How We Discipline Our Toddler
September 4, 2018
For all intents and purposes of my blog, I think it is important I finally address how I manage to keep my toddler “under control” and well behaved. He is two years and two months now so I wanted to write a post about it, and share the method Big Drew and I use for creating a structure of expectations and discipline in our home that work for us. I will always do my best to share my experiences in hopes of helping another parent, but like with anything I share, this parenting strategy is what works for OUR family. It is not the only “right way” to discipline. You may also disagree entirely with our parenting strategy, and that is understandable. I do think, however, that hearing or reading about other parents’ methods can be useful tools for figuring out what may or may not personally work for you and your family.
Big Drew and I strive to raise our kids to embrace the wonders of the world and wildness of being children, but we also strive to have structured and well-behaved kids. It is possible to have a balance of both– embracing childhood excitement and knowing a time and place for such behavior. We have two older kids who are now eight and ten, and they have mastered this balance quite well, but as Big Drew would say, “You can only see these results if you raise them with a balance from the very beginning.” He is very structured, resilient, and consistent with all our kids, which makes our parenting strategy achievable.
Before I jump into our parenting strategy, I just want to say I am far from the perfect parent. In fact, I still struggle with disciplining our toddler every single day. There are days when Little Drew wants to push me to my limits, and he’ll throw his awful tantrums. When he acts out, I have to then become the authoritative parent so he can take me seriously. I hate becoming stern and raising my voice, but it has to be done if I want him to become aware of our behavioral expectations. We want our son to grow up disciplined and well-mannered so rules and disciplinary actions have to be put in place for (once again) our family.
Little Drew has a very structured routine that he lives by every day so it only made sense to implement the very specific rules for him. Now, kids in general can only respond to rules if there isn’t a lot of them. You need to remember they have a short attention span so they will only hear (and therefore identify) only a couple. With that being said, Big Drew and I had to decide what rules we needed to stick to no matter what, and yes, these rules will change and evolve as he gets older– obviously. These rules are absolute so we will raise our voice and or yell at him if we need to and say, “No Drew!” If he is about to break the rule or has, he will hear from us immediately.
Our list of No’s:
- harming himself or others in the form of hitting, biting, kicking, pulling hair, etc.
- putting unnecessary objects or shoving food in to his mouth
- grabbing an electrical cord of any kind
- entering parent’s/laundry room
- opening front door of the house
I will raise my voice and give him a stern look, and his father will most certainly yell at him because we both agree our son knows right from wrong by now. He knows what he can and can’t do. Sometimes he wants to get curious and thinks we are not going to notice or care, but we do and he will be reminded.
A mistake I often make is that I say the word “no” a lot to Little Drew. If you don’t see the issue with that then let me explain: using the word “no” more often than not will confuse the toddler. If Drew breaks the deal-breaker rules then yes, say “no!” However, if he does something that does not warrant an illicit “no” then I should use more encouraging language. For example, if he wants to grab the remote controller to signify he wants to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse then instead of immediately saying “no” to him, I should be saying, “Please don’t grab the remote. That is an adult toy. You can just tell me to put on Mickey Mouse for you.” I do, however, make a conscious effort to ignore foolish things that he does that allows him to be a kid, without depriving him with a constant remark, but also keeping a close eye in case it gets too far.
Whenever Drew breaks one of the big ‘no-no’ rules, our approach is to give one warning. If he proceeds to do it again, he will be put directly in time out. In this day and age, I’ve learned ‘time outs’ are controversial, but this method works wonders for us.
Here’s how we go about time-outs:
A firm warning is given and that is it. I used to give multiple warnings that when I went to put Drew in time out, he would not take me seriously. I’d grab his hand and walk him over to his time out area, and he would have a smirk on his face (what sass, right?) the entire time. He used to kick and giggle just to be testy too. I learned following-through is key if we ever want a child to take us seriously.
If, after the warning, the behavior continues, then without hesitation, we immediately pick up Drew and tell him he is going in “Time Out.”
Time Out Area: We have two time-out spots in our house that we gently place him in, and they are a couch in the living room and chair in the kids’ room. We do not change it up because we observed that he now knows ‘time out’ very well, to the point that he will walk to one of them himself. Consistency is key everybody, and this shows he knows the drill.
Set A Time: We used to set a time for how long Drew would remain in time-out, but that shortly ended when Big Drew and I began disagreeing on how long is too long of a time-out for a toddler. We still don’t know so for now, we keep him in time-out until our son stops crying. Every time we settle him down, we remind him by saying, “You will remain in time-out until you calm down.” Once he stops crying or bantering, we’ll say, “Okay you can get down now,” and he will get off the couch or chair.
During Time-Out: We do not talk to Drew or make eye contact with him. It does not matter how loud he is crying or what he is doing, we do not entertain it. I had trouble with this at first. It was hard to ignore my son (my baby) crying that without realizing it, I would be staring at him with the saddest look on my face. Big Drew quickly informed me that I was not helping the situation, and it was only making it worse. If I made eye contact and pitied him, my son would then look at me as the push-over and take advantage of that to get out of time-out sooner. So I look away and now, it does not phase me if he cries.
Leaving Time-Out: We can’t address the problem that got Drew in time out in the first place because he is too young. He is not going to give us full sentences, explaining his poor behavior like we would like, but that is because he does not speak so many words to be able to. In the meantime, we tell him his behavior was unacceptable, and we wait for him to apologize nonverbally or verbally to us. We give him a hug or we say, ‘Good job for calming down in time-out.’ We find the positive reinforcement shows we are being tough out of love because we do have his best interest at heart.
If this all sounds like it is easy-breezy for us then no, you are wrong. Our parenting style was very difficult for me personally. At first, when I started putting Drew in time out, it was a mess. I felt like he was not understanding why he was being put in time out so he would cry for– I kid you not– an hour. Do we keep him in time out for that long? No, never, but remember, we put him in time out until he decides to stop crying. So in the beginning, the time would stretch because he did not stop crying, and in fact, he would force himself to cry even more just to pity me or piss me off. Of course this was never and is still not the case for Big Drew. From the start, if Big Drew puts Little Drew in time out, he will immediately sit quietly and wait for one of us to dismiss him out of time out. I never had it that easy, and I still don’t. Little Drew does cry in time out, but at least, he stays still in time out. Today, however, was a different story.
Today I had to put him in time out shortly after his nap because he wanted to be greedy and ask for more than the two cookies I gave him. He knows he is allowed a treat after his nap so we will give him two Oreos or two Nabisco chocolate chip cookies. He decides to throw a tantrum because I would not serve him any more. I gave him a fair warning to stop crying and begging, but he insisted on getting loud. So I put him in time-out and everything was going fine, until I had to step away from his sight. I head back to the couch and notice he is not sitting there. I overhear him in the other room with the kids, and I asked him who gave him permission to leave time out, but he found it funny and began to laugh every time I questioned him. I gave him the warning to stop and he did not so I put him back in time out for being disrespectful and for not waiting for further instruction from the previous time-out.
So, from that little incident today, I felt inspired to write this blog post. I can definitely say some days are easier than others when it comes to disciplining Drew. Whenever I feel like my tactics aren’t working, Big Drew steps in with a much more authoritative demeanor than mine. He is the real reinforcer (mainly because he has two kids prior to our relationship). If we only celebrate the playfulness of our son and do not also reinforce structure of expectations and discipline, then we’ll never have a respectful and well-mannered son. Luckily, our system is working so far, and we are very proud of our caring and courteous toddler.