The following are a few tips that will help minimize upset beginning in the toddler years, but will also work as well when older.
For as long as you can, use distractions to avoid escalating to “naughty.” Young children can be creatively distracted.
Play children’s music CD’s or tapes in the car. Not only will the children learn good music, but they will also learn about Jesus and popular songs about Him. Listening to music gives them something to focus on. When older take things to do in the car.
Use your voice tone with firm “No’s.” There is no need to yell; simply lower your voice tone. Low tones are for discipline. I call the low tone my “teacher voice,” as schoolteachers use that firm voice tone to keep control in the classroom. Begin to notice the tones you are using. As you practice lowering your tone, it will become easier, but you don’t want to overuse the low tones. Use high tones for building joy, having fun, and loving the children.
Do not ask questions to which the child has no choice. For example, “Are you ready to pick up your toys?” “Are you ready to go to bed?” Children are seldom ever ready to pick up or go to bed. Instead use phrases such as, “It’s time to _______________,” “Let’s _______________,” when your child does not have a choice. Notice, also, how often you give a command and then say, “Okay?” when there is no choice.
Begin to give choices when they are age appropriate and guided by you, but don’t give a choice if they can’t choose. Examples of age appropriate choices guided by you would be the type of snack available, a choice between two shirts or two outfits, the type of sandwich for lunch or which book to read. Keep the issues simple so they don’t escalate into major battles.
Continue a schedule. Don’t let the child get hungry, but be careful not to teach her that she can eat all day long. Most children need protein at three meals a day plus a morning and afternoon snack. Keep sugar to a minimum. It is false energy. Lack of protein can bring on behavior issues.
As you are teaching your child to obey, it is helpful to get up to correct her now that she is mobile. You can continue to distract him, move him to another place, to try a different activity, or go outside for a while. It does not work as well to sit on the couch and give orders. Just giving orders will not help a young child learn to obey the first time.
During this age, children may begin to whine. Whining is a learned behavior and must be nipped in the bud. It can only get worse. If you give in when they whine, it reinforces the whining. Say something like, “Use your words.” Or, “I don’t understand whining.” Do your best not to let the habit form. The best way is to answer or attend to the child the first or second time they want something. This does not mean to cater to them. You will slowly teach them to wait. It does mean don’t ignore them until the asking escalates. Remember to synchronize and calm.
You may notice after begininng table food that the child takes his peanut butter and jelly sandwich apart while eating it. Many times when they do this, the children only eat the jelly side. Here is a tip for helping get that protein down the hatch: Instead of putting peanut butter on one side and jelly on the other, put a little peanut butter on both sides before spreading the jelly. That way when he takes it apart to eat the jelly, he will get more of the peanut butter. He’ll probably lick as much of the jelly as he can, but perhaps he will bite the bread and get it all.
Young children do not hear words and instructions when their brains are desynchronized nor do they hear commands that begin with “don’t.” Use positive commands, such as, “Be kind” versus, “Don’t hit your brother,” or short “No_____” commands, such as “No throw!” “No scream.” Continue to give appropriate choices, because he will definitely know what he prefers. Pick your battles. If you have given a “no,” you will often get a protest. Don’t find yourself trying to negotiate with a two year old or telling him something over and over. Teach that your no means no. If you find yourself in a confrontation, you might have to remove the child from the situation for a moment (a short Time Out with you there) and then began again.
Closer to three you might find that your Time Out methods are not working as well. You might have to use other forms of discipline. Closer to three is a very critical time in discipline and if you are not diligent you may set the stage for heavy defiance and “bratty” behavior. What you do around three and up to about five will greatly determine how your child is going to behave all the way through elementary age. It is the time to be firm and consistent and when you will do most of your work to train him to obey your voice the first time with a good attitude.