This Is When and How to Discipline a Toddler

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The transition from infant to toddler is marked by an increase in physical mobility as well as a surge in independence-seeking behaviors. It’s no wonder that parents of toddlers start to have questions about discipline when dealing with these challenges.

Teach, Don’t Punish

Maintaining a secure attachment relationship with your toddler is vital to successfully navigating this period. Your child will need to feel a strong connection with you and use you as their home base as they venture out and explore the world around them. When you view discipline as an opportunity to teach, rather than as a punishment you impose on your child, it’s really never too early to start. Through your teaching and discipline, your child will learn skills and behaviors to thrive in the world. Discipline includes providing structure and routines as well as dealing with strong emotions and negative behaviors.

Parents can help their children understand their experiences and learn positive coping skills and behaviors by making emotional education a priority. Often negative behaviors are a result of a strong emotional experience. By talking about their own feelings, reading stories with emotional themes, and talking about others’ feelings, parents can help children learn about and label their own feelings. Making connections between feelings and behaviors is an important step in helping children learn appropriate behaviors.

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Mastering the firm yet calm “no”

While talking about feelings is a necessary step in the process, it is usually not sufficient. Toddlers frequently demonstrate behaviors that need to be modified in some way. Redirection to another activity is often an effective strategy with toddlers. Sometimes, however, your determined, active toddler may not be so easily redirected and a firm yet calm “no” will be required. Sometimes that will not be enough and your little guy will need to be removed from the problematic situation in order to help him reorganize and regain some self-control.

It’s also important for parents to take a step back and observe themselves in order to maximize their discipline effectiveness. Mastering the firm yet calm “no” can be a challenge for many. Too much anger as well as too little steadfastness can undermine effectiveness. The overall pattern of interactions is what’s important; no parent should have the expectation that they will be “perfect” when it comes to discipline. Learning from mistakes is part of the journey, both our own and our children’s.

Article By Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D. a psychologist, parent coach, and mom.

Kathleen Cuneo‘s mission is to empower parents to find their own parenting voice and develop strong connections with their children.

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