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How to Discipline Toddlers

How to Discipline Toddlers When You're Pushed to the Limit

We all know those parents of 2-year-olds who claim they've got the terrible twos under control and their kid is perfectly disciplined because they have the secret behavioral formula. But for most moms of toddlers, it can be incredibly frustrating trying to keep under control a child who is at an age when he is not exactly a rational human being.

That's why moms like Danielle P. want to know what is reasonable when setting behavior standards for toddlers. She says she's tried and failed at "everything" to try to discipline her "independent, determined, stubborn, and adventurous" 22-month-old daughter. Lisa A. feels similarly frustrated, noting, "Sometimes I feel like I'd get more of a response talking to/disciplining a rock."

So what do you do when you're pushed to the limit and feel like nothing is working with your misbehaving toddler? While there's no one-size-fits-all approach to discipline — some moms maintain a good spanking is the key to disciplining a toddler, while others are adamant about avoiding spanking — many readers agree on the following tried-and-true strategies for helping tots learn good behavior and helping moms not feel so frustrated in the process.


Stay in Control by Staying Calm

The key to staying in control when your toddler is having a meltdown at the grocery store, say readers, is to try to keep your composure even when your blood is reaching a boiling point. Regina P. says losing control will quickly fuel the situation, so she suggests staying as calm as possible in stressful situations. "Go for the calm . . . Force, threats, and stern tones don't work. A calm voice with explanation gets her to move eventually."

Eve G. agrees, sharing that she works hard to control her temper when her toddler is making her stressed out. "You have to control your hands, violence only breeds violence, what you do to her, and she'll turn around and do to her animals, friends, cousins, and siblings."

Of course, dealing with the stress caused by a toddler's strong will isn't easy. As Regina P. notes: "I've had to learn not to get so frustrated, and that take a lot of time and patience."

Set Clear Expectations and Rules

Many readers advise that you can't expect toddlers to behave in a certain way if you haven't told them what is proper and what is not acceptable. Heidi B. explains: "I like to remember that discipline is about teaching, not hitting. . . . I let my child know what is appropriate. For example, I tell her there is no ball-throwing in the house. If I have to ask her to stop throwing the ball in the house, if she does not stop, I tell her again what she can do, and then what the consequence will be if she continues throwing the ball. I never want discipline to be about hurting her feelings or treating her with disrespect."

Similarly, Lisa A. says using a warning method has helped: "One thing that I have found that works a bit is when he misbehaves I give one warning, telling him if you do that again I am taking away your favorite toy. When he does do it again, I take that toy away. If he continues to do it after that I take ALL of his toys and put them in his room with the door shut."

Be Consistent With Consequences

Order and routine bring predictability to a toddler, which makes them feel safe and they tend to be more behaved and calm, say readers like Missy Long. "This age is all about autonomy," she says. "They have realized that they have an opinion and they want their independence. Consistency is key. Be firm on what your expectations are. Toddlers need to know their boundaries. If they know that breaking rule 'A' always results in action 'A', they won't have reason to test it as much."

Part of being consistent is creating logical consequences, says Kathleen B. "When she potties on the floor, make her help you clean it up," she says. "Once she has to help with the stinky mess, she will probably cease doing it." Teresa D. also believes it is important to be consistent with logical consequences. She too makes her toddlers clean up the mess when they potty on the floor. "They will probably realize it's disgusting enough to quit if they have to clean it. Just closely supervise to prevent bigger mess and then clean them up afterwards," she says.

Reinforce Good Behavior

As important as disciplining a child properly is, moms like Valerie H. are quick to point out that moms also need to reinforce their toddler's good behavior. "Focus on what she is doing right to help that to grow," she says. "When you see anything good name it including: helpfulness, friendliness, cooperation, obedience, kindness, gentleness." She suggests offering up statements like this to your toddler: "I see your friendliness when you smile at Mommy. Or, I like it when you obey me like you just did by coming to the table." The trick is to "name the virtue and how you see it to help your child grow," she adds.

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