Some toddlers are just a little more difficult than others. Spirited, strong willed, imaginative, energetic; all those nice flowery phrases that people without difficult toddlers like to throw at you, can sometimes make you want to pull your hair out. Or theirs. Don’t do that, it hurts. And you’ll look a sight with patches of hair missing. I was already writing this post when my article about anger was published last week. Seems to me we have a pattern…
I will say I have seen some definite improvements in my own daughter (finally!) after trying multiple things I’ve seen online, in books, and even discussed with a doctor. Some parents now argue discipline is actually detrimental to children and shouldn’t be done at all. I think that’s a wee bit on the ridiculous side. Rules are a part of life and kids must learn to adhere to them, end of story. But there’s so many resources out there now, not to mention the countless pieces of unsolicited information you get from your own parents, in-laws, friends, siblings, your weird neighbor with an affinity for flowered hats. Here are some things that worked for me, some things that didn’t, and why.
Yay! These Worked:
Remaining calm- Make sure to check yourself first. Make sure you are as calm as you can be while angry. Use a firm voice, at your child’s level, whenever possible. This can be a real struggle during a tantrum storm and a bout of defiance. When you want to scream, when your teeth start to clench, walk away. Go in your room and breath a few times.
Show them how to calm down. Calming yourself is not something you are born knowing how to do. Show them how to take deep breaths. How to relax their shoulders. How to express their thoughts into words once they have caught their breath.
If you have a partner who is helping you with your kids, have a tap out term. We just say “tap out” but whatever works to get the point across that you are getting to that point of no return.
Language- Use “what” instead of “why”. I have learned a lot of the time the “why” isn’t understood by your child. The “what” is much easier to grasp. So for instance, if you are trying to get your child to put on their shoes so you can leave, and they decide instead to throw them across the room, it’s honestly more effective to say “what are you supposed to be doing right now?” than “why did you do just do that?”
Also, using the same language is very important. For awhile my husband and I didn’t have the same terms for things. I would say “that’s not how we act like a good girl” and he would say “that’s not following the rules”. To us, we know these mean the same thing. To her it can be a little confusing.
Picking battles- Understand the difference between annoying and aggravating behavior versus unacceptable behavior. Constantly swinging their feet in a seat can be annoying but is it wrong? Interrupting you when you are trying to speak can be extremely annoying but still, is that them intentionally misbehaving? Painting on various surfaces of your home may make you want to cry a little but really, again, not being bad. Just being a kid. If they throw their drink cup at your head while you are driving, that is unacceptable. If they try to see how high they can throw their little sister, that is unacceptable. You see the difference. Pick your battles.
Limit all distractions when something important needs to be said- Again with my daughter possibly having ADHD this is very important in our house but I think is pretty universal if you are not seeing results from your disciplining. ALL kids are easily distracted to a certain degree. Make sure there is quiet, make sure you have eye contact, and if possible get on their level for your message to be made perfectly clear. Keep instructions short and sweet.
Stop idol threats- Coming up with punishments off the top of your head when your child is pushing you over the edge is never a good idea. I think at one point I threatened to give all of my daughters toys to charity including her favorite bunny. I know I would never do that, and she knows I would never do that. Kids are smarter than you think. I would also threaten that she wouldn’t be allowed to go to her grandmother’s in the past. She knew she was going, she did every week. I knew she was going, she did every week. Now, we have a system of repercussions. Snacks go first, than tv, than a toy, than early bedtime. In that order.
Face chart- This seemed so silly to me when I first saw them. And I wasn’t excited about having that picture hanging in my house. However, after trying the sticker chart (see below in the did not work section) I figured why not. For my daughter, visually seeing herself getting into trouble I think really helps. She wants to stay in the yellow (on our chart that’s the good face). When her clothespin moves down she genuinely gets upset about it. Which is a good thing!
Boo- These Did Not Work:
Sticker Chart- Since we are on the subject, the sticker chart was not a success for us. I’ve seen different opinions on these and I have to say it did seem like it was helping originally but the excitement of it wore off, fast. The first couple of weeks of seeing the stickers get put up made my daughter pretty happy. But the big old X on the bad days didn’t really have much of an affect on her. She pretty much just stopped caring about it after a few weeks.
Time Outs- This is not to be confused with “calm down time”, which we have plenty of in our house. Calm down time is time for my daughter to go in her room and play with her calm down box. Time out made her go from a 7 to a 20. Having to sit somewhere for over a minute when she didn’t want to was almost torture. Again, ADHD has a lot to do with that and that may not be the case for your child, but we can’t do time outs. Before ending them just the phrase would send her into hysterics. I even tried holding her in time out once or twice but just couldn’t see how it was that beneficial. So now we just start removing luxuries one by one (see above) and that has worked much better.
Spanking– and the debate continues. I want to be very clear that I have spanked my child. In some instances I think it’s called for. In most however, I think it’s really overused. My problem with spanking is parents tend to do it when they are already angry, hot tempered, and out of ideas of what to do at that exact moment. Again, my daughter may have underlying issues but when she did get spanked she took that as a good reason to hit
others. The few times she did get spanked, she got in trouble at daycare the next day for hitting. I don’t think it was a coincidence. So, we removed spanking from our discipline routine. Honestly, we still get the “we had some violence” issues talks from school but not as many. I do not allow it anymore purely for not being able to explain to her when she asked why mommy can hit her but she can’t hit when she’s upset.
When changing something always give it an appropriate amount of time to see whether or not it’s going to be effective. This is something I struggle with since I want to change things all the time and try everything I read but you do really need to allow for adjustment.