7 Secrets of Toddler Discipline (cont.)

Giving choices also shows that you respect your toddler and recognize the child's feelings. Asking your child if he or she wants to bring a favorite book in the car, or take along a snack, can make the child feel as though he or she has some control over the situation while you remain in charge, Lerner says.

Toddler Discipline Secret No. 4: Practice the Art of Distraction

Make your toddler's short attention span work for you. When your child throws the ball against the dining room wall for the 10th time after you've said to stop, it's pretty easy to redirect your child to a more productive activity, like trading the ball for a favorite book or moving the game outside.

"[Parents] need to create an environment that is most conducive to good toddler behavior," advises Rex Forehand, PhD, the Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher Professor of Psychology at the University of Vermont and author of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child. "If they're into something they're not supposed to do, the idea is not to punish them but to get another activity going or pick them up and put them in another room."

Toddler Discipline Secret No. 5: Give Your Child a Break

Time-outs are one of the foundations of child discipline, but they may not be the best approach for the toddler stage. The negative implication of being sent away can teach kids that they're bad, rather than promote good behavior.

If you do give your child a time-out, limit it to just a minute or two at this age. Instead of calling it a time-out, which can be confusing to children under 3, refer to it as something more positive.

Lerner suggests creating a "cozy corner," a safe place, free from distractions and stimulation, where your child can just chill out for a few minutes until he or she can get back in control. That time away can help you regroup, as well.

Correct bad behaviors, but also take the time to praise good behaviors. "If you don't tell your child when they're doing the right thing, sometimes they'll do the wrong thing just to get attention," Asta says. When you tell your toddler he or she has done something good, there's a good chance your child will want to do it again.

Toddler Discipline Secret No. 6: Stay Calm

When you're standing in the middle of the mall, looking down at your child who's screaming on the floor, and trying to ignore the stares of the shoppers around you, it's easy for your blood pressure to reach the boiling point. It's hard to stay calm, but losing control will quickly escalate an already stressful situation. Give yourself some time to cool off, advises Forehand. "Otherwise, you're venting your own anger. In the end that's going to make you as a parent feel worse and guilty, and it's not going to do your child any good."

"I call it the "Stepford Wife" approach," Lerner says. As your child screams, say, 'I know, I know,' but stay completely calm as you pick him up. Don't show any emotion.

Sometimes the best tactic is to ignore the behavior entirely. "You just literally act like they're not doing what they're doing. You ignore the behavior you want to stop," Lerner says. When your child realizes that his screaming fit is not going to get him a second lollipop or your attention, eventually he'll get tired of yelling.

Your child may drive you so close to the breaking point that you're tempted to spank him, but most experts warn against the practice. "When we spank, kids learn that physical punishment is acceptable. And so we are modeling exactly what we don't want our kids to do," says Forehand. At the toddler stage, redirection and brief breaks are far more effective discipline tactics, Forehand says.

Toddler Discipline Secret No. 7: Know When to Give In

Certain things in a toddler's life are nonnegotiable. She has to eat, brush her teeth, and ride in a car seat. She also has to take baths once in a while. Hitting and biting are never OK. But many other issues aren't worth the headache of an argument. Pick your battles.

"You have to decide whether it's worth fighting about, and about half the time it's not worth fighting about," Asta says. That means it's OK to let your son wear his superhero costume to the grocery store, or read The Giving Tree 10 times in a row. Once he gets what he wants, you can gradually get him to shift in another direction -- like wearing another outfit or picking out a different book to read.

Finally, know that it's OK to feel stressed out by your toddler sometimes. "Realize that none of us as parents is perfect -- we do the best we can. There are going to be days that we're better at this than other days," Forehand says. "But if we parent consistently and have consistent rules, then we're going to see more good days than bad days."

SOURCES:

Claire Lerner, LCSW-C, child development specialist; director of parenting resources, Zero to Three.

Straus, M.A. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 1997; vol 151: pp 761-767.

Lansford, J.E. Child Development, 2005; vol 76: pp 1234-1246.

Rex Forehand, PhD, Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher Professor of Psychology, University of Vermont.

Lisa Asta, MD, pediatrician, Walnut Creek, Calif.; associate clinical professor of pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco.

Reviewed on August 4, 2010

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Last Editorial Review: 8/4/2010 7:12:53 PM