As we approached the middle of my son's second year of life, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Where were those terrible twos that the moms at playgroup warned me about? My happy, healthy 2 1/2 year old son was mastering the fine art of pretend play and belting his ABC's as his third birthday approached.
My husband and I thought we had soared through those not so terrible twos when it started. First it was emphatic NO's when it was time to eat, go to sleep or clean up toys. Then the hitting and spitting (at us, of course)...and the full blown tantrums on the floor of the grocery store. No one told me that three is actually the more difficult age. At two, children are expanding their vocabulary and mastering their motor skills. At three, they're yearning for independence and exploring their world. At three, my son understands emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger. He just doesn't always know how or when to express them.
When it comes to discipline, we believe that love and guidance do much more to provide boundaries and correct behavior than our hands. But each child and each situation is different. So what do we do when our children are acting less than perfect?
1. Assess the situation
Hungry, tired, bored children are less able to control their behavior. In many cases, meeting my son's most basic needs is the key to a happy, singing, babbling toddler.
I like to keep a stash of snacks, crayons, and paper in my purse/diaper bag and the car for those emergent situations where my toddler is starting to "melt down." I also try to schedule down time and avoid going to places like the grocery store during nap time.
2. Redirect the behavior.
Some time ago, I was out running errands with both kids. I scheduled way too many stops and they were starting to grow bored, tired, and hungry. In order to appease my son, who was trying to climb out of the shopping car, I told him he could have a toy if I could just finish my errands. A few days passed and we had to make a trip to the grocery store. I made the mistake of telling my son that I had to run errands. Without missing a beat, my son exclaimed..."I get a toy when we do errands."
I quickly had to explain to him that while he did get a toy last time we ran errands, he would not get a toy every time. This resulted in a tantrum (fortunately he wasn't on the floor). Instead of arguing with him, I simply started talking about something else. I don't remember what...maybe we sang a song...or talked about our plans for the day. Soon enough he forgot about that toy and I had my happy toddler back.
While this won't work in every situation (particularly when a child is doing something harmful or dangerous) and I've found that redirection can go a long way towards helping to avert tantrums and meltdowns.
3. Take a time out...for yourself.
When my son is acting out of character, my first instinct is to react with the tone of my voice and my words. Raising my voice reinforces the fact that my son's behavior is getting my attention and teaches him that this is how we should react to behaviors and situations we don't like. Lately, I've been pausing just a moment before reacting. In many instances, I'll sit down with my son and speak to him calmly after I've taken a moment to evaluate the situation.
If we're home, I'll remove him from the situation causing the behavior change and sit with him in time out. We'll talk about why he threw his dinner on the floor or tried to throw a toy at his sister. Sometimes we have to put away a toy or go to bed without sorbet. Just taking a few minutes to step back and pause before reacting helps set boundaries and has a calming effect on the situation.
4. Reward positive behavior
I'm quick to sit my son in time out or take away a privilege when he's
not behaving the way I expect him to. But what about the times when he sings to his sister to ease her crying or picks up his toys (with a little gentle encouragement)? Yes...those are all things I would expect of my child. But it's important to praise children when they are behaving well, in order for them to continue to enact those behaviors.
5. Be consistent
My expectations for how my son behaves are consistent, regardless of whether we're relaxing at home or playing at the park. The same is true of discipline. If I let my son get away with something because we're out and I don't want to make a scene, I confuse him. Very often I'll remove him from the situation and then discipline (with love). This teaches him that my expectations of how he should behave don't change.
Seeing that we've just recently entered into this stage, I'm certain there is a lot of learning still to take place on both of our parts.
By guest blogger, Caryn Bailey RockinMama.net