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How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is discipline. We want to have a good relationship with our kids. Discipline can make us feel like the bad guy.

Handing out consequences for bad behavior is not fun. It generally makes our kids upset to have consequences for their behavior. Then they get mad at us for being the enforcer of consequences. It is a tough thing to be the disciplinarian of our children. It would be great if a reward system with charts and prizes would be enough to keep kids well behaved and not need discipline at all. Reward systems are great, but they are simply not enough.

Children need age appropriate discipline. It is a simple fact of life and parenting. If you are at a loss for how to discipline your child, I hope to provide some helpful tips for what can work for your child.

I have three kids and all three require different discipline approaches. No child is the same, nor will they respond to discipline the same as the next kid.

Being flexible, fair, consistent in follow through, and loving are the keys to making discipline effective without breaking the bonds of trust with a child. Using discipline that is too harsh or without warning will leave a child having trust broken between parent and child. They need to feel that they are being treated fairly in order for the consequence to not harm the parent and child relationship.

This doesn’t mean all forms of discipline are the same for all children. You need to implement systems that work for each individual child in the household. Discipline is not a one size fits all.

Why discipline is essential

Children need discipline because it will help them now and also in their future as adults. They will develop a sense of right and wrong, with discipline in the home playing a major role in their moral development.

Discipline helps them to understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not. They will also learn to respect authority when discipline is done fairly and comes from the love of a parent. If they can’t learn to respect authority in the home, it will not be favorable to their future.

Will they listen to their boss and respect his or her authority? Much of their development of respect for figures of authority is directly correlated with how they were disciplined in the home.

Was there discipline and correction in the home or were the rules loose and unknown? They will develop a good sense of respect for authority figures when discipline is done correctly in the home with clear rules and consequences in place.

This again means that it is not too harsh (i.e. screaming and yelling), does not involve abuse, and is never done when a parent is filled with anger or rage.

How discipline affects development

There are four major parenting approaches, as outlined in this Psychology Today article:[1]

  1. Authoritarian
  2. Neglectful
  3. Indulgent
  4. Authoritative

As parents, we need to strive to be authoritative parents in order to be effective in disciplining our children in a manner that helps them develop into the best adults they can be.

With authoritative parenting approaches being utilized, a child will come to respect authority and discipline. The article from Psychology Today states the following regarding authoritative parenting methods:

Typically, authoritative parents give their children increasing levels of independence as they mature and this leads to higher leadership potential in the children of authoritative parents. Social skills, self-control, and self-reliance are more highly developed, and these are qualities that make ideal employees, leaders, and life partners.

When authoritative parenting methods are utilized, children will develop respect for authority figures that will carry over into adulthood. What we are teaching our children now in our discipline methods will have them develop not only a sense of morality of what is right and what is wrong, but they will also develop respect for authority figures.

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The other methods of parenting (authoritarian, neglectful, and indulgent) are flawed and come with consequences that affect the child in their adulthood. The goal is to raise children who are prepared to leave the nest someday and be fully prepared to take on the world.

Discipline, and the parenting approach it stems from affects the development of children. Authoritative parenting is setting rules and boundaries that are fair to the child and their age. It is also discipline that helps the child to understand right and wrong behavior and the consequences of either within the home.

How to discipline a child

Whether we are using appropriate and effective discipline methods will determine whether our children will develop a strong sense of morality (that you have taught them) and a respect for authority.

Here are some general guidelines for authoritative parenting in regard to discipline:

