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Tactics for toddlers : Defining your discipline style, Case study of a two and a half year old toddler

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Defining your discipline style

Parenting is a confidence game. My husband and I needed more knowledge so we could increase our confidence and be prepared to try new strategies with our toddler. Not everything we tried worked in guiding his behaviour. Some strategies might have worked in the short term, but they didn’t sit comfortably with us. Through this process of elimination we began to define our parenting style. By agreeing on some core principles as to how we would discipline our toddler, we were able to give him consistent discipline, which is critical to kids being able to understand the boundaries. We created an approach to parenting that we could easily translate across to new issues (because toddlers always find ways to test their parents!).

Spending time with my husband planning how we intend to discipline our kids is one of the most effective parenting tools we have. Your parenting style will be different from ours, but here are some questions you might like to consider when defining your parenting style:

• Will you set clear boundaries for your children and be consistent in enforcing them?

• Will you smack your children? (Aggression never solves problems in the long term.)

• Will you use reward charts or try getting the children to be self-motivated?

• Will you use time out or bring them in close when your children lose control?

Will you expect your children to say sorry as an automatic response, even if they’re not emotionally connected to it?

Will you use shouting as a way to get your children’s attention?

Will you apologise when, as the parent, you get it wrong?

Will you hold a grudge or move on quickly?

Will you be solution-focused or be focused on finding the culprit?

Will you try to understand — but not excuse — your children’s behaviour?

Will you provide positive encouragement?

I have children with special needs and using the ‘bringing them in close’ strategy works especially well when they need help calming down.

Case study of a two and a half year old toddler

Each of our children reached the ‘difficult’ toddler stage at the age of two and a half. A fantastic maternal and child health nurse I had for my first two children used to speak about periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium in children.

Disequilibrium refers to the half-year period before a child’s birthday (in this instance from two and a half to three years of age) when children can be easily confused, emotional and temperamental, and may have difficulty completing tasks they previously accomplished effortlessly. They then move to a phase of equilibrium over the next half year where they seem to have it all together. I think knowing this information makes the periods of disequilibrium easier to cope with as you know there’s an end in sight!

Characteristics of a two and a half year old toddler

Two and a half years is the peak age of disequilibrium. I’ve experienced four two and a half year olds and it’s amazing that even though they all had different personalities, they still exhibited very similar traits at this stage of their lives — for example, they all became:

indecisive. There were times when they seemed to be completely incapable of making a decision if faced with too many choices. Or they would decide they wanted a Vegemite sandwich only to change their minds when I served it up.

fussy. While toddlers always like to have routines, at this stage of their development mine became very specific about the finer details. For example, they would only eat their breakfast using the ‘shiny’ spoon, or dry themselves with the purple towel.

impossible to satisfy. No matter how long we stayed somewhere — at the park, a friend’s house or the swimming pool, for example — and although I’d give them fair warning that it was time to leave, they always wanted to stay longer.

‘me’-focused. They were the biggest thing in their world, and they saw only their own needs. They also overestimated their abilities and would insist that ‘me do’ everything, even when a task was completely out of their ability range.

erratic. Their emotions were extreme on either side of the pendulum. They were easily excitable and could get wound up very quickly. On the flip side, small things such as peeling the banana skin the wrong way could cause a tsunami-sized meltdown.

Tip: Getting your toddler’s cooperation

Trying to gain the cooperation of a two year old can sometimes be quite a challenge. Experience with my own children has taught me that I need to be prepared and flexible in how I approach each situation. Here are some strategies for gaining the cooperation of your charming toddler.

Remove temptation

I’ve things set up so the children can roam freely, but respectfully, around the house. I’ve removed any major temptations so I don’t have to nag all the time. For example, we’ve moved our eldest child’s iPod dock to higher ground. Our toddler just couldn’t keep away from its bright lights, and removing it ensures it won’t be accidentally broken.

Repeat the request

This is the strategy I use the most when trying to extract a stubborn toddler from the car. Why is it that toddlers never want to get in the car, yet they never want to get out of the car either? We have a people mover, so there’s plenty of room for a toddler to run around away from me. Our fourth child loved it when I attempted to grab him: he’d run off the other way, squealing with laughter. I eventually learned not to enter his game. I’d wait at the door of the car and ask him to hop out. If he didn’t respond, I’d repeat the request calmly (again and again and again and sometimes again), at spaced intervals. Eventually he’d get out of the car by himself.

