Strategies for all ages.
As kids grow and change, so does their behaviour. The child who doesn’t throw tantrums at two may sass you at seven, and give you major attitude at 12. The best way to understand your children’s behaviour is to understand what they’re going through developmentally, say the experts. This knowledge will help you discipline them without resorting to yelling, threatening or having a meltdown yourself. “Discipline is about guiding and teaching our children — it’s not about punishment or anger,” says Scott Wooding, a child psychologist in Calgary and author of The Parenting Crisis. “It’s simply a way of helping kids learn right from wrong, and keeping them safe.” Here are some strategies to keep your kids on track at every age and stage.
Where they’re at Your little guy isn’t whining, fussing or having temper tantrums to manipulate you or make you angry, says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution. “Mostly toddlers misbehave because they can’t express or control their emotions. They also tend to be very demonstrative. So when they’re happy, they’re very happy. And when they’re upset, they’ve very upset.” Your tot is naturally inquisitive, so it’s only normal for him to get into everything. His job is to test his new sense of independence; yours is to set limits.
Typical trouble spots
Tantrums These emotional blow-ups are usually the result of your child’s anger and frustration at not being able to say, do or get what he wants, says Pantley. He also has a very short fuse when he’s tired, hungry, bored or frustrated. Tantrums are a surefire way of letting you know: “I really need a drink/snack/toy/nap — right now!”
Contrariness Offer your two-year-old an apple and she wants a banana. Dress her in pink and she wants to wear brown. Your toddler is in the early stages of forming an identity separate from you, and part of the process may be deciding if you want it, she doesn’t. Her favourite word: NO!
Solutions worth trying
Offer choices Toddlers are all about independence and control, so you can avoid a lot of problems by giving them a little more say in their lives, says Pantley. Two choices are enough for this age group, for example, “What do you want to do first: brush your teeth or put on your PJs?”
Keep your cool Toddlers thrive on attention — positive or negative — so if you overreact when your child intentionally dumps her cereal, or has a meltdown in the grocery store, you can bet she’s going to do it again. Calmly let her know that we don’t pour our food on the floor or scream when we can’t have another cookie. Keep it short and simple (no lectures, please) or you’ll just confuse her.
Nip tantrums in the bud Minimize meltdowns by finding out what triggers them. If your tot always loses it when she’s hungry, make a point of having lots of healthy snacks on hand. If she gets upset when she has to leave the park, give her lots of warning (10 minutes, five minutes, two minutes) before you start packing up. And limit visits to notorious trouble spots, such as the toy store.
Take a time out By the time your child is two, time outs can be an effective discipline tool, say the experts at the Canadian Paediatric Society. If your tot angrily whacks his playmate over the head, take him to a designated time-out area where he can calm down and get control of himself. Explain to him what he’s done wrong, using simple words like “no hitting.” Time outs should only last for one minute per year of age, to a maximum of five minutes.