Dr. Deena Blanchard, pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics, and font of knowledge, gives us the tools we need to weather the storm that is age two to… well, it can’t last forever right?
The first year of life goes by so quickly. Before you blink, the baby you could once hold head to toe with one arm is a walking, kind of talking little person with very definitive, strong opinions! You often hear tales of the dreaded “Terrible Twos.” What people often somehow fail to mention is that these so called ” terrible twos” start at around 12-15 months of age. Between the ages of 1-2 your child will have increasing mobility and a verbal explosion. This is a very exciting time but can also present some challenges.
I often say toddlers are like teenagers, but with less language. They are battling for independence. They are trying to figure out how to be their own person while still wanting to be close to you and needing you. It’s a tough one. Ultimately, they want to know you are in charge and in control. The alternative is far scarier. They still need your help to self-regulate.
So here are my Top Ten discipline tips for the transition to toddlerhood. I actually don’t love the word discipline; it feels harsh. I prefer to think of it as part of the education you are providing your child in how to negotiate the world. But that’s semantics. Call it whatever you want, the methods are the same.
1. Distraction is the best method of education/discipline. This is the golden rule of toddlers. You can not reason with a 15 month old. Children this age have an attention span of about 1-2 minutes. You cannot really reason with a 15 month old; you may as well be speaking a foreign language. Children this age have a short attention span, and you can use this to your advantage. If you can get in and distract your child before they grab Jonny’s toy, it sends the message that it’s not okay to take it. But it also let’s them save face and hopefully prevents a meltdown. Which brings me to rule number two…
2. Prepare for meltdowns. We are all human we can’t distract our children (nor are they able to be distracted) from every possible meltdown. Once they hit the meltdown point, they (and you) just need to ride it out. Don’t try to distract, beg or bargain with your child at this moment (though it’s so tempting). Let your child have their moment and when it ends, in what feels like an eternity, be there. Hug your child and let them know you still love them even though they lost control. Then start a new activity. Everyone loses control sometimes. Having the knowledge that they are still loved, and that you both can move on, is very reassuring.
3. Try to limit the use of the word NO. Try words like “gentle” or “careful.” Try to save “no” for things that are either really important to you or are physically dangerous (NO, do not run in the street!). This not only gives your “no” more power in those extreme moments, using more specific words also builds an explanation into your discipline. This reminds them that particular behaviors have particular consequences. If you can say “careful” and then redirect your child you are getting a two for the price of one; not a bad deal.
4. Keep Them in the Loop. Explaining the day’s schedule and reminding your child of the order of her day’s events will help prepare her for transitions and minimize meltdowns. As your child gets older (after 18 months) you can start to say things like first X then Y. For example, first bath then book. Your child will be able to understand more and more of what you say and may even, when prompted, enjoy reminding you what comes next in their day.
5. Give them choices but in limited quantities. Try not to give more than two choices at a given time. Such as, would you like to wear your train pajamas or your race car ones? Small choices encourage independence without your child feeling overwhelmed, and let you control the outcome. Either way, she’s going to put on pj’s.
6. Encourage independence. They may also want to do everything themselves. As long as it’s not dangerous, let them try. It’s good for your child’s self esteem. So at bedtime, let your child turn off the light or turn on the night light. It seems small but it usually makes bedtime less of a battle (but that’s a topic for another post.)
7. Try to use a calm but stern tone. Yelling rarely works with anyone, child or adult. It may stop the behavior in that moment, but doesn’t often stop it from reoccurring in the long run. It may even encourage continued or increased behavior. Negative reinforcement is a strong motivator for further attention seeking behavior. Let’s use an example: your child is throwing water and splashing in the bath and getting you and the floor all wet. Instead of raising your voice calmly say, “if you continue to splash I am going to take you out of the bath.” Then if they splash again you take them out. They may cry or be upset. Try not to let this get to you. Try to stay calm and distract them into the pajama choosing activity.
8. Follow through with what you say. Sticking to your consequences and having the consequence suit the poor behavior is the most successful way to prevent the behavior from repeating. Consistency is key. As children get older, I often suggest to parents, if you aren’t sure what to choose as an appropriate consequence you can say “if you continue this behavior there will be a consequence.” You may not know what that consequence is right now, but you’ve now bought yourself some time to figure it out.
9. Try not to globalize. As you can probably guess, I am not a huge fan of the word punishment or saying “bad boy/girl.” Actions have consequences (good or bad), they don’t define who we are. We all make mistakes sometimes and if handled well we can teach our children to learn from their mistakes.
10. Enjoy the good times! Your child is going to start saying more. They will develop a sense of humor and a sense of self. Toddlers can be so much fun and hilarious. Enjoy the good moments. Praise your child when they behave well. Praise, encouragement and positive reinforcement are priceless.
You may be thinking “oh that’s nice easier said than done.” Well, you are right. It’s really hard work raising kids. Each age comes with it own positives and challenges and they all pass too fast. I am a mother of two boys and I try my hardest to practice what I preach. Do I get it right a hundred percent if the time? Not a chance. Have my kids had meltdowns? Yes, multiple and some in public (shocking I know, but true). Have I lost it on my kids before? Unfortunately, the answer to this one is yes too. I am a human after all (despite my status as Dr. Deena princess, doctor, blogger, mother, super woman, rock star-Ha! I wish). I can promise you this, the advice I give to parents is all based on the principles I believe to be developmentally appropriate. It is also what I practice at home. Though I don’t always get it right, I am doing the best I can to be a great parent and role model to my children. I forgive my own mistakes and try to learn from them as I expect my boys to do from their mistakes. From what I hear from others and what I see myself, I may just actually be getting some of it right! Chances are, though you may not believe it, you are probably doing a pretty awesome job parenting too!
Deena Blanchard MD, MPH is a board certified pediatrician working at Premier Pediatrics. Dr. Blanchard has been with Premier since 2009. She completed her residency training at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of Columbia Presbyterian; where she was awarded Physician of the Year in 2007. There she served as a family advocate as part of the family advisory comity. Prior to attending medical school, she completed her Masters of Public Health at Temple University with a focus on health education. Dr. Blanchard attended Medical School at Albert Einstein College of Medicine where she was awarded Alpha Omega Alpha and The American Women’s Association Glascow Rubin Achievement Award. She currently guest blogs for many child-parent sites.
Premier Pediatrics is an established pediatric practice with locations in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. They have been tending to children for over 30 years with a strong focus on state of the art medical care and family wellness. They offer prenatal visits free of charge which can be scheduled by either calling the office 212-598-0331, 718-369-0817 or via our Prenatal Guide. Be sure to like them on Facebook.