Many parents have a challenging time with toddler discipline. Those of us who work with parents and other caregivers of toddlers get many, desperate cries for help with regard to discipline for toddlers. Parenting toddlers can indeed be challenging. Almost overnight, it seems, our easy-to-please mostly compliant infant is gone, and we have daily power struggles and toddler temper tantrums over issues that seem insignificant.
It is first important for us to understand toddler development. In the first eighteen months of life babies are primarily learning to trust the world and their caregivers. They are pretty dependent on us for their survival and simply want us to be responsive and to love them.
Toddler parenting involves so much more. Toddlers have the basic survival skills necessary for living in the world. They can walk, talk well enough to communicate their needs, feed themselves and often are well on the way to dressing and pottying on their own. They now move into a new phase called autonomy, or independence.
Toddler behavior often consists of phrases such as ‘no’ and ‘me do it’. Parenting a toddler means that parents have to look for ways to help their little one develop autonomy while still keeping them safe and healthy. While it may be incredibly annoying when they dissolve into a temper tantrum as you try to help them with a puzzle, or attempt to put their shoes on, we must honor their need for personal power.
Toddler discipline often involves avoiding power struggles. When you can let them do it, do so. If you have time for them to put their own shoes on, let them. If they have difficulty parents can ask ‘would you like my help, or can you do it?’ Limited choices are a wonderful tool for toddler parenting – examples are things like ‘would you like cereal or toast for breakfast – you choose?’, or ‘would you like to pick up the toys before or after your bath – you choose?’
Making tasks into a game often works wonders with this age group. Toddler games you can employ to win them over are things like ‘Let’s see how fast you can get your clothes off for the bath – I will count’ or ‘How would you like to get to bed tonight – we can hop on one foot or have a piggy-back ride.’
Toddlers also love to help, and according to Alfred Adler, this sense of significance or contribution is a key to human mental health. Toddler activities that fill this need are things like folding towels, putting place mats on the table before a family meal, carrying their dish to the sink, and helping to cook. Toddlers can tear lettuce or put vegetables in the pot.
Toddlers are wonderful little people who are striving to be independent. Independence is a life skill most parents want their children to acquire, so we most definitely need to encourage it during these early years.
More information about toddlers can be found in Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, by Jane Nelsen.