Enforcing the Rules

Toddler discipline can be hard work. Your constant no's and "don't do that" seem to act as incentive for your child to partake in the undesirable behavior even more. So, how do you get them to listen and understand why they can't do everything they want?

Do I Have To?
As a parent, you may not enjoy saying no to everything your toddler does, but it is necessary. Disciplining a child and enforcing rules helps your toddler learn what is right and wrong as well as helping them to understand that they need to respect others. But keep in mind that there is no one universally correct way to discipline a child. You need to do what works best for your toddler.

It is also important to remember that discipline doesn't necessarily mean punishment. In fact, the word discipline actually means to teach and that is exactly what effective disciplining should do. At one or two years old, your toddler has very little control over their impulses. Effective discipline will teach them, gradually and over time, to control their behavior. However, you will need to repeat yourself many times before they start to understand. If you set a good example, though, they may understand sooner since toddlers learn much quicker by what they see than by what they hear.

Making it Work
Toddlers are limited in what they understand verbally, so lecturing them about why knocking over a lamp is wrong will have very little effect on them. Instead, explain in simple phrases what is wrong, paying attention to your tone of voice and facial expression. When your 18-month-old picks up some of the dog's kibble to eat, take the offending food out of their hand and firmly say "Yuck!" while making an unpleasant face.

It is also important to be consistent in your discipline. If you sometimes say "Don't touch" when your son toddles over to the VCR, he will wonder why this time it's okay to play with the big, black machine but yesterday it wasn't. You may also want to show them alternatives to what they are doing. If your daughter scribbles all over the wall in the living room, don't admonish her. Instead, hold her hand firmly while saying "Don't draw." Then, pull out a pad of paper and sit down with her to draw on the paper.

Also, be aware of your tone of voice. Even though it can be difficult at times, it is important to maintain a calm but firm and direct voice. Getting angry and yelling will only help to rile up your toddler. Your voice should also reflect the severity of what they have done. Using the same tone no matter what your toddler has done will not allow them to distinguish between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior.

Time Outs
Many parents favor using time outs as a form of discipline. While they can be effective, you need to make sure that the behavior warrants the measure. Using a time out for every little indiscretion will eventually cause the time out to be ineffective.

The point of a time out is to remove your child from the situation, not to completely isolate them from others. Being completely cut off from others can be scary for a toddler, so place them somewhere where they will still be able to see you.

Time outs should be brief. Many experts recommend using one minute for every year of age. While one or two minutes may seem like a very short time to you, remember that toddlers have a much shorter attention span and virtually no concept of time. To your two-year-old daughter, two minutes can seem like a lifetime.

While point the of a time out is to remove your toddler from a situation, you can still enforce proper behavior by reminding them why they were separated. When you go to get your son, ask him why he had to leave the table. While he probably won't be able to answer you just yet, you can, which will help him understand.

If your toddler is in the throws of a tantrum, a time out will not help. However, you may want to give them a few minutes of quiet time with you after the tantrum.

Some Final Tips
Encourage good behavior by rewarding it with lots of praise. You're toddler played quietly while you talked on the phone? Give them a hug and tell them how proud you are that they were able to do so.

If you don't want to always say no to them, then toddler proof some rooms in your home where they can play safely. It's probably a good idea to avoid using the word no and reserving it only for when it is necessary; constantly hearing "no" will cause the word to loose all meaning for your toddler.

Discipline should happen immediately. If it is 10am and your son has thrown all his toys around his room, don't tell him that he can't watch Sesame Street at 3pm. By then, the morning will be a distant memory in his mind. Instead, have him help you pick up all the toys. This way, he learns that his actions have consequences, that his toys don't belong all over the floor, and, through your praise, that he makes mommy happy every time he puts another toy in his toy box.

Also, be aware that sometimes bad behavior may actually be caused by some other problem. Your daughter may be hitting others because she is upset that there she has a new sibling. Disciplining her may not be as affective as just giving her a bit of regular one-on-one quality time.

Discipline should not be thought of as punishment. Instead, it should be considered as a way of helping your child learn and grow into a thoughtful, caring, and considerate person.