  • Rules and the reasoning behind them are clearly explained.
  • Parents will try to help their child when the child is frightened or upset.
  • Respect for the child’s opinion is provided, even if they may differ from the parents’ opinions.
  • The child is encouraged to talk about his or her feelings.
  • Consequences for breaking rules are clear to the child before rules are ever broken.
  • Communications and conversations with the child take place after rules are broken to help the child and parent process what took place. This conversation is done with empathy on the part of the parent.
  • Children are provided with discipline when they break rules. This is done in a consistent manner (i.e. if their smart phone is revoked as a consequence of not having their bedroom clean, then it is also revoked the next day if that same rule is broken).
  • Parents discuss with their children the consequences of their good and bad behavior, so there is a clear understanding of consequences and discipline in the home.
  • Parents follow through with discipline and are not lax about allowing rules to be broken without consequences. Rules being broken means that there are consequences. Not just sometimes, but always.
  • Consequences do not involve harsh punishments, shaming, screaming, yelling, name calling, or withholding of love.
  • Consequences are followed by healing words of encouragement and love to assure the child that even though they are being disciplined they are still very much loved. Example, after a time out period the parent would hug their child and tell them they love them unconditionally.
  • Parents encourage children to be independent within boundaries.
  • The reasons for the rules are clearly emphasized when discipline takes place so that the child clearly understands the “why” of their consequence. For example, when a child runs into the street after their ball, they are taken inside for a time out and it is explained that they are not allowed to go into the street because there are cars driving on the street making it very dangerous for them (it is for their own safety).

Them knowing the house rules and boundaries along with the subsequent consequences are the first components to having a good discipline system in place.

The next major factor to consider are the consequences. Are the consequences for their behavior fair? Is the consequence age appropriate for the child? Below are some general guidelines for age appropriate discipline methods.

Discipline at different ages

Discipline methods need to change as a child ages. What worked for your child at age 2 may not be effective at age 7. You need to recognize when your discipline methods are no longer effective and need modification.

Understanding that age plays a role in the type of discipline that is most effective is important. Below are some age categories and discipline methods that are effective for these age groups:

Babies

Babies generally don’t need discipline. They are just learning about the world and they don’t have a grasp on good versus bad behavior. That will come soon enough when they are toddlers. However, this doesn’t mean that babies don’t do things that require consequences. For example, we don’t want our 9 month old crawling over to a light socket and putting their finger in it.

The key is to create a safe environment so that the baby can explore their world in a safe manner. If they develop behaviors such as hitting or touching things they shouldn’t, they can be redirected.

Redirect babies’ attention

Provide them with something safe to touch and play with. Teaching them the difference between “yes touch” and “no touch” is essential. If they can’t abide by the “no touch” for a particular item, such as pulling the cat’s hair, then remove the item from their view and ability to touch. A 9 month old is not likely to understand the concept of a time out.

Parenting.com has some helpful tips on handling a baby’s behavior outside of the realm of punishment. They state the following about discipline and babies:[2]

Discipline begins with trust. The child who trusts his mom or dad to give him food and comfort when he needs it will also trust them when they say, “Don’t touch!”

The key with babies is that they need love, comfort, and redirection rather than punishment such as time outs. They are just developing their sense of self and discovering the world around them. Soon enough they will be toddlers and consequences can become part of the routine. Until then, it’s the parents’ job to keep baby away from unsafe situations and things.

The parent can distract or redirect their baby when behavior needs to be modified.

For example, when I began brushing my kids’ teeth when they first got their new teeth as babies, they did not like to have a toothbrush in their mouth. I had one child that would kick, scream, and cry when she saw the toothbrush.

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I developed a silly song to make teeth brushing entertaining and distract her from what was happening. I made silly faces and sang the song very excitedly every time it came to brushing their teeth, so that she was distracted by my song and dance and I could more easily brush her teeth without a fit. It worked like a charm and within a couple of weeks, she was excited to see the toothbrush because it meant I would be the entertainment.

Find creative ways to distract your child or engage them with other activities to diffuse crying because they don’t want anything that is unsafe for them. They don’t need punishment for grabbing the TV remote control. Instead the parent simply needs to replace the remote with a toy and make the toy appear far more interesting and fun than a boring remote control.

Toddlers (around 1 to 2 year old)

Redirection of behavior is also helpful for toddlers. You will find yourself saying “no-no” repeatedly when you have a toddler. You have to decide which behaviors are stepping over the line and require consequences. Others beahviors can simply be redirected much like you would do with them in the baby phase.

Simple verbal corrections are helpful at this stage. When the verbal corrections fail, then you need to take action. Sometimes toddlers are just testing the waters to see what they can get away with.

Know your limits, so you recognize when the behavior has gone too far and verbal correction simply isn’t enough. That way you can move onto other methods such as time outs, taking away toys, or removing privileges (simple things for toddlers like no ice cream).

Toddler melt downs and tantrums are the norm. If you have a child who doesn’t go through a temper tantrum phase that involves yelling and hitting, then you are lucky and your child is a unicorn. For the rest of us, we need a huge dose of patience, deep breathing, and a calmness of our mind and emotions when the temper tantrums start.

Avoid triggers that cause tantrums

Try to avoid triggers that may cause the tantrums to occur (like skipping their naptime or forgetting their snacks and you end up with an “hangry toddler”). When you are in public, remove yourself from the public situation.

More than once I have left the store with a child in my arms who was in full tantrum mode. I take them to the car and we wait out the tantrum. I don’t yell or punish in any way.

Quiet times

The best consequences for tantrums of toddlers are quiet times. This is different than a time out. The time out is usually the same number of minutes as that of the child’s age (if the child is 3 then they get a 3 minute time out). Tantrums require additional time for the child to calm themselves and recover.

I always placed my children in their rooms on their bed and told them I would come get them after they calmed down and were quiet for a while. Sometimes, they would fall asleep because the tantrum was related to them being overtired. Other times they would come out of the room and say “I calm” in their toddler voice after they had recovered from their fit.

Usually I would go to their room after all was quiet and I knew that they calmed down and the temper tantrum was over. We would talk about things and then I would ask them to come rejoin the family now that they had calmed and were committed to good behavior.

The key with toddlers is to remain calm. You need to be their rock, not the one losing it when they lose it. Empowering Parents discusses some more helpful tips on dealing with toddler tantrums including the following:[3]

Be clear and firm with your child. They want to see that you’re in charge and that somebody is in control. Keep your center and be very firm. You can say, “We are not staying here. We can come back when you can pull yourself together. We are leaving now.”

Time outs can begin during the toddler phase. A special chair designated as the time out chair is helpful for making this consequence method consistent and understandable for the toddler. You can use a timer that is designated as the “time out” timer.

A general guideline for time out length is that the number of years of the child’s age is the same amount of minutes for the time out (i.e. 2 minutes for a 2-year old, 3 minutes for a 3-year old, etc.). If the child keeps getting up from the timeout chair, then the parent needs to keep taking the child back to their time out chair until their time out is complete.

I instituted a policy in our home that if they got up from time out then their time out would start over. They learned from a very early age not to get out of time out until the timer went off.

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It can be a battle of the wills having to keep putting a toddler back in the chair over and over again. But doing so will teach them that you will not give up and they are required to finish the entire time out.

Eventually they will catch on and realize that the time out will go much quicker if they simply go to the chair and do the time. It may take dozens of time outs to get to that realization, but it will happen eventually.

If it results in an all out temper tantrum, then use the tantrum policy and remove the child to a safe area, such as their bedroom or crib until the temper subsides and they are calm once again.

There are some kids that do well with a time out when they can sit with Mom or Dad. They need their parent there as it is a reassurance that they are still loved even though they are being disciplined. That works too as long as they are being removed from their playtime and toys, the consequence of time out in their chair with Mom or Dad near them is fine.

Removal of toys

The policy for toddler toy removal is that the toy is taken away if it is used to harm others or two or more children are fighting over the toy.

Toy time out is what we call it in our home. The toy went on top of a cabinet that the children could not reach. Be sure to put these toys for time out in a place that the children will not try to climb to retrieve and get hurt in the process.

Our cabinets are bolted to the walls because of this safety issue. My kids were all climbers and you don’t know if your child is a climber until you catch them doing it and by then it can be too late to avoid a horrible accident.

Be sure to differentiate between normal toddler behavior and direct disobedience. I had one toddler use coloring crayons to draw all over the walls. My daughter who is two years older than her twin brothers pointed out that they didn’t have any more coloring pages left so he had to draw on the walls. Sure enough, I had told them to go into the kitchen and color. I had never told my toddlers to not draw on the walls.

Rather than scolding him and sending him to time out, I had him helped me clean the walls and we talked about how color crayons are only for paper. I let him know that next time there would be more serious consequences if he wrote on the wall with crayons.

Toddlers do strange things, so be prepared for your reaction (or the need to hold off on reacting to your toddler’s antics) because sometimes a bean up the nose is just a toddler experimenting and not them trying to be disobedient or act out in any way badly.

Preschoolers (around 2 to 3 year old)

Time outs are also useful for preschool aged children. The preschool age is when you can begin to see that some discipline methods work for one child but they may not work for another.

I have one child that will laugh at me and say “I don’t care about time out, it doesn’t bother me” and I know he means it. Therefore the time outs are no longer used for him. Instead we take away favored toys.

If you child is obsessed with their fire engine truck that they have to take to the store, to church, and to preschool, you then know it will be effective in taking away this toy for disciplinary measure if needed. For our kids it depends on the severity of the action. For hitting that caused injury to a sibling they will lose that toy for an entire day.

You don’t want the child to ever feel defeated, so don’t threaten to throw it away because that is far too harsh. Instead a time out for that toy for a designated amount of time is appropriate.

Thorough explanation and discussion of the behaviors

It is important at this phase to be more thorough on explanation and discussion of the behavior and consequences. You want your children to understand why you are taking away their favorite toy or giving them a time out. You also want them to feel a sense of growing right and wrong in their heart and mind.

When they understand that their name calling or hitting their siblings results in hurt feelings and physical hurt, they can begin to empathize with their siblings pain and hurt. They will feel bad for their actions.

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Maybe not immediately, but as they grow and you are consistent with both the consequences and the calm, empathetic conversations about their actions and the resulting consequences, you will find that they will develop a greater sense of remorse and empathy.

The goal is not to simply change their behavior. It is to change their heart and motivations. You want your children to desire to get along with others and to abide by the rules. They will when they understand the reasons for those rules, the clear consequences, and their emotions are involved in the process.

Discipline is guiding their hearts as much as it is guiding their actions.

School-age children

When children reach school age, then generally the era of when time outs come to a halt. However, there are times when quiet time in their room is needed. For attitude adjustments and mood swings, room time for the child to calm themselves away from others (and electronics) is often very helpful.

Taking away screen time

This is the age where electronics are becoming more important. Whether it is a personal tablet, smart phone, or television, school age children are increasingly more attached to these items. It becomes an easy source for effective discipline. They lose time on their electronic device as a consequence for rules being broken.

No child specialist has yet to say that depriving a child of screen time will be harmful to them. If anything just the contrary has been proven. Therefore taking away screen time as a consequence of their behaviors can be beneficial to them in more ways than one.

Be sure the time frame is fair with the severity of the behavior. If they didn’t make their bed that morning, maybe an hour restriction is fine. For purposefully damaging their siblings property or harming another child, the device can be restricted for a full day or more, depending on the severity of their behavior.

Again, it is of utmost importance for the child to understand the “why” of the rules, so they understand why consequences are necessary when rules are broken.

Removal or restriction of privileges

This is also effective for school aged children. Understand your child and their desires to make this effective. For example, you may have a child that likes to go ride their bike around with neighborhood kids after school. They may have gotten in trouble at school for something that you deemed worthy of restricting their after school bike riding for a day or two.

Make sure that your child understands why they are being dealt the consequence and try to make the time productive- such as writing an apology to the teacher or child they offended at school.

School age is when friends become increasingly more important to kids. Socialization is an important part of development. However, when misbehavior is severe enough, then time with friends can be restricted. “Grounding” is what my parents called it.

When children are of young school age, it can be simply not allowing them to attend an upcoming friend’s birthday party. Again, make sure that your punishment is not overly harsh. If they believe you are overly harsh and severe in your punishments, then resentments will form.

Talk with your school aged children about what punishments they deem fair or unfair and for what violations specifically. Having these open conversations can help you develop fair discipline methods that are also effective for your specific child.

Be a flexible parent

Determining what kind of punishment is effective for your child is not a one and done policy. What is effective this week may not be an effective consequence for their behavior the next week. Be prepared for conversations with your growing child so that you can understand one another in this process of discipline and rule following.

The clearer you can make the process for the child, the more likely you are to make things fair. Involving them in conversations about what they believe are fair consequences is also effective in setting up disciplinary measures for their behaviors.

Give them love and reassurance of that love following discipline because above all the goal is showing them love through the good and bad, so they feel that they are loved unconditionally.

Discipline is part of loving that child. If you love your child, you want them to develop into emotionally healthy adults and discipline is a part of that process.

Featured photo credit: Bing via bing.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on April 18, 2019

An Expert Parenting Guide to Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

An Expert Parenting Guide to Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

My daughter who is now seven, was two-and-a-half years old when we visited an indoor playground. I vividly recall her complete meltdown and tantrum when I said it was time to go home. She threw herself with full gusto onto the padded floor of the play area and began to wail with tears streaming down her face.

At the time, I had twins who were about six months old. I had already loaded them into their car seats and snapped the car seats into the stroller. I was ready to head home and get everyone down for a nap, so I could nap as well. At that moment when my daughter began to wail, I felt like I wanted to cry too. Short on sleep, hungry, and with my hands full with three children ages two and under, I was feeling overwhelmed.

When my toddler’s meltdowns had happened at home, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or flustered. However, when this particular meltdown happened in public, which became the first of many, I wanted to cry, or make her somehow stop her tantrum, or just hide from the dozen or so people watching this situation unfold as their sweet children played happily on the indoor climbing structure.

I tried to reason with my daughter. That didn’t help at all. If anything, that made her wail even louder causing some eyebrows to go up around me. I could almost hear them thinking “can’t she control her child.” My response would have been “well obviously I can’t!” Nobody said a word to me though.

When the reasoning didn’t work, it led to me pleading with her to get off the ground and walk to the car with me, so we could have a nice lunch at home. I then tried to bribe her. I said if she went to the car, I would give her candy. I had remembered that there was a sucker in the side door of my car from the pediatrician’s office that I hadn’t let her have the day before. I probably would have given her $100 in that moment. I just wanted the tantrum to stop.

She continued with her wailing, thrashing on the ground, and crying for several more minutes. Nothing I was saying or doing was working. In the end, I picked her up and put her under my arm and carried her surf board style out of the building while pushing the double stroller with my other hand. Another parent held the door open for me. By this point, I could see other parents were feeling sorry for me in this situation.

After this public meltdown and a few more later that week, I started to read up on toddler tantrums and how to handle them. I found techniques that worked! It may not necessarily ease my embarrassment when they happened in public, but I learned how to handle the tantrums in the best way possible to simply get through the toddler tantrum stage.

We may not be able to eliminate all toddler tantrums, but we can learn ways to minimize them. Below are helpful tips for all parents of toddlers.

Ignore the Tantrum and Don’t Give in!

Your toddler is throwing tantrums because they are looking to get your attention or get something they want. More often than not, they are doing it because they want something.

In my daughter’s case, she wanted to stay at the playground longer. If I had given in and let her play longer, I would have been teaching her that if she has a temper tantrum, then she gets to stay longer.

Never give in to the child. You are reinforcing their tantrum throwing behaviors when you give them what they want. For example, if you are out shopping and your toddler throws a fit because they want a candy bar at the checkout, then giving them the candy bar to make them quiet only teaches them to have a tantrum the next time you are in a store — your child now knows that they can get the candy bar if they have a tantrum.

Don’t give in to their tantrum by giving them what they want, even if it is something small and inconsequential to you. If you have said no, stand your ground. Caving in and giving your child what they want when they have a temper tantrum reinforces the bad behavior. You will end up with a child who throws even more tantrums because you have taught them through cause and effect that tantrum throwing gets them what they want.

Do Nothing

Your child needs to learn that temper tantrums get them nothing. Some children do it because they are seeking attention. Give your child attention, but not while the tantrum is happening.

If you recognize that they are throwing temper tantrums because they want more attention from you, then make an effort to give them attention at a later time, when they aren’t throwing a tantrum.

When the child is in the midst of a tantrum do nothing, say nothing, and ignore their tantrum.

I learned very quickly that in the case of my daughter’s public tantrums, I could get them to stop by continuing to pack up our items and move toward the door with the intention to leave. I didn’t respond to her tantrum. Continuing my actions let her know that I was serious and I was leaving the building. It was amazing how she would quickly pick herself off the ground and sprint towards us, fearing that she would be left behind.

I never left my children anywhere, but if needed, I would go outside and stand on the other side of the glass door, watching her and simply waiting until she finished her fit and was ready to get up and come home with us.

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When she learned that her tantrum did not get her what she wanted and that she got even less attention from me while she was doing it, her behavior changed.

Avoid Trying to Calm The Child

Instinctively, we want to soothe our child and go to them to try to calm them down during a tantrum. This is not effective with temper tantrums, especially if they are doing it for attention.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, make all efforts to avoid calming the child down. If they are doing it for attention, then you are rewarding the temper tantrum by giving them attention. It communicates to the child that a tantrum will get your attention.

Solve the attention problem after the tantrum by spending quality time engaged with your child. However, don’t give them attention, even by trying to simply calm them, during the tantrum or you are reinforcing the bad behavior.

Warn Them in Advance

I also learned to be proactive in situations where tantrums had happened previously. I began giving my daughter a five minute warning at the playground. She was told on each visit to the playground when she had five minutes left to play and that we would leave immediately if she complained or throw a temper tantrum.

This was a warning that I gave very clearly every time we went to a playground. I always said this in a firm, yet kind tone “You get five more minutes to play and then we have to leave, if you complain or throw a tantrum then we have to leave immediately.” This worked amazingly well!

Letting them know what is expected is what kids want.

Keep Them Safe

If the child is a danger to themselves or others, for example, because they are throwing toys across the room during their tantrum, then physically remove the child and take them to a safe and quiet spot for them to calm down.

Some children need to be held so that they don’t harm themselves. Holding them gently, yet firmly, because they are hitting themselves, pulling their own hair, or slamming their body into walls, is important to do immediately when you see any self- harm take place.

Hold them and tell them you will release them when they have calmed down. Say it gently and with empathy while holding them just firmly enough so that they cannot harm themselves or others.

There is no need to be aggressive or squeeze the child in this process. Take action calmly, but with the intention to cease their harmful activity immediately.

After the Tantrum

Acknowledge that the child has complied by ending their tantrum. Giving a praise such as “I am glad you calmed down” will help to reinforce the ceasing of the bad behavior.

Not rewarding their tantrum is crucial in this process. If you give in and give them what they want and then they stop the tantrum, you are thereby praising them when they don’t deserve the praise because you gave into what they wanted. In doing this, you are defeating yourself.

Don’t give them what they are throwing the tantum about. For example, if it is because they want a certain toy and another child has that toy, then do not give them the toy because of the tantrum.

Praise them for stopping the tantrum once they calm themselves down. If they finish with their tantrum and you haven’t given in to what they were asking for, then praise them for calming themselves.

For example, if they have completely calmed down and the other child is now done with that toy, then you can give it to the child when they are completely calmed. Have them practice asking for the toy nicely. Let them know they get to play with the toy because they asked nicely, they aren’t throwing a tantrum, and because they have completely calmed down.

Get Professional Help if Needed

If you feel like your child’s tantrums are excessive or you are having difficulty handling the tantrums, then talk to your child’s pediatrician. They may be able to guide you.

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There are also medical reasons that can cause a child to throw tantrums more often. For example, they may have speech problems and they are frustrated that they cannot communicate with words what they want to express. This frustration can turn into tantrums.

Chronic pain or an underlying medical condition can be causing the child distress and discomfort which can lead to tantrums as well.

If you feel that the temper tantrums are beyond your ability to handle as a parent, or you feel that there may be some other reason for the continued tantrums, then speak with your child’s pediatrician.

Tips to Avoid Tantrums

There are some practical parenting methods that parents and caregivers can utilize that will help to diminish the occurrence of toddler temper tantrums. These tips may not entirely eliminate tantrums, but they can help to minimize them for occurring.

Giving Choices: The Love and Logic Model

Love and Logic parenting methods[1] are golden. In this method of parenting, it is taught that parents should give their child choices every day, all throughout the day.

Allowing the child to make choices gives the child a sense of control. For example, allowing a decision for which book to read at bed time whereby the parent offers two choices that they don’t mind reading. Another example is offering them two options of outfits to wear in the morning.

The parent chooses two options that are both acceptable and allows the child to make the final decision on which outfit they want to wear. This decision making helps the child feel that they have some control over their life.

When children are told where to go, what to do, and how to do it, with little or no flexibility they will act out. That acting out often comes in the form of tantrums with toddlers. They are at a phase where learning to be independent is part of their development. If their independence is completely crushed because they aren’t allowed to make any decisions, then they will act out.

Create Decision Making Opportunities

As parents and caregivers, we can create opportunities for decision making all throughout the day. By presenting options, all being acceptable to the parent, the child feels empowered and has a sense of independence that is natural in their developmental phase.

If you are experiencing tantrums daily and you have a controlled home environment, yet you can’t quite pinpoint the problem, try giving more choices to your child. They can’t tell you that they want choices and are working on developing their independence.

Developmentally children are seeking to become more independent little humans during the toddler phase, and offering them choices helps facilitate that need for independence.

Trying out choices will help them feel like they have some control of their life and activities. However, if the choices lead to tantrums because they don’t like the options presented, then you let them know that those are the options and if they don’t chose, you will have to choose for them.

Follow through and make the choice for them, if they continue throwing a temper tantrum. Don’t reward their bad behavior by allowing a choice. Take away the choice in that circumstance and moment in time because of the tantrum.

When it comes time to offer a decision later in the day, perhaps for example, offering them juice or water with their lunch, remind them that if they throw a tantrum, then you will make the decision for them.

Be Calm and Consistent

Be consistent in your parenting. When you give in to a tantrum one day by, for example, giving them the candy bar at the checkout to make them stop crying and the next time you yell at them, you are confusing your child.

By remaining calm, telling them what is expected, and following through each time they are on the verge of a tantrum or they are throwing a tantrum, you help eliminate the tantrums.

Consistently ignore the tantrum until they have stopped. Do not give in. Remain calm and do not yell or raise your voice. It makes things worse when you get heated in the midst of their tantrum. Count to ten or one-hundred if necessary.

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If you must remove the child from the situation, do so calmly and without berating them. Don’t give attention to the temper tantrum, other than praising them when they calm down on their own.

Ignore the actual temper tantrum while it is happening. This doesn’t mean leave them alone. You don’t want them to harm themselves or others, so stay close, but act unfazed by their tantrum.

Distractions

Your child may have some triggers. You may already be fully aware of what they are. It could be leaving the playground, going past the toy section while out shopping, or taking away items that are not safe for your child to be playing with.

Whatever the trigger may be, you can distract your child creatively and thereby avoid a temper tantrum. You have to remember that this temper tantrum phase is just that…a phase. You have to ride out the phase, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to avoid the tantrums using some creativity.

If you know that the back of the store where the toys are located will lead to a tantrum, then avoid that section of the store. If you know that your child likes to play with your phone and you don’t want them to play with your phone, but taking away the phone leads to a tantrum, then get creative.

Be prepared with a different object or toy to distract your child. Have this toy in your purse or in the car, so that you keep the child content, avoid the tantum, and without sacrificing your phone. Maybe you have an old flip phone in a junk drawer. The next time you are out doing errands and your toddler tries to reach into your purse for your phone, which is in the cart next to them, simply remove the purse and hand them the old flip phone.

If they throw the phone because it’s not the one they wanted, then put it away and say “I’m sorry you didn’t want it, now you won’t have anything to play with.” Teach them that their bad behavior won’t get them what they want. Try the flip phone another time (at a later time and different circumstance) and remind them that they don’t get your phone but they can have this phone, which is now theirs.

Act excited about the phone you are giving them, while also letting them know that if they throw it, you will put it away in your purse like you did the last time.

Be creative about distractions. They may not all work, but at least you tried something different. When you do find something that works, for example, you sing a little song to distract your toddler when you have to take away something they shouldn’t be playing with, like an extension cord or the dog food, then keep doing it.

When you find a distraction that works, keep using it until it no longer works and then try something new.

Ensure They Have Plenty of Sleep and Food

Children tend to act out when they are hungry or tired. If your toddler is not getting enough sleep at night, they will be prone to temper tantrums. If your child is having a tantrum and you realize that they are badly in need of a nap, then when they have calmed down, get them home and in their bed for a nap.

Toddlers are highly reactive when they haven’t had enough sleep or they are hungry. Toddlers are not equipped with the skills to express how they feel. When they are tired or hungry, it makes them upset, but most of the time they aren’t able to express that they are tired or hungry, instead anything can set them off into a temper tantrum.

Keeping toddlers on a good sleep schedule and keeping them feed every couple of hours, meaning meals with healthy snacks between meals, will help to minimize tantrums that occur because they tired or hungry.

Give Attention through Quality Time

Some temper tantrums occur because the child wants attention. It would be great if your toddler could approach you and say “I need some attention from you, I am feeling distant from you, so I need to you spend some quality time with me today.” Toddlers won’t say much, if anything at all. Instead, they act out.

Temper tantrums are often the easiest and quickest way to get adult attention. You can help to prevent this from happening by spending time with your toddler.

Get on the floor and play with their toys alongside of them. Read them books at bedtime. Give them hugs many times a day and let them know that they are good boy or good girl and that you love them very much.

These small actions throughout the day help your child know that you notice them. It is those moments of pointed, quality time and attention that keep their need for attention satisfied.

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Praise Positive Behaviors

If you fail to praise the positive behaviors, you may end up with a child who acts out and has tantrums so that they can get a reaction and attention from you.

Negative attention is better than no attention in the mind of toddler. Give them positive feedback and praise when they do something good.

Perhaps it was sharing a toy with a friend at the playground, they put a puzzle together on their own, or they adequately washed their hands before meal time. Whatever the small act was, if it was something you can praise them for, then say it. It will help them feel loved and that your attention is on them for that moment.

When you do this all day long, you are giving them positive feedback and reinforcing good behavior. It is a win-win situation.

Help the Child Better Communicate

A toddler’s vocabulary is limited. They have a hard time telling you what they want, even when they know exactly what they want. Perhaps they want juice, but that word isn’t in their vocabulary yet.

Sometimes asking your child to show you what they want can help bridge the lack of vocabulary. Tell the child that if they can’t tell you, they can try to show you what it is that they want. Let them know that you care and want to know what they are trying to express.

Tantrums often come from toddlers because they can’t express themselves or they feel that their parents aren’t trying to understand them. Again, it goes back to feeling ignored or lack of attention.

If you can see your child is wanting something, but you don’t know what it is exactly, don’t just brush them off and move on because you could likely be setting up the situation for a toddler tantrum. They get frustrated and temper tantrums is how they let it out.

If they do start the tantrum, let them have their tantrum, ignore it; once it is done, seek to help them communicate and assist you in understanding what it is that they want.

Final Thoughts

Temper tantrums are not a pleasant experience for parents, but are nonetheless a normal part of toddler development.

Most toddlers will have tantrums between the ages of one and three. Some extend beyond that age as well. The frequency of tantrums varies from one child to the next.

There are ways for parents to handle the temper tantrums that help to eliminate the behavior rather than reinforce the bad behavior. Ignoring the child during their temper tantrum is one of the best techniques to discourage temper tantrums.

There are also parenting behavior that can help reduce or minimize the occurrence of toddler tantrums. Some of these parenting behaviors include spending quality time with their child, praising good behavior that the child exhibits, and ensuring that the child gets plenty of food and sleep.

There is no magic cure for temper tantrums. They are part of the developmental process and a phase of life that toddlers go through.

The key for parents is to create an atmosphere where tantrums are minimized and positive behaviors are reinforced.

Featured photo credit: Mike Fox via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Love and Logic Parenting Methods

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