Disciplining Your Toddler

Good disciplinary techniques are constructive. The best thing to do when your child decides to become temporarily psychotic (that is, when she pitches a tantrum) is to do nothing. If you happen to be in a public place and are concerned that someone is going to think you are the crazy one, simply pick up your child, carry her out to your car, buckle her safely into her car seat, latch the childproof door locks, put in earplugs, and drive away. You do not want to indulge your child and cave in to the tantrum. This is an endurance contest, and you're the one who has to endure it.

Taking Time for Time Out

When a toddler reaches the age of two or older and has language skills, you can use disciplinary techniques like time out. In this technique, you tell your errant child that he or she is in time out and has to sit in a certain place for a certain period of time. You use a timer and keep the time-out period short—it's intended as a cool-down period, not as a punishment. Other, closely related disciplinary techniques are to send your child to stand in the corner, or the well-known “Go to your room!” command.

Mom Alert!

Watch out for disciplinary tactics that are doomed to failure. If “go to your room” means “go to the place where all your favorite toys, TV, music, books, and games are kept,” it's not really going to communicate your disciplinary point.

Making Your Disciplinary Efforts Effective

The key to discipline is to understand why you are using it—because that is the message you're going to be communicating to your child. You are your child's universe and your child's primary teacher. You teach by example and by how you relate to your child. If your discipline is erratic, your child will never understand what brings it on, and thus won't know what behaviors he or she is expected to change.

If you teach your child through intimidation, he may question his worth and how much you actually love him. The child will not get the message that his behavior is something you want to change. He will simply assume there is something about him that you do not like. This is not the message you want to convey unless you want to set aside money for your child's later therapy.

Love—the Best Behavior Motivator of All

The best gift you can give your child is the knowledge of how much he is loved. You do this through the way you talk to him and the way you employ discipline. There is an expression in the Torah: “When you discipline a child you push away with one hand as you pull closer with the other.” You want to be firm but you never want a child to question whether you love him.

This is why it's important not to discipline out of anger. It is not wrong to show your displeasure with the child as long as you make it clear that you're objecting to the behavior, and not to the child. Never call your child derogatory names when you are angry about something he has done. We all get frustrated. But you have to bite your tongue before something mean comes out that you will regret later. Your child will internalize whatever you say to him. He is not going to have the ability to evaluate what you say and conclude, “Oh, she didn't mean it.”

Look for Techniques That Suit You

The many good books on discipline techniques can help you develop your style. Keep in mind the age of your child, your child's attention span, and whether you're dealing with an act of defiance or a simple excess of childhood enthusiasm. As your child ages he or she will assert his or her will in more obvious ways—and while you may not like all of these ways, they will not always call for discipline.

Dealing with Dangerous Defiance

Overt defiance in areas that can effect your child's health and safety, or the comfort and safety of others, must be addressed with discipline and limits of some sort. At other times you may want to consider your child's reasons and let him flex his muscles. You don't want complete control over your child. You are looking for authority in your home, and even though you are talking about a small child you ultimately want mutual respect. This is, after all, a person we are talking about here—even if he or she is only two feet tall. You want to give your child room to grow, even in ways that are not the same as the ways you grew. You want to use discipline to help your child achieve that growth, not to kill his spirit.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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