Parenting is not as black and white as we would have thought it would be in theory. There are many gray areas, making up things along the way, and trial and error. Up to a certain age, small children aren’t in control of their emotions and aren’t even capable of translating those overwhelming feelings into words. They also try to push boundaries and test us to see what their limit is depending on our facial expressions and shock. Raising toddlers in the age of the terrible twos is challenging and how we react to these situations are the building blocks of a socially and emotionally healthy and adaptable child.
As mothers we tend to enable certain behavior from the fear of being too strict or losing our friendship with our children, but these tendencies are what will eventually lead our kids’ behavior from “just a phase” to out of control and part of their character. So how can we discipline our toddlers gently without resorting to any sort of harsh words or actions? There are 2 main ideas that if followed in every situation can lead to a better understanding between parent and child and eventually be reflected in good behavior.
This means that once you say something, there is no taking it back. No matter what. If your child is misbehaving towards an adult, purposely wrecking items at home, harming another child or is throwing a major tantrum in public, then say that if they don’t stop this behavior you will: never let them play with that child again, take a nap, have his favorite toy taken away, won’t go to his favorite playground, etc. If they stop the behavior then all is well and give positive reinforcement such as “you’re a big girl I’m proud of you” or “good boy you understand so much”. But if they refuse to listen then by all means follow through with the initial ultimatum. Children know empty threats when they hear them, and if you throw words around without applying them, then your word no longer has value to the child and they will keep misbehaving. If you apply what you said just one time, then for subsequent misbehaviors your child will think before acting, and if they act they will quickly be sorry and stop.
Ask and Explain
Sometimes when kids are frustrated they will take it out on their toys by throwing them and smashing them, or even on their friends. Ask them why they are doing this, are they hungry, sleepy or thirsty? Do they want the toy that the other child is playing with? If the answer is the first three, then the course of action is straightforward, offer them what they need. If it is the latter, then explain that they must ask for permission to play with the toy and in return he must offer the other child his toy and they can play together. If they hurt their friends by a physical action, take your child aside and explain why they shouldn’t do this and how much it hurts the other child. Sometimes it might be jealousy, especially between siblings, detect what triggered the tantrum and try not to repeat it in front of your vulnerable child, and if it happens make sure to give extra love and attention.
Maria Hage-Boutros Najem