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When (And How) To Start Disciplining Toddlers

When (And How) To Start Disciplining Toddlers

It's amazing how quickly your child transforms from a cute, cooing baby to a full-fledged toddler — one who seems bent on getting into everything, eating whatever he encounters, and generally misbehaving. A Circle of Moms member who goes by "TealRose" describes toddlers best when she says, "He has no idea of 'right or wrong' - he only has the need to learn. He is programmed to do so by touching, tasting, moving, dropping, throwing, opening, closing, [and] breaking - not because he is 'naughty,' but because that is how he learns."

When that learning veers into dangerous or inappropriate behavior and "no" isn't working, what are the first steps you can take to discipline a child? Which tactics are appropriate and effective at this age? Here, Circle of Moms members share three parenting techniques that help a toddler learn what's acceptable and what's not, as well as some thoughts on whether corporal punishment should be a tactic you consider.

1. Re-Direct

Many moms start gently, by re-directing a child's behavior. What this means in practices is that when your child is getting into mischief and playing with or touching things she shouldn't, you simply lead her to something she should be doing instead.

For example, member Tamara S., whose 19-month-old son sometimes explores in ways that are dangerous, uses re-direction to teach him appropriate behaviors:

"If he's jumping off the chair, I might say 'how about rolling this ball across the floor?' and when he does what he wants you to do with the redirection make a big deal... I give him a high five and tell him, 'You did a great job listening with your ears,' and then I point to his ears.'"

Geri C. also recommends re-direction with young toddlers, and emphasizes that behavior which we find annoying and dangerous is really just curiosity on their part: "Try giving him an area with safe things of yours, like some plastic bowls and utensils, an old pan or two. Kids are developing their minds, they are curious [and] want what you have."

Diane S. uses re-direction in a slightly different way with her grandson. She finds a change of scenery helps:

"My 13-month-old grandson has tantrums sometimes, and I put his coat on him and take him outdoors. The change in atmosphere and climate seem to catch him off guard, and shortly we are playing outdoors as though nothing has happened."


2. Give or Take a Time Out

As a toddler's understanding and comprehension increases, moms find that time outs become a better way to teach right from wrong. Ashley M.'s son had his first time-out at 15 months old:

"I sat him on the floor in front of the kitchen sink, and set the microwave timer to 75 seconds. It's a minute for every year they are. I had to do it a few times, but he finally realized he had to sit until the timer went off and he would watch the timer and when he heard it beep he would look at me to tell him he could get up and I would explain to him why he was in time out."

A member who goes by the initial "J" says time outs are especially effective with her 15-month-old when he's misbehaving to get attention. For kids this age she suggests a time out of no more than 2-3 minutes and advises parents to take the time to explain the reasons for the time out in terms the child can understand.

Shelly I. recommends a reverse time out — one in which the parent takes the break: "give yourself a time out, and go to your room till [your child] calms down." Describing how she used this method with her own toddler, who "got it" after several repetitions, she says, "I would tell him that I didn't like being around him when he acted that way, and I would be back when he was pleasant."

3. Take Away a Toy

Toddlers are able to start to understand that there are consequences for their actions, and many moms say that you can help this along by taking away a favorite toy as punishment for misbehaving.

Sara B. found this worked well with her children. She would simply say, "If you do that again I am taking toys." As she further explains, "Whatever the favorite toy was that day, I would confiscate it if the bad behavior was repeated after this warning. When the fit ensued, I would give one more chance, making clear that they could have it back if they would calm down, and as long as they did not do X again."


The Debate Over Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment of any kind is a highly debated issue in the Circle of Moms communities. Many moms feel that spanking, especially, is inappropriate for young toddlers who are just learning to explore the world around them. As Connie O., a childcare provider who has worked with many toddlers, points out, "They have absolutely no self-control at this age. They may know it's not something they should do, they may not want to get into trouble, but they lack the ability to self-regulate and control their impulses. It's wrong to punish a child for something they have no control over. That ability will form by the time they are two, and then time out and the expectation of compliance is appropriate."

Other moms of toddlers feel that when done correctly — gently and without anger, taps on the hand and swats on the bottom can be an effective way to discipline. "Giving my son a quick tap on his padded diaper while saying, 'No' was the only thing that got his attention," says Sheryl D. And Brandi G. feels that "popping" her girls on the hand and saying, "No" in a stern voice was the most effective way to get them to stop touching things that were dangerous or off limits.

But even this crosses the line for some. As TealRose sees it, even a light "pop" on the hand of a toddler under two years old does more harm than good:

"You don't need to smack his hand - he has no way of understanding why dearest mummy just hurt him. Simple child development will tell you that. He might stop touching that vase, but then he will stop touching a lot of things, and stop learning too– not good."

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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