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Disciplining a Toddler

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I have a 27-month-old who is becoming increasingly difficult for me to discipline, however this is not a problem for my husband. I realize we do things a little differently. I usually give the option of changing the behavior or going to time-out, I think she should know what she is being punished for.

My husband doesn't explain things to her, but when he gets mad or uses a loud voice she listens. He says she knows how to manipulate me and plays games with me until I lose my patience. I have also noticed that some days she has a real "attitude" toward me and anything I say will get the same negative reaction, but not with her father.

Is this a phase that normally occurs at this age? I need help in knowing how to talk to and discipline my daughter. I really like Dr. Dobson and others like him, but I just can't seem to make it work the way they describe. Help please.

A: I am a believer in parents being on the same page philosophically, if not always style-wise when it comes to all important parenting issues. You and your husband are not on the same discipline page philosophically or style-wise. This is contributing, in large part, to your discipline problem. Her father won't allow her to express any "attitude" towards him; she knows if she did she'd get that same frightening anger and loud voice.

His "discipline" is based on scaring her. You want her to know what she has done that merits discipline. Your approach, over time, will produce much more of an internalized sense of right and wrong than his. This internalization of right and wrong leads to self-discipline, the goal of all parental discipline. I know things don't always work out as they're explained in the "happily ever after examples" in experts' books. I will suggest, however, The Parent's Handbook, by Dinkmeyer and McKay. I think their suggestions are among the best offered for disciplining kids.

Your two year-old is doing her "assigned job" of being stubborn and manipulative; she actually is developing naturally by behaving in these ways. I would strongly suggest, however, that you and your husband get together on a unified discipline message and approach with her. It doesn't matter whose approach is "working" now; it matters that your parental discipline gives her the supportive teaching she needs.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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