As a parent, you want the best for your child. You want them to grow up and be successful in life. To accomplish this goal, your toddler must develop good behaviour habits early on in their life.
This blog post will explore how you can encourage good behaviour in toddlers!
Life can be frustrating for toddlers. Though eager to be independent, young children can’t always move as swiftly as they’d like or clearly express their needs.
They also tend to have trouble dealing with limits, compromise and disappointment. This can lead to tantrums and misbehaviour.
But you can teach your toddler to behave well by providing love, clear rules and a degree of routine.
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Typical Toddler Behavior
Most 2-year-olds are little bundles of energy. They don’t stop running, jumping, and playing until they’re about to drop. So it’s essential to find healthy ways to help your child get out those wiggles.
Toddlers can become easily overstimulated and sometimes have difficulty regaining their composure.
Sometimes, a quick break from a stimulating environment can help them calm down. But, at other times, you may have to try another day again.
Toddlers explore with all their senses—especially the sense of touch. But their developing motor skills, combined with their impulsive nature, can cause them to be clumsy.
So it’s essential to teach them how to touch things safely.
They also love asserting their independence. So don’t be surprised if your little one starts using their new speech abilities to say, “No!” and their motor skills to run away from you. Although toddlers can be a lot of work, watching them grow and develop can be fascinating and fun.
Because of all of these developments, toddlers have particular discipline needs. They require discipline that helps foster their independence but still teaches socially appropriate behaviour.
Toddlers sometimes lie, but in their defence, they may not understand that they’re lying. For example, it’s common for a toddler to say “no,” when asked a direct question like, “Did you eat the cookie?” This may be in response to the tone of your voice or your body language that could be communicating they did something wrong.
Remember, toddlers have limited speech, so it’s hard for them to express themselves with their words. So instead, they tend to use their bodies to show you how they feel.
A toddler’s limited verbal communication skills can lead to tantrums when they’re upset or angry, and tempers can also happen when a child can’t handle their emotions or if they become overstimulated.
Aggression is also common. Toddlers lack the skills to resolve conflict peacefully, and they don’t yet understand how their choices may affect others.
Don’t be surprised if they frequently hit, bite, or throw things.
Establish a few simple household rules and enforce them consistently. Toddlers need frequent reminders and have to practice things over and over again. Use the same language each time to help reinforce to your toddler how to follow the rules.
Discipline Strategies That Work
While your discipline strategies should be tailored to your child’s needs, these tactics are generally effective for toddlers.
Provide Physical Guidance
Saying “Pet the dog gently” from across the room isn’t likely to be helpful. Instead, show your child what that means through demonstration.
Place your hand over your child’s hand and gently pet the dog. Say, “Gentle touches,” as you do it.
Then, whenever you catch your child being rough, repeat the lesson. Eventually, they’ll learn to use more gentle touches.
Showing is much more effective than telling your child what to do, so use hand-over-hand guidance to teach your child new skills.
You should also provide your child ample opportunities throughout the day to make positive choices.
Feeling like they don’t control a situation (or themselves) can be a tantrum trigger.
By giving your child the chance to choose which snack they would like to have or the book they want to read before bed, you are empowering them to feel more in control.
Remove Your Child from the Situation
Sometimes, little ones aren’t up for the task at hand and trying to force it to happen isn’t likely to turn out well.
If your toddler can’t maintain appropriate behaviour in the grocery store, you may have to end your shopping trip early.
Or, if your child isn’t listening to your directions at the park, head home and try another day again.
Praise Good Behavior
Everyone is receptive to praise, including toddlers. Praise good behaviour, and you’ll encourage your child to repeat those behaviours.
It’s important to catch your child being good. Praise them for playing quietly, trying to dress, or picking up their toys.
They will be motivated to keep up the good work when they know you’re paying attention.
Ignore Mild Misbehavior
Toddlers often exhibit attention-seeking behaviour.
Tantrums, whining, and screaming can often get worse if you pay too much attention to them because it only provides positive reinforcement that encourages these behaviours to continue.
Sometimes the best response is to ignore attention-seeking behaviour purposely.
Look the other way, pretend you don’t hear your child whining or yelling, or act distracted by something else, like a book.
As soon as your child stops misbehaving, you can start paying attention again. For example, you might say something like, “Oh, you’re quiet now. That means you are ready to go outside and play.”
If a child is misbehaving because they are hungry or tired, ignoring them won’t solve the issue.
You will need to address the root cause of the tantrum. Being attentive to your child’s hunger and tired cues will help you avoid these types of tantrums in the future.
If you cannot completely ignore or walk away from your child while they’re having a tantrum, limit your response.
