How to Tame your Toddler

A month or two ago it suddenly became apparent that my wee lads strong little will was well formed and ready to assert itself.  When I think back it kicked in initially around the time he started to crawl and then went up to a new level with walking.  Perhaps the new found freedom and hearing ‘No’ for the first time helped with this.  Either way I had heard the need for discipline started earlier than you would expect so it didn’t take me too much by surprise.  It almost starts off quite humorously when you see the first tantrum or say ‘No’ and see them do the exact thing you have told them not to at twice the speed.  One of those precious moments as they grow up!

But over time the humor of it wears off when left unchecked as the cute determined little baby starts to rule the roost and have everyone walking on eggshells trying to avoid conflict and embarrassment at their behaviour.  Suddenly all those things ‘my child would never do’ are happening and the atmosphere in the home is far from your ideal scenario when you pictured your happy little family!

So how do you avoid this being the ongoing story of your life…I’ll tell you whats been working for me.

Sam (16 months) is a PINCHER,  it almost seems to be hardwired in him.  He has more recently been putting his teeth to the test but his preferred method of attack is a good squeeze of the skin between the fingers, and it hurts!  He has it perfected to a fine art for such a young fellow.  He has one older brother in particular (next youngest in the pack at 9 years old) he likes to test out his skills on and looks at him with pure attitude while doing it. You could say hes a bully as it almost always comes completely undeserved…. Andrew leans quietly against the couch a little too close to where Sam wants to be.  So a good ole pinch will do it!

I’ve been teaching the boys to say in a big strong voice ‘NO’ when he does it as they are so sweet and lovely to their little brother that just get teary if it hurts and forget to say anything to him.  They will tell us often but an instant negative response is needed to help Sam learn.  It recently became clear how important this was when observing a lovely mum who was so sweet to her kids but would only ever speak in a happy tone even as they wrecked havoc. The child needs to understand that the behaviour isn’t desired or making you happy.

What I have experienced and also witnessed a 100 times over with children is that telling them ‘NO’ alone doesn’t achieve much.  It is needed so they learn what the behaviour is that is undesired but its unlikely to be effective until they know that it will be backed up with consequences.  Once they know the consequences will come if the ‘NO’ is ignored it gets easier.

The tricky part can be finding the appropriate consequence in our PC world where smacking is a thing of the past (in NZ anyways).  Often there is a logical consequence like taking away the toy that is being used inappropriately.  But other times its quite a challenge.  In this instance I will tell you what we used as Sam is very young and can also be sensitive (and stubborn!)

When Sam started his pinching with Jared and I, we very quickly nipped it in the bud.  A quick sharp reaction ‘NO’ and removing him from our lap or personal space and putting him on the ground facing the other direction.  This was enough of a consequence for him at this point as he would cry for 30 seconds and then come back to us.  This was a few months ago so he was only about 14 months at the time as it was something he didn’t want to happen.  On many occasions he looks at us, fingers poised ready for the pinch,  but thinks twice and retreats as he knows it is met with a consistent reaction that he doesn’t want.  This may well have been the end of it but with brothers who are a bit more vulnerable, we have had a bit more of a fight to deter the behaviour.  A month or so after he stopped doing it to us I noticed an increase in his bullying of number 2,  so we decided we needed to get on top of that ASAP.  By this stage he’s a bit bigger and more determined and any pinching witnessed by myself or Jared resulted in a growly voice and being moved to the hallway, put on ground facing other way.  He is allowed to return to us whenever he wants as that is enough for him at this age and stage.  He has on one occasion come back and persisted in which case the follow through was into his cot for around 3 minutes.  This has been enough to put a significant end to the pinching for now but it does require occasional reinforcement.  I know some children may take repeating this steps significantly more times before they learn that they aren’t winning.  The key here is that it has to be a consequence they don’t like.  It doesn’t have to be a major but they do have to not like it.

Another example I’ve seen work effectively is with high chair behaviour… the child throws food or is making too much noise (squealing etc), give a warning ‘no’ then simply turn the highchair around for a few minutes away from others at the table.

Now that Sam is 16 months he understands a lot and he is very ready to learn a few boundaries and to listen to mummy and daddy.  Teaching your children to do as they are asked reaps results for a peaceful happy home. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy in the short term to be the good guy in the long run.  Theres a certain order of things and if mummy and daddy aren’t in charge at home life is going to be hard work.  You are responsible for making and guiding your home toward the kind of environment that you want.  Toddlers and children aren’t ready to lead the house even though they do in some.  Children benefit and feel more secure and safe when boundaries are clear and consistent.

Be selective on what you say ‘No’ to.  It should only be on handful of things max in a day. Choose your battles and don’t be on their case all day, but be consistent or your efforts will be wasted.

In summary it is very simple:

  • use your voice tone…make it clear you don’t like the behaviour with a firm ‘No’ or an alternative word if you are slightly hippy and don’t like using no.
  • Follow up if  behaviour doesn’t stop with a consequence, preferably the smallest consequence needed as long as they don’t like.  No need to punish them.
  • Show them love and acceptance again shortly after negative behaviour stops.

Hopefully something in this has been an encouragement or reminder for your journey. If so  please leave a comment or follow me for further posts.


2 thoughts on “How to Tame your Toddler

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