Monday, November 15, 2010

A Glimpse into Eco-Babyz #14: Toddler Discipline


I'll admit that I am no expert in disciplining a toddler as I am learning by trial and error every day. I do want to share some tips that I find very effective at cajoling the behavior I desire out of my toddler. Of course since each baby is different and has his or her own personality, not all of my tips will work for you - but many of them are universal. First, I've learned that babies are a combination on a clean slate and a character they are naturally born with. That character is not necessarily set though and parents do have the power to gently change their character through proper discipline and a close relationship with the child.

Disclaimer: my tips work on a baby who is eating a healthy nutritious diet, sugars only in the form of fruit or in the occasional baked goods (no candy, popsicles, processed cookies), and little or no screen time. Your child's diet and exposure to television/computer time will alter their behavior and you may not get the same results from my tips. So I'll start out with the basics mentioned above.
  1. Go Low on the Sugar: Though most parents are aware that children get a 'sugar high' and a burst of energy from consuming too many sweets, they do not realize what else it does to a child's body. Sugar aids in dehydration, can actually impair DNA structure, and suppresses the immune system. In children it can also cause hyperactivity, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. Kids are high energy as is, the last thing they need is sugar.
  2. Minimize screen time: You've read about our TV struggles in my post Media and Baby E. Well, we decided to experiment and see how we can live without the television entirely. I was just very curious to see if it would make any difference or if we can even stick with it (compliments of Robinson Curriculum). I am proud to report that after covering our big screen with a sheet a week ago and completely forgetting it exists, there have been virtually no struggles whatsoever! It is so liberating to live without it. I didn't think this would be the case, I thought baby E would keep asking for it. She doesn't even mention it, for the first time in a very long time she can sit and read books by herself, play with her wooden blocks, doll house, pots and pans. Her time of independent play is gradually increasing, whereas with the TV accessible she would not want to be by herself at all without it on. I will elaborate on our experience in another post.
  3. Eye to eye: Talk to your toddler (or child) at their eye level and actually look them in the eye. Make a physical gesture as well such as putting your hand on their shoulder. It fosters a connection and the toddler will not feel as if you are talking down to them.
  4. Keep it quiet: I find that the best way to get baby E's attention is to talk softly or even whisper, she listens better than if I raise my voice. Moreover, if I do happen to raise my voice, instead of listening she starts imitating me!
  5. Distract and elaborate: Distraction is what really saves me when it comes to discipline. Whenever she is starting to get agitated or annoyed by something, I switch her attention to a different toy, a snack, I ask her where she has been yesterday... Instead of giving her short one-word answers, I elaborate on whatever I am saying. Though she may not understand all of it, it keeps her thinking and thus quiet. I also think this is one of the reasons her vocabulary is larger than her peers, we talk to her non-stop. Later, when she calms down I may discuss her improper behavior with her. Toddlers understand a lot more than you think!
  6. Foster your relationship: Both stay at home and working mothers need to set aside time to spend with your child undisturbed. Whether it is reading, drawing, or creative play, nothing bonds you the way time spent together can. The closer you are with your baby, the less you'll find you need to discipline them because they will hold your opinion in high regard. If you show interest in their little world, they will be more cooperative. We found that turning the television off has greatly increased the one on one time we have and we've seen improvements in behavior as well. Though I no longer have half hour stretches for getting housework done while the baby is watching a cartoon, I do have 5-10 minutes intervals while she plays independently. I spend more time with her, but our days are more relaxing now because I don't have to wrestle as much with a distracted, spaced out toddler.
  7. Save the 'no' for extremes: This one is pretty hard, but important as well. It is an extension of distraction. Saying "No!" should really be reserved for situations when the behavior may cause harm to the child or those around you. Instead of saying no every ten minutes you can phrase it as "Please do not hit the wall, the neighbors are sleeping...", or "We do not throw food, it is for putting in our mouth - let's clean up the mess together now..."
  8. Offer two choices: I feel like this is a good technique that shouldn't be overused. Usually distraction takes care of the matter, but if not then you can let the toddler make their choice. For example, if the toddler does not want to leave someplace you can say "When we come home do you want to eat your favorite snack first or take a bath with your rubber ducky?" It gets the baby thinking and buys you time to make your move.
  9. One page: As there are two caregivers in most traditional families, it is very important that your spouse is on the same page when it comes to discipline. This of course is easier said than done. A child who is raised with double standards will be confused, insecure, and will be learning acting skills you wish they didn't have when they get older.
  10. Be firm: No matter how you get to the end result of well-behaved children, always have the final say. The child needs to understand that you are the parent and have the authority. Do not cave in to your child's demands. If I do not allow something, I do not change my mind after two minutes of the baby crying non-stop. Instead, I use the steps above to take control of the situation.
What tips do you have for fostering positive behavior in toddlers?

photo: Asif Akbar

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