Your 21-month-old’s behavior: Positive discipline tactics
by Dana Sullivan
New this month: Positive discipline tactics
Disciplining your child doesn’t mean punishing him; it means teaching him right from wrong. When you’re faced with a situation that requires intervention, don’t just think about how to reprimand your child. Instead consider how you can use the opportunity to help guide your child toward behavior that’s appropriate. This isn’t always easy, especially if you’re angry, but by giving your child something positive to work toward, rather than just a negative to avoid, he’ll be more respectful of you and others.
What you can do
Among the “positive” approaches that often work with toddlers:
• Do as I do. Children imitate adults, so if you show good behavior, your child will take your lead. If you want him to say “please” and “thank you,” be sure to use those terms with him and others.
• Speak respectfully. Your child is more likely to listen if you talk, rather than yell, and if you make eye contact with him.
• Tell him what you want rather than what you don’t. For instance, say “Touch the kitty gently,” instead of “Don’t hit the kitty!” Or, “Please sit down,” instead of “Don’t stand up in your chair.”
• Make some simple rules. Establish a few household rules, communicate them to your child, and enforce them consistently. Don’t expect your toddler to know better. Simple rules that protect health and safety, such as no running in the street and no hitting, are reasonable for toddlers to follow. Don’t give him a long list of “don’t touches.” You’re better off keeping things like the VCR and your fine crystal out of his reach.
• Reward the positive. Positive behavior will continue and even increase if your child gets attention for it. “Thanks for sharing that toy with your sister,” is one example, or “Wow, you put your cup on the table.”
Other developments: New fears, banning biting, sticking to routines
Your toddler’s blossoming imagination can lead to a host of new fears now. Insects and water are two common ones. Don’t try to talk your child out of his fears with statements like, “There’s nothing to be afraid of; bugs can’t hurt you.” For starters, it’s not true — some bugs bite and others are dangerous — and it dismisses your child’s feelings. The best approach now is to acknowledge your child’s fears and stay calm yourself. Say things like, “I know you don’t like bugs. I’ll move that one away from you.” If you’re afraid of bugs, too, resist the urge to screech and run away. Your toddler is watching your behavior carefully, and you could inadvertently set the stage for a lifelong fear. If water is the problem, you can encourage your toddler to dip his feet in at the edge of the ocean or pool, but don’t force him. You want to keep his interactions with water pleasant.
Has your toddler started biting? Toddlers bite for a variety of reasons, and understanding why may help you put a stop to it. Some children bite because they’re curious and wonder, “What will happen if I bite my friend?” Others bite when they are frustrated, are angry, want attention, feel threatened, or simply want to imitate something they saw a playmate do. Toddlers also tend to bite when they’re, since the pressure of biting can relieve some of the pain of emerging teeth. If your child has a history of biting, you’re probably aware of the situations that provoke it. If he bites out of anger or frustration, your job is to intervene before he gets to that point. Offer solutions to the problem. Saying things like “Here, let me find you a toy to play with” reinforces the rule that hurting other people is not okay.
Establishing — and sticking to — a schedule for napping, eating, and going to bed can help your toddler feel more secure and in control. Routines can also make your life easier. If your child knows what to expect every day, you’ll probably encounter less resistance when it’s time to transition from one activity to another. A regular way of doing things can also keep you from having to take time to plan each day separately.