Toddler Zap has been left to play on her own, but while playing in the dirt of the houseplant, Toddler Zap has knocked it over. Now she's using the dirt to 'paint' on the wall. When Mom comes around the corner to check on Toddler Zap she is horrified at what she sees.
Mom's temper flares.
Toddler Zap is upset and scared by Mom's anger. Mom knows that she has to calm down before dealing with Toddler Zap. When she has control of herself, Mom firmly explains to Toddler Zap what she has done wrong and how they will make it better. The two of them clean up the mess together.
Children will do the darndest things, and faster than you can imagine! They are busy exploring the world around them, and sometimes this gets them into mischief. Make sure your toddler is in a safe environment, and never alone for long.
Sometimes you may lose your temper with a child - but it's not helpful. If you lose control, it really scares your child, and she won't absorb anything you're saying about the situation, or learn from it. It probably leaves you feeling guilty and ashamed, and perhaps afraid that you came close to hurting your child. And too often, when we're angry, we find ourselves repeating the bad ways we were treated as children, even though we said we would never do that.
All children break rules at times, and how you respond will depend on the situation and your child's age. You need to think about what's appropriate for the situation and for how your child is feeling. Misbehaviour is often a result of your child being upset - she doesn't know how to communicate what's bothering him, so it comes out other ways. He isn't acting that way to make you mad. Try to figure it out, and what to do, instead of losing your temper. Was he bored without you? Was he excitedly trying new things? Understanding your child's feelings may help you control your emotions and guide him better.
To help prevent problems, teach a child by setting limits for her and helping her understand what is and isn't acceptable, so she learns to control her own behaviour. That's what discipline is all about. It's not punishment. All children need guidance - some values and expectations about getting along with others and staying safe. Children without any expectations of them often become anxious and obnoxious, because they're overwhelmed with choices and too much freedom.
It's time to start setting some limits when your child is a toddler. You and your child's primary caregivers should agree on what they are, so you can be consistent. They should make sense and really matter, like not touching a hot stove. A few rules like "no hurting others" should be set, too. If you have too many limits, or they're too trivial, everyone will likely get frustrated. Let your child know what the expectations and limits are, and stick to them. Be firm - and consistent. And it's a good idea to remind your child of the expectations and limits before beginning a new activity or going out somewhere.
Children respond much better to limits when they feel loved and noticed as part of a warm, caring relationship. Try giving directions in a positive way, such as "Please close the door quietly" instead of "Don't slam the door." Notice and praise good behaviour. This can build your child's self-esteem and reduce his need to battle with you all the time.
When your child is doing something you don't like, distracting her and redirecting her to something acceptable can help . Also, point out natural consequences of misbehaviour, such as, "I know you like drawing on the walls, but if you do, I will be very upset." Or have a consequence to the child's action that's related to it, such as not being able to play with a favourite toy for a day if he doesn't pick up his toys when asked.
Physical punishment (spanking, hitting), shaming or rejecting a child can make him believe he's bad. It can make him very angry and resentful, and likely to act out even more. It's also very confusing, since it turns a loved parent into a scary, hurtful person, and if your child sees you this way, it can harm not only your relationship but his healthy brain development.
Set a good example of handling your own frustration and anger - it's a big part of helping your child learn to discipline herself.
Food for Thought:
- How might a child who is playing alone feel?
- What steps can you take to calm yourself down when you are angry with your child?
- At what point, if you're not careful, could discipline turn into punishment?
- What are the acceptable ways to discipline a child of this age?
- Why is it never acceptable to spank or hit your child?
- How can you get your own chores and activities done while minding your toddler?