Toddlers are terrific, but it’s in their nature to test your limits as a parent. They are curious, constantly on the go, persistent, easily frustrated with rules and crazy for your attention (even if it’s negative attention). Many loving parents loathe the thought of their child being unhappy with them. Setting boundaries will make them temporarily unhappy, but eternally grateful. Establishing limits now is much easier than trying to lay down the law later in life.
The happiest young children are those who have the freedom to live and explore within very clear, consistent boundaries. Create a very short list of absolute no-nos. This includes aggressive behavior (biting, hitting, kicking) or dangerous activities (climbing up a bookshelf, for example). Remember to keep it simple – too many rules can overwhelm a young child.
Try time outs
Don’t overuse time outs in young children or they will feel they are always in trouble and parents will always be upset. We recommend that you use a timeout when your toddler is aggressive or dangerous. For an effective time out, you should immediately and consistently make a frown, use a calm but clear voice and say: “No (biting). Time out.” Then remove the child from the situation and place them in a safe place (a playpen in a quiet room works well). Do this without further lecturing. Then walk away for a minute or two. When the “time out” is over, provide her with a new activity. Repeat this whenever the undesirable behavior occurs. Almost certainly, within a few days, she will give up and find some new annoying thing to do. Some weeks will be rough, and others will be great.
Time outs are also useful for adults as a break. Take the time you need as a parent to calm down. Take a few minutes to breathe deeply, think about something positive, talk to a support person, or do something pleasant and distracting so that you to let any frustration, anger, or upset fade before you deal with your child again. Remember, during a conflict with your child, both you and he have “fight or flight hormones” flooding your bodies, and no effective teaching, learning or communicating will happen for at least twenty minutes until those chemicals subside for both you and your child.
Regardless of how frustrated you get, don’t hit your child. Research shows that children who are hit by grown-ups become hitters themselves. Now is the time to choose better means of discipline.
The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018 made a formal policy statement opposing spanking, as well as non-physical forms of punishment that are scary, humiliating, or threatening due to extensive research showing that all of these discipline methods are harmful to children.
Remember, it’s not easy being corrected all day, so if you’re finding yourself in conflict with your child most of the time, try to get to a more positive place. A helpful rule of thumb: 90 percent of what you say to your toddler should be praise. The more praise he gets, the more he will listen and the better he will feel about himself. Thus, he will be more likely to behave. Praise anything that isn’t misbehavior (“Great job standing there, Jack”). Tell your child how much you love him, and tell him often. Remind him that even when his behavior is bad, he is great.
Remember, you are the parent. Don’t let your toddler run your household. With humor and consistency, your effort in establishing effective discipline for your child will pay off by the time they are about 4 years old. By which time, you will have a happy, well-adjusted child who offers fewer challenges.