Parenting toddlers and young children is a hard job! Even the most even-tempered mom or dad can lose their cool when a rambunctious three-year-old acts up. What is a parent to do when their young child does something unacceptable? Here are my thoughts as a doctor and a mom:
• Don’t hit or spank your kids. Hitting children, especially boys, teaches them that violence is OK. There is significant research that supports the concept that physical punishment does NOT work and can cause long-term damage to a child’s self-esteem, behavior and one day, their own parenting.
• Pick your battles with your toddler. If your 1-, 2- or 3-year-old violates a safety rule or shows aggressive behavior, you must respond. But less serious behavior, albeit annoying or disrespectful, can be fixed when your child is older and he or she can better understand these concepts.
• Praise good behavior. When a child receives compliments for behaving well, they remember it, just as they remember being disciplined for bad behavior. Once they know how much better praise feels, they will be more likely to behave well in order to receive it.
• Make time-outs effective. When your toddler is aggressive or acts out dangerously, immediately say in a firm voice, “No hitting (or insert other unacceptable behavior). Time-out.” Then, walk your child to a safe place, like a crib or empty playpen, and leave them there, shutting the door behind you as you go. The rule of thumb is one minute of time-out per year of age, but I suggest that a time-out last as long as it takes for this isolation to bother your child. Kids who are sensitive may cry immediately, which means the point has been made.
• When time-out is over, don’t make a toddler apologize. They’re too young to grasp this concept. Just say, “OK, time-out is over.” Then move on.
• Never lock your child in their room or put them in a dark closet or scary place. This is extremely dangerous and it can damage your child’s trust in you and the world.
• When you are too upset to deal with your child, give yourself a time-out. Walk away from the situation and give yourself a few minutes to breathe and calm down. Once your raw anger has melted away, return to deal with your child.
Remember, they’re only toddlers for a few brief years. Keep a sense of humor and know that better days will follow the hard ones. If you need help with your young child’s behavior, please talk with your pediatric team at Eugene Pediatric Associates. We’re here to help.