This is not a quick solution, so it can’t be used in every situation. However, I do prefer it, when I have the time, rather than picking up a toddler against their will and tolerating all the associated screaming and crying.

Offer a distraction

This strategy can be hit-and-miss depending on the single-mindedness of the toddler, but it’s always worth a try. If I need my current toddler to stop touching something or to move away from an area, I try to create interest in something else that I think will appeal to him in the hope this will make him forget what he was doing.

Show and tell

When attempting to get my toddler to cooperate, I try to make him understand what it is I want of him. Sometimes words aren’t enough, and I have to find a way of showing him what I mean. For example, if he asks for a banana just before dinner, I’ll pick him up, show him dinner’s almost ready and explain that he has to wait until dinner’s ready for something to eat.

Listen to your toddler

By taking the time to listen to my toddler, look at him and work out what he’s trying to communicate to me, I’m able to make sure I understand what he wants. This prevents meltdowns, which can occur if I misunderstand him and do the wrong thing. When I really listen to him, I can better determine the best way to handle his behaviour.

Have a routine

As you would have noticed by now, I encourage routines for all kids, but they’re particularly important for a toddler experiencing disequilibrium. Routines make it easier to gain a toddler’s cooperation. They know, for example, that there’s time for a short play after lunch and then it’s time for their afternoon nap — and that this is not the time for watching TV or running around outside.

Choose your battles carefully

By choosing to focus on the big issues, rather than commenting on every aspect of your toddler’s behaviour, you’ll find that they’re more likely to listen and cooperate. If you monitor their behaviour all day long, they may end up ignoring you because your voice becomes part of the background noise.

My daughter has a very eclectic sense of style and has been independently dressing herself since she was two. This initially caused me a great deal of angst because the combinations

of clothes she would put on were often far from what I would have liked her to be wearing. I’d try to get her to change her clothes, but this would end up in a battle.

When we were out in public and she was wearing one of her more unusual outfits, I’d make comments to other mums along the lines of, ‘You can tell she dressed herself this morning’. One day a mum responded to this in a light-hearted manner, saying, ‘Your daughter seems very happy with what she’s wearing; it seems that Mum is the one with a problem’. And this was indeed true. She had beautiful clothes (lots of generous donations of gorgeous hand-me-downs) and I wanted her to dress a certain way. As awful as this is to admit, I was worried about what other mums might think of the way she was dressed. I was seeing her dress sense as more a reflection of me than as my child having a chance to dress herself how she wanted.

After realising this, I took the next opportunity (when she wasn’t home) to reorganise her wardrobe and drawers. I removed all the items that I found particularly difficult to live with and decided from that point on not to comment on her outfits (other than to make sure they were weather-appropriate).

Once I’d accepted that the most important thing was that she dressed herself, her choice of clothes no longer created a battle. There are still moments when she enters the kitchen dressed for the day and behind my smile I cringe a little at the red shorts, purple singlet and long, pink-striped socks. However, I remind myself that she’s happy and dressed appropriately for the weather, and that’s really all that matters.

Make it fun

By adding some fun to mundane tasks, it’s often easier to get a toddler to do what they’re supposed to do. Playing peek-a-boo as you dress them, or pretending you don’t know where things belong when you’re tidying up can make these tasks a bit of fun for you and your toddler.

Spend time with your toddler

On those days when I’ve had lots of running around to do, there’s generally a significant drop in cooperation from our toddler. Stopping for a short burst of time (15 minutes) to sit with him and do something he wants makes him far more likely to cooperate when I ask him to do something. It’s important that he feels some of his needs have been met during my busy days as well.

Allow for limited choice

As adults we like to have control over what’s going on in our lives and we find it disempowering if choices are taken away from us. Toddlers are just the same. Allowing them a limited choice is helpful in gaining their cooperation. It can be as simple as, ‘Do you want Dad or Mum to read the bedtime story?’ The choice is not about whether or not the toddler wants to go to bed (because they have to!) but about a discrete part of the going-to-bed process.

I had a free-spirited child who liked to dress herself from an early age. I made a rule for her drawers. She could only go to the top drawers when it was hot and the [lower] drawers were for winter or cold weather.


Time management is the single most important skill required when you work from home with a toddler. This doesn’t sound very exciting, but if you plan your day correctly, you should be able to enjoy your toddler as well as get some quality work time. If possible make sure you have a shower before your partner leaves for work and get stuck straight into house chores before your toddler goes to sleep. When your toddler is sleeping concentrate solely on your work, ignore the housework/dinner preparations/shopping you haven’t completed.

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