Toddlerhood is such an exciting time, and as parents we have the privilege of being firsthand witnesses to our child’s rapid development into a full-fledged individual with her own personality, likes, dislikes, and preferences. For many parents, this wondrous times can also be fraught with questions, challenges, and self-doubt as we try to navigate a new dimension of parenthood. Go-to solutions for calming our child like breastfeeding or cuddling may not have the same power they once did, and we may find ourselves wondering how we can balance the approach of parenting gently and naturally with helping our child develop self-control and self-discipline.
As a mama of a 19-month-old son, here are five guidelines I do my best to follow in order to foster my son’s individuation while still maintaining my attachment parenting principles:
1. Take a moment to think before saying no.
Toddlers can be filled with boundless energy, and it can be hard to not prioritize keeping the world around the two of you as orderly as possible. This feeling can often lead to us shouting “No!” before we even have a chance to fully consider the situation.
Unless there is an obvious matter of safety at hand, I work very hard at taking a moment to consider whether it is really necessary to say no to my toddler before letting the word come out of my mouth. Usually, I realize that there is no true need to say no in most situations. Saying no might mean there is one less thing for me to clean up, or it might buy me thirty seconds of peace and quiet, but I do my best to save the word no for situations that really need it. I think saying no too often takes the power out of the word, and although I don’t want to exercise power over my child, I do want a tool available to me to prevent unsafe situations from happening. I believe holding myself back from saying no often also brings my son and I closer as we find alternatives to working through situations that may not seem ideal to me.
2. Treat your toddler as you would want to be treated.
I am a firm believer that you can only expect to earn someone’s respect by respecting them in turn. I think most of us would easily apply this guideline to professional situations, and I think it applies equally as well in the home. Just because our children may not have the ability to put all of their thoughts and feelings into words, and just because it may be easier at times to put ourselves in a position of power over our little ones does not make it right to offer our children any less respect than we would hope to receive in any other situation in our lives. If we don’t truly listen to our children, and that means “listening” to both their words and their actions, then we shouldn’t expect them to listen to us in return.
3. Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
Sometimes just feeling heard and understood can diffuse a challenging situation with your child, and it’s easy to understand why. Don’t we all just want to feel heard and understood? It goes such a long way. Young children appreciate concrete facts, and often, just hearing us state their view of a situation is enough to calm them down.
The next time your toddler begins acting out because he wants to leave the store, calmly tell him what you understand about his situation. It could be something as simple as: “I understand that you feel angry right now because you would rather play outside than be inside grocery shopping. It’s a beautiful day, and I bet you would rather be outside running than sitting in this cart.” A verbal child might repeat something similar back to you, and a pre-verbal child might simply relax. Either way, it reduces the heightened emotion and brings you both to a place of understanding.
4. Model the behavior that you hope to see.
We shouldn’t expect our children to be calm, relaxed, and adaptable if we can’t model those same behaviors. It can take a concentrated effort on our parts to not raise our voices or demand things, but our little ones are always watching us, and as the old saying goes: actions speak louder than words.
5. Utilize a consistent mantra for common challenges.
Patience is a very difficult concept to teach someone, especially for me since I seem to be on a lifelong journey to master it. I often deal with my own impatience by silently repeating a mantra to myself, and I now use the same technique with my son. When he is feeling particularly impatient, which usually occurs when he is waiting for me to wash and cut his fruit, I use the same words and the same measured and calm tone every time when I say: Baby is patient; Baby waits. I repeat this over and over again until I can hand him the fruit. Although Baby might be bouncing on his toes with anticipation while he waits, it seems to have a calming effect on him, and the more consistent I am with this practice, the more effective it is.
What are your favorite tips for practicing gentle discipline with a toddler?