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Disciplinary Techniques That Work for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Use Active Listening and the “Sportscasting” Technique

Active listening mirrors back to the speaker what she's said. Since little kids are not very verbally skilled, using active listening with little kids relies more on “hearing” what they are saying through their actions, than does on listening to their words. It's a way of letting them know what you understand about their feelings, and it's a way of helping them clarify how they feel.

“Sportscasting” is related to our old friend, active listening, though it concentrates more on the events, rather than on the feelings involved. In sportscasting, you observe and describe what is going on. “Judy, I see you are dumping sand out of the sandbox and throwing your trucks. I saw that Henri laughed at you.” As a result, your child is able to figure out why she's feeling bad about the event. Like active listening, sportscasting can be used to help resolve conflicts. You're merely the announcer, describing events and letting each child see that he's been seen, and that there is somebody else, too, who has a point of view on the subject. That's a step toward kids' resolving their own problems.

Behave Yourself!

Like all discipline, time-outs are a teaching tool. If you just slam a kid in a room and say, “Think about it,” he'll learn that when he's frustrated, angry, or too much trouble, people don't want to be around him. Many of us only learn to deal with anger and frustration when alone, rather than in a supported situation. Is this healthy?

Time-Out Techniques

  • A time-out is a way of separating your child from the moment, person, or object that is causing the trouble. It's a way of saying, “C'mon, Dude, take a rest from it.”
  • It's not a “punishment” and it shouldn't be threatened. (“Jerry, stop biting or I'll put you in a time-out!”) A time-out should simply be imposed, immediately, when appropriate.
  • Keep it very brief. The idea is to break the action and mood (not the child!) and allow a little cooldown. For little ones, keep a time- out to one minute per age.
  • You can put a child in a time-out in a separate room (more on this in the “Behave Yourself!” sidebar) but a better idea is to keep the child near you, perhaps in a special chair.
  • When a child returns from a time-out, don't put him back into the environment (or activity) that was part of the problem. Start him on a new activity (redirec-tion-see below) and immediately find something positive to reinforce. For example, say Lance is throwing food and Vikas and Katie are laughing hysterically. Lance won't stop, so you separate him from the action for three minutes in another room. When you bring him back, don't put him back at the table with Vikas and Katie. Give him painting materials and positive feedback (“What great colors!”).

Redirecting the Action

Most disciplinary techniques for toddlers and preschoolers involve redirection. It may be the most basic disciplinary technique of all. If you don't like a baby grabbing at your hair, you give him a rattle to hold. As kids get a little bigger, redirection becomes part of almost every disciplinary action, whether active listening or sportscasting, imposing verbal or physical limits, or using natural consequences, time-outs, and so on. Redirection is a way to move through the misbehavior and onward to something else, and keeps the discipline from becoming punitive.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. 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.

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