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  • Avoid Feeling Guilty About Being Strict: 8 Guidelines for Positive Discipline

    A toddler acting out is not bad. He needs his parents to help to set limits, handle his emotions, and learn consequences.
    by Rachel Perez .
Avoid Feeling Guilty About Being Strict: 8 Guidelines for Positive Discipline
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Tantrums are a normal part of growing up for children and one that parents need to learn how to deal with as positively as they can. Not as easy as it sounds, yes. In fact, we raise our voices more often than we like, and mom guilt is in full force after we find ourselves yelling. Positive discipline takes a lot of patience and a mindset change when it comes to how we view tantrum behavior.

    “A toddler acting out is not shameful, nor is it behavior that needs punishing. It’s a cry for attention, a shout-out for sleep, or a call to action for firmer, more consistent limits,” writes Janet Lansbury, a mom of three, an early childhood expert, and host of the podcast, Respectful Parenting. (Know more about the reasons toddlers whine.)

    Peggy Drexler Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University and author of two books about modern families and their children, agrees. Discipline is not about making your child feel guilty or even punishment and shaming a child. It’s about correcting his behavior and guiding him to act more appropriately.

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    How to enforce positive discipline in your household

    “The key to healthy discipline is our attitude,” Lansbury, who is also the author of the parenting book No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, writes in her website Elevating Child Care. Here’s how you can spin your perspective on dealing with tantrums and set the atmosphere for more positive discipline.

    1. Establish routines.

    Setting up a routine helps you set realistic behavior expectations from your child. Talk to your toddler as soon as possible when you’re expecting some disruptions in his routine, such as an extended stay at the mall or attending two birthday parties in a day. Anticipate changes in behavior when his daily routine is changed even for just a bit, so be ready to spot tired signs and respond to them accordingly.

    2. Stop negative thinking and do away with labels.

    All parents, at one time or more, worry if their child is growing up a spoiled brat or a bully. Lansbury shares that kids may sense this from you, so instead of dwelling on your worries, do something about your child’s behavior that concerns you. Avoid using labels — words have an impact. When you use words like “bad” or “makulit” to describe your child, then the more it could manifest in your child.

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    3. Find your calm and loving but firm tone.

    Lansbury suggests acting like a CEO confronting an issue head-on and in the moment. The tone should be confident and commanding, not unsure or angry. Your little one can sense your anxiety and misgivings, and you cannot be firm in disciplining him when you are not sure about the rules you’ve set in place. Your little one needs you to be “effortlessly in charge,” Lansbury stressed.

    4. Speak in the first person.

    As your little one becomes more independent growing up, he’s also learning more about you not just as “mom” or “dad,” but as a person. “Toddlerhood is the time to change over into first person for the most honest, direct communication possible,” Lansbury suggests. Tots are testing boundaries and rules, so using “I” instead of “Mommy” when you set limits has a more personal and direct approach.

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    5. Avoid scolding or long sermons.

    Most toddlers’ fits don’t require punishment but need disciplining. “A toddler learns discipline best when he experiences natural consequences for his behavior,” Lansbury said. When you tