You’ve heard of the terrible twos, the fearsome threes, and the fournado. Disciplining your toddler or preschooler can feel overwhelming as each age brings on new challenges and seems to get worse before it gets better.
But what many parents don’t realize is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Children start to test the waters at all different ages. They start to exercise control, see what they can get away with, and push buttons and boundaries. Mine certainly did.
What I’ve learned is that your reaction is key to these experiments.
Sometimes parents just need a little help when teaching their children right from wrong, and setting limits and establishing expectations.
Disciplining Your Toddler or Preschooler
If you are just beginning to discipline your child, or simply need some new strategies, read on to learn about some of my no-fail tips for disciplining toddlers and preschoolers.
1. Teach Humility
Children need to learn that they are not going to win everything, nor are they going to be the best at everything.
Once they begin to accept this, they are less likely to act out in these instances.
One thing I like to do with my kids is play a basic board game. I make sure to show them that they are not always going to win.
I used to think I was doing the right thing by letting my little ones get away with cheating or by letting them win, but I learned it was important to correct them if they purposely moved forward or if they had an outburst when they lost.
The more you practice this, the more they will understand that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
2. Don’t Always Give Them Options
I once saw my close friend ask her toddler if it was ok if she put her coat on her. Her toddler shook her head no, and then a fight began over getting her dressed.
When it comes to basic commands, there really are no options.
For me, it comes down to whatever I tell my little ones to do. It may take a while to break this pattern if you’ve already started, but don’t give up! It can be corrected.
If you are just beginning to raise a child, keep this tip in your back pocket and apply it to everything.
3. Count to Five
Sometimes you need a little wait time before you react.
Your kids are going to make you mad. But, how you react to their behavior is important.
They are going to take a cue from your reaction and feed off of it. If you blow your top, the situation with your toddler may get worse.
Try to always count to five to calm down and this will give you a quick moment to reset and ponder your next word or action.
You’ll be more effective at disciplining your toddler or preschooler if you give yourself time to calm down and think first.
4. Designate a Time Out Chair
Children sometimes need to be removed from the environment in which they are acting out in.
Consider having a chair for them to sit on so they can cool down and think about their poor choice.
A time out chair should never be used as a seat for anything else, because you don’t want to confuse your little one. They should only associate it with a punishment.
5. Follow Time Out Rules
I’ve learned that many moms have different time out rules. Generally, the rule of thumb for time out in our house is to have my kids sit for as minutes as they are old.
So, if your three year old needs a break, he or she should sit for three minutes.
And, another big time out rule of thumb is that if your child gets up from their time out area before their minutes are up, it doesn’t count and they have to start over.
Be sure to end the time out session with a hug and an apology.
6. Keep it Simple
Young children lack the ability and attention span to understand a detailed explanation of what they did wrong. When speaking to your child, keep things short, simple, and sweet.
When I’m disciplining my little ones, I try to be direct but honest, and get to the point quickly.
You can even ask older children to repeat what you said and what it means to them to check and make sure that they totally understand what they did and why you’re angry.
7. Act Immediately
I’ve learned that small children need immediate action and feedback.
I try not to wait until 10 minutes later to discipline them or make a move.
As a parent, you’re always on your toes and need to think quickly before your child moves on and doesn’t register that their behavior is unwarranted.
8. Understand What Triggers Your Child
When children are very young, part of monitoring their behavior is preventing it from happening.
I make an effort to know what triggers my little ones to act a certain way.
For example, if you know your child loves to pull on the toilet paper roll (and take it with them down the hall), be sure to always keep the bathroom door shut, or keep the toilet paper out of reach.
Until they get older and understand that toilet paper is not a toy, certain behaviors can be avoided by being prevented altogether.
9. Pick Your Battles
Some pediatricians warn parents that if you are constantly telling your toddler “No”, they won’t have an understanding of your priorities.
So they suggest that parents pick their battles before doing major discipline.
For example, if your child refuses to put away their toys before nap time (and is acting this way due to being tired), instead of telling them no, picking a fight, and forcing your tired child to do so, you can have them clean up once they have slept and are refreshed.
You still get your point across, but you choose when to do so and can actually be more successful.
Raising a toddler is hard.
This is certainly not the time to sit back and relax. Now, more than ever, I try to parent my kids to help them grow into loving, responsible, and caring little people.
Consider these nine tips to help ensure that you have a handle on disciplining your toddler.
Written by Kate Trout.
Kate is the author behind Maternity Glow, A New Mom’s Guide to Figuring it All Out. She’s a coffee addict, wine drinker, and cheese lover. Oh, and she’s also Mom to the two cutest little kids.