What?! I hear you say toddler discipline. Surely those two words or concepts don’t go together?

Lets look at the meaning of the word discipline – according to the oxford dictionary ‘the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour using punishment to correct disobedience’. Absolutely!  that concept does not sit parallel with toddlerhood. Training a toddler to obey rules and a code of behaviour and using punishment to correct disobedience… sounds like hard work and most unenjoyable for both the parent and the toddler.  It is true that a toddler needs to understand limits and get on with others. It is a shock when your baby becomes a toddler  – increasingly mobile and developing curiosity and skills rapidly. Learning that they are individual and that their actions prompt all sorts of reactions.  Toddlerhood starts around the first birthday and continues into the pre school years. There is a lot of growth and development during these years and therefore its important first and foremost to understand your toddlers development and his understanding at different stages during their toddler years.

The word discipline is related to the word disciple and in this context means a learner a follower. This is the way I like to thing of discipline in toddlerhood. You are your child’s teacher – not by what you say but by what you do – how you speak and how you behave. Your toddler is your disciple. There is no need for control by punishment or punitive actions. In fact the optimum engagement by your toddler will be embedded in positive interactions. The aim being that your toddler understands you and learns the why of the limits set.

How do you set limits and get your toddler to understand? 

  1. Understand your toddlers brain and physical development – meet them at where they are and pre-empt the blocks on the road ahead examples include making areas safe encouraging independence and developing your toddlers sense of control and self efficacy. Register your toddlers hunger, tiredness and how it impacts on their mood and temperament. Support your toddlers learning by encouraging her and being aware of her need to develop her curiosity and challenge boundaries – this can be done as part of play and every day activities
  2. Look at the world from your toddlers view point‘Look! I can empty all the toys out of this box’ – clever me!  ”Look! I can empty all of these wipes out of the packet’. ‘What goes into this hole’? (the socket), ‘What happens when I slap the baby’ – it makes mum shout and jump or it makes the baby make funny sounds. A toddler aged 12- 18 months will not understand the link between the action and the reaction. As your toddler gets older you can explain in a few words and expect to be understood -eg. No! its hot!
  3. Remember that each phase passes  – your toddler will not be still behaving in this way when they are 4years, 8years  etc
  4. Change your language – Its the behaviour that you are not pleased with. The child is not bad. Try changing the don’ts to do’s – for example ‘Don’t run’ to ‘walk‘,’ Don’t spill your drink’  to ‘hold your cup with two hands’. Use gentle touch to demonstrate ‘kind hands’. This impresses the desired behaviours in the toddlers mind as opposed to reinforcing the behaviour you don’t want to see so much of.
  5. Punishment – the greatest ‘punishment’ for your baby is the lack of positive experiences with you – shouting, getting annoyed, slapping. These measures are discipline measures which work on a basis of exerting control and fear. Such situations develop into control and power struggles.  Your toddlers greatest pay off is fun time and connection with you.  If disciplining your toddler becomes punitive, incomprehensible and frustration for both of you – then there is no positive pay off as far as your toddler is concerned.
  6. Consistency – Like lots of other areas in parenting consistency is key – be mindful of what messages you are giving your toddler. If something is funny today and not tomorrow – that is confusing for your toddler and gives inconsistent messages.

So think about disciplining your toddler – are you modelling the behaviour you want to see in her? Are you setting your toddler up for a fail? Are you connecting? Where is your eye contact? Are you calling her name? Are you communicating clearly in a way that is appropriate and easy for her to understand? Shouting at her from the other side of the room, using a long sentence, not getting up from where you are to show her the way – these are all examples of poor communication and poor modelling for your toddler.

Discipline in the true sense-  as a teacher to your disciple –  (your toddler) must be underpinned by the motto

Don’t tell me what to do – show me what to do

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