It is important for you to keep some things in mind when disciplining your toddler. The first thing to keep in mind is the definition of discipline.
When you hear the word discipline, it’s easy to initially think it means some form of corporal punishment. Images may even cross your mind of some irate adult whacking a child with a belt she has done something contrary to some rule or expectation. However, discipline actually means to train, correct, and punish (i.e. render a consequence). The purpose of discipline is to help a person develop self-control and obey rules and directions.
Rules and directions are what make our modern society function harmoniously, for the most part.
During the toddler years though, your little one’s modus operandi is to explore and even test rules, while your M.O. is to keep her safe and have her listen to you. However, these two competing interests are prime tinder for igniting conflict between you two. Such conflict with a toddler can be hard to handle as a mom.
Well, in my clinical and consultation work with moms, I’ve narrowed it down to four reasons. It appears that moms have a hard time handling conflict with their toddlers because of the following:
Hang-Ups from their life
We’ve all had a childhood. There are things from our childhood that we have “hang ups” about. One way that we sometimes deal with those hang-ups is to cover them over with statements like, “When I’m a mom, I’ll never…” The problem with this type of mindset is that the focus is on some negative experience.
Being focused on what you’ll never do actually keeps that negative experience in the forefront of your mind. That kind of focus will negatively impact the positive thing you’re trying to do. And it may also result in your doing the very thing you purposed to avoid doing in the first place.
Attributes of their personality & temperament
Suppose you and your toddler are at opposite ends of the personality and temperament spectrum. If you’re introverted and melancholic, then might it be like for you if you have a daughter who is extraverted and sanguine? Exhausting, maybe?
What if you then try adding into that mix the process of disciplining her? I can only imagine there’ll be times you feel like you just want to just stick your head in the sand…or explode! (I don’t recommend exploding at a toddler, though).
But even if you and your child are similar in personality and temperament, you are both still different. And that fact that you’re each different people means that there will be conflict on some level and at some point in your interactions around discipline. So, personality and your child’s temperament can make disciplining hard.
Rationalizations in their mind
There are many times when it’s tempting for you to rationalize away your toddler’s behavior. We all do it at some point. We say things like: “Isn’t she so cute…?” and “She’s just a toddler.”
Consider for a moment: if your toddler had a pattern of running away from you when you’ve told her to stay put. Her running away—not listening to you—may be rationalized as her “just being a toddler.” However, what if that running away pattern continued and then occurred near a busy traffic intersection?
Double-mindedness about your “No”
Does your “No” really mean no? Your child knows when you really mean it.
Children—especially toddlers—know what “No” means. It is part of their growing lexicon of terms that cause them to pause and consider their actions. Yale psychology professor, Dr. Paul Bloom, found that a child’s moral development (knowing “good”, “bad,” “yes,” “no,” “right,” and “wrong”) starts developing in infancy!
I remember when one of my daughters, at age 3-month, defied my “No.” Despite my corrective instruction, she still stretched her hand out to touch an off-limits electronics item. And she did it all while staring right at me! [I kid you not. Three months old!]
I thought I was As moms, we all have those moments when our child does not listen to our “No.” Sometimes in those moments, we don’t know whether to laugh, scream, or cry. So we get tongue-tied and resort to the least confrontational solution; and then rationalize it as our “picking our battles.”
Instead of a battleground, try seeing the toddler years as a training ground.
If you are still having trouble disciplining your toddler, consider working with a professional to learn how to:
Handle your hang-ups
Accept your differences (& similarities)
Respect your own authority
Determine your definitive “No”
If you do, then disciplining your toddler won’t have to be as HARD.