Any parent raising a toddler knows how tricky it can be to balance discipline. When you least expect it, your child is likely to throw a tantrum, while you feel helpless.
As a proponent of positive parenting, you are well aware that punishment simply does not work.
And timeouts might not have the positive effect on your child’s behavior that you hope for. This is no surprise because kids at that age can’t fully grasp the link between their actions and consequences.
Consider the words of Anne Sullivan:
“Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.”
If this is our standpoint, why do we still try to punish our kids when they do something wrong? Why don’t we work to understand them, guide them, or offer a good example instead? How do we support our children to adjust well to life, without losing our minds in the process?
Fortunately, you CAN control your own actions. (easier said than done I know only too well)
Toddlers learn a lot from observing and imitating. You have a chance to be a positive model. All you need to do is be patient with both your child and you.
Consider these alternatives to punishment for young children:
1. Ask questions.
Your child’s misbehavior is here for a reason. Even though toddlers are young, you can talk to them and offer understanding. We often incorrectly assume kids are doing something “bad” when, in fact, they are figuring out how something works or telling us something important.
Seek answers. Ask: “What are you trying to do?” or “Why do you want to do this?” Listen and understand, then correct their behavior by offering the appropriate outlet or information, pick the best and most appropriate time to ask these questions and ask them with a loving interested tone, or they might feel interrogated.
2. Take a break with your child.
If you notice your child is having a difficult time or making choices you don’t approve of, go to a quiet space together and take a break.
This will serve as prevention for trouble, so it’s important to do this before things get out of hand. Five minutes of calm conversation, listening, sharing, and considering more appropriate choices for the situation can help. e.g. "I can see you are frustrated let's take 5 and come back to it in a moment".
3. Give a second chance.
A young child that makes a mistake doesn’t deserve punishment. They deserve an opportunity for a do-over, just like we would expect if we did get it right.
Let your toddler try to address the problem differently and change their behavior. State clearly what’s not allowed, offer a positive alternative, and ask if they are okay with it.
4. Use a physical demonstration.
Children learn from observation all the time. You are constantly their model, even when you aren’t aware of your own behavior. So, ensure that you are a good model in critical situations.
A toddler might not grasp the connection between their action and your words, but if you demonstrate desirable behavior, they’ll catch up.
5. Give your child a heads-up.
When you’re requesting specific behavior from your child, give them a heads up. For example, instead of asking them to leave the playground at a moment’s notice, tell them you’ll be leaving in five minutes.
A gentle reminder of what you’re expecting them to do is more useful than a punishment afterward.
6. Read a story.
Another creative way to help kids learn how to make better choices is through stories. Read or tell stories that include characters who make mistakes, have strong feelings, or need help. This is also a way of setting a good example using a character that your child can relate to.
We loved Daniel Tilger's Neighborhood: https://pbskids.org/daniel/