Toddlers are known for their tantrums. It’s hard to be so little and have such big emotions. What kind of discipline does a toddler really need?
First, let’s be clear on one thing. Discipline means “to teach.” It comes from the Latin word “disciplina,” meaning “instruction and training.” Empty threats, shame, blame and punishments have no place in teaching toddlers better ways to deal with big emotions.
We know it can be frustrating for you as a parent to handle a toddler’s newfound independence, but it’s a wonderful time in their development. They need your help now more than ever.
Here’s what works to calm and soothe the toddler storm:
- Acknowledge and validate feelings. Offer empathy as a way to see your child in spite of the behavior. “I see you are sad that it’s time to leave.”
- Connect before you correct. This one makes all the difference. Toddlers need time to calm. Children will more likely accept your suggestions if they feel understood. “You were playing and having so much fun.”
- Set limits. Speak sternly, yet simply, while setting boundaries. “No biting. Biting hurts.” Avoid long explanations.
- Redirect. Take the focus off the negative behavior. Find something they would be more interested in. “Let’s go inside so we can get a snack.”
- Give choices. Allow children to feel in control within limits by offering choices. “Would you like to push the stroller or ride in it?”
- Avoid meltdown triggers. Think about how tired or hungry your toddler is or will be. Pack snacks. Be flexible with how fast you need to get things done.
- Be consistent. Knowing what to expect helps children feel secure.
- Prepare for transitions. Thinking through how to change activities reduces stress. A picture/visual schedule of the step-by-step process can also help. Songs help, too.
- Narrate what is happening. Shine a light on what is going right. Speak the positive behaviors you are noticing.
- Neutralize power struggles. Give toddlers the opportunity to feel “in charge” of themselves within limits. Offering choices is key here.
What about time-outs? Toddlers experience things moment by moment and are not thinking about what they did wrong in a time-out. Try a cozy calm-down space with sensory items. Sensory items can include coloring books, bubbles, fidget toys or any calming activities.
Change time-outs to “time-ins” to teach calming skills. Stay connected with eye contact/voice or physical closeness. And breathe. If you are calm, they will get there, too.