mommy’s hand or Mommy can pick you up.” My sister uses this approach with my niece when they’re getting dressed in the morning and my niece can’t decide on her outfit (she developed a strong opinion on her outfits at just 18 month old. Ha!). If she doesn’t get dressed in the time frame my sister allows, my sister will give her three outfit options to choose from. Giving your child the power to make a choice really helps limit the amount of tantrums they throw while also making them feel independent. Just make sure that whatever choice your child makes, you accept that choice. Don’t try to change their minds. When you try to change their minds, you’re telling them that their really wasn’t a choice. It’s so important to give your child choices often. Even the smallest choices, the ones that don’t really matter, make a huge difference for a child. For example, when it’s time to eat, I let Hazel choose which plate she wants her food on. It makes her feel empowered, builds her self esteem, and makes her more willing to listen to me when I have to make a choice for her.
- Positive reinforcement: Ignore the behavior you don’t like, and acknowledge the behavior you do like. Children want attention, and to them, attention is attention, whether it’s good or bad attention. If they’re doing something you don’t like and it’s safe enough to ignore it, then ignore it. And when they do something you like, praise them and give them attention for it. They will want to continue the behavior they get attention for.
- Show empathy: Let your child know their feeling are being heard. Acknowledging your child’s feelings, doesn’t mean you have to give in to what they want. Let them know you understand why they are upset and they have a right to feel whatever they are feeling. Stay calm and talk to your child about their feelings. Explain to them what they are feeling, so they learn their emotions.
- Use positive language: Instead of saying “no” or “don’t”, rephrase it into something positive. For example, when Hazel stands up in the cart at the grocery store, instead of saying “don’t stand up”, I say “please, sit on your bottom.” Other examples are saying “walk please” instead of “don’t run”, and “inside voice” instead of “don’t yell”.
- Redirect or distract: If your child is doing something you don’t like, redirect the behavior by giving them something to do that you’re ok with. For example, if Hazel is playing with one of my home decor items, I find one of her toys and say “you can play with this instead”.
- Walk Away: When your patience is wearing thin, give yourself a break so you can calm down. Make sure your child is in a safe place and walk away, or put your child in the stroller and go for a walk to give yourself some peace and quiet. Regroup and brainstorm the best way to handle the situation.
- BONUS: Be Consistent: Consistency is key! Children will try to test you to see how firm you are in discipling. Be consistent in both your discipline and your approve/praise.