Acting bored when your child acts out sends a similar message as ignoring them outright.
Most toddlers can’t handle sitting in a chair for timeout successfully. This is because they lack the patience and attention span to sit still.
However, you might be able to use a timeout room. Just make sure the room is entirely childproof, place your child inside the room, and shut the door.
Keep your child in timeout for one minute for every year of age. So that means a 2-year-old might serve a 2-minute timeout.
How to Encourage Good Behaviour in Your Child
Children quickly learn how to behave when they get positive, consistent guidance from you.
This means giving your child attention when they behave well, rather than just applying consequences when your child does something you don’t like.
Here are some practical tips for putting this positive approach into action.
Show Your Love
Make sure your displays of affection for your child outnumber any consequences or punishments.
Hugs, kisses and good-natured roughhousing reassure your child of your love. Praise and attention also can motivate your toddler to follow the rules.
Rather than overloading your child with rules from the outset — which might frustrate them — prioritise those geared toward safety first and gradually add rules over time.
Help your toddler follow the rules by childproofing your home and eliminating some temptations.
It’s normal for a toddler to have temper tantrums. However, to reduce the frequency, duration or intensity of your child’s tantrums:
Know your child’s limits.
Your child might misbehave because they don’t understand or can’t do what you’re asking.
Explain how to follow the rules.
Instead of saying, “Stop hitting,” offer suggestions for how to make play go more smoothly, such as “Why don’t you two take turns?”
Take ‘no’ in stride.
Don’t overreact when your toddler says no. Instead, calmly repeat your request. You might also try to distract your child or make a game out of good behaviour. Your child will be more likely to do what you want if you make an activity fun.
Pick your battles.
If you say no to everything, your child is likely to get frustrated. So instead, look for times when it’s OK to say yes.
Offer choices when possible.
Please encourage your child’s independence by letting them pick out a pair of pyjamas or a bedtime story.
Avoid situations that might trigger frustration or tantrums.
For example, please don’t give your child toys that are too advanced for them. Likewise, avoid long outings in which your child has to sit still or can’t play — or bring an activity.
Also, know that children are more likely to act out when they’re tired, hungry, sick or in an unfamiliar setting.
Stick to the schedule.
Keep a daily routine so that your child will know what to expect.
Please remind your child to use words to express their feelings. If your child isn’t speaking yet, consider teaching them baby sign language to avoid frustration.
Despite your best efforts, your toddler will break the rules. Ignore minor displays of anger, such as crying — but if your child hits, kicks or screams for a prolonged period, remove them from the situation. To encourage your child to cooperate, consider using these methods:
Let your child see the consequences of their actions — as long as they’re not dangerous. For example, if your child throws and breaks a toy, they won’t have the toy to play with anymore.
Create a consequence for your child’s actions. For example, tell your child that you will take the toys away for a day if they don’t pick up their toys.
Help your child with the task, if necessary. If your child doesn’t cooperate, follow through with the consequence.
If your child doesn’t behave, respond by taking away something that your child values — such as a favourite toy — or something related to their misbehaviour. However, don’t take away something your child needs, such as a meal.
When your child acts out, get down to their level and calmly explain why the behaviour is unacceptable.
Encourage a more appropriate activity. If the poor behaviour continues, guide your child to a designated timeout spot — ideally a quiet place with no distractions.
Enforce the timeout until your child is calm and can listen to you. Afterwards, reassure your child of your love and guide them to a positive activity.
Whatever consequences you choose, be consistent. Make sure that every adult who cares for your child observes the same rules and discipline guidelines. This reduces your child’s confusion and needs to test you.
Also, criticise your child’s behaviour — not your child. Instead of saying, “You’re a bad boy,” try, “Don’t run into the street.”
Never resort to punishments that emotionally or physically harm your child. For example, Spanking, slapping and screaming at a child is never appropriate.
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Be a Role Model
Use your behaviour to guide your child. Your child watches you get clues on how to behave – and what you do is often much more important than what you say.
For example, if you want your child to say ‘please’, say it yourself. If you don’t want your child to raise their voice, speak quietly and gently.
Show Your Child How You Feel
Telling your child honestly how their behaviour affects you helps your child see their feelings in yours.
And if you start sentences with ‘I’, it gives your child the chance to see things from your perspective. For example, ‘I’m feeling upset because there’s so much noise and I can’t talk on the phone.
Catch Your Child Being ‘good.’
When your child is behaving in a way you like, give your child some positive feedback. For example, ‘Wow, you’re playing so nicely. I like the way you’re keeping all the blocks on the table’.
This works better than waiting for the blocks to come crashing to the floor before you take notice and say, ‘Hey, stop that.
Get Down to Your Child’s Level
When you get close to your child, you can tune in to what they might be feeling or thinking. Being close also helps your child focus on what you’re saying about their behaviour.
If you’re close to your child and have your child’s attention, you don’t need to make them look at you.
To listen actively, you can nod as your child talks and repeat what you think your child is feeling.
For example, ‘It sounds like you feel really sad that your blocks are unfortunate.
Doing this can help young children cope with tension and big emotions like frustration, which sometimes lead to unwanted behaviour.
It also makes them feel respected and comforted. It can even diffuse potential temper tantrums.
When you follow through on your promises, good or bad, your child learns to trust and respect you.
Your child learns that you won’t let them down when you’ve promised something nice, and your child also knows not to try to change your mind when you’ve explained a consequence.
So when you promise to go for a walk after your child picks up their toys, make sure you have your walking shoes handy.
When you say you’ll leave the library if your child doesn’t stop running around, be prepared to go straight away.
Create an Environment for Good Behaviour
The environment around your child can influence their behaviour, so you can shape the background to help your child behave well.
This can be as simple as making sure your child’s space has plenty of safe, stimulating things for your child to play with.
Also, make sure that your child can’t reach things they could break, or that might hurt them.
Choose Your Battles
Before you get involved in anything your child is doing – especially to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ – ask yourself if it matters.
Keeping instructions, requests, and negative feedback to a minimum creates fewer opportunities for conflict and bad feelings. You can use family rules to let everyone know what’s essential in your family.
Be Firm About Whining
You can accidentally train your child to whine more if you give in when you complain about something. ‘No’ means ‘no’, not ‘maybe’, so don’t say it unless you mean it.
Keep Things Simple and Positive
Instructions should be clear, short and appropriate for your child’s age, so your child can understand and remember them.
And favourable rules are usually better than negative ones because they positively guide your child’s behaviour.
For example, ‘Please shut the gate’ is better than ‘Don’t leave the gate open’.
Give Children Responsibility – and Consequences
As your child gets older, you can give your child more responsibility for their behaviour.
You can also give your child the chance to experience the natural consequences of that behaviour.
For example, suppose it’s your child’s responsibility to pack for a sleepover, and your child forgets their favourite pillow. In that case, the natural consequence is that your child will have to manage without the pad for the night.
At other times you might need to provide consequences for inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour.
For these times, make sure that you’ve explained the consequences and your child has agreed to them in advance.
Say it Once and Move On.
If you tell your child what to do – or what not to do – too often, your child might end up just tuning out.
Suppose you want to give your child one last chance to cooperate; remind your child of the consequences for not cooperating. Then start counting to three.
Give Your Child the Chance to Succeed
Set your child up to behave well, and then praise them for it. For example, give your child some simple chores or things that your child can do to help the family.
Praising your child’s behaviour and effort will encourage your child to continue.
And giving your child a lot of practice doing a chore helps them get better at it, feel good about doing it, and want to keep doing it.
Prepare for Challenging Situations
There are times when meeting your child’s needs and doing things you need to do will be tricky – for example, when you’re shopping, in the car or at an appointment.
If you think about these challenging situations in advance, you can plan around your child’s needs.
Give your child a five-minute warning before you need them to change activities. Talk to your child about why you need their cooperation. Then your child is prepared for what you expect.
Maintain a Sense of Humour
It often helps to keep daily life with children light. You can do this by using songs, humour and fun.
For example, you can pretend to be the menacing tickle monster who needs the toys picked up off the floor.
Humour that has you both laughing is great, but humour at your child’s expense won’t help. Parental teasing easily hurts young children.
Give your toddler brief explanations only. Toddlers don’t have a long enough attention span to listen to lengthy explanations about why they shouldn’t do something.
Provide short sentences, such as, “No hitting. That hurts me.” As your child’s language develops, you can begin to use more detailed explanations.
As frustrating as it can be to tell your child not to throw things repeatedly or to deal with ten meltdowns before lunch, do your best to stay calm. When you role model how to deal with your feelings healthily, your child will learn to manage their emotions faster.6
Caregivers should never use physical punishment or harsh words to discipline a child.
Hitting, yelling, or shaming a child are not only ineffective responses to unwanted behaviours but can have lasting effects on a child’s physical and mental wellbeing.
If you are frustrated with your child’s behaviour, take a deep breath, give yourself a timeout, or count to 10 before engaging with them again.
Make sure to carve out time to take care of yourself. Healthily managing your stress ensures you can be the best parent you can be and help you discipline your toddler effectively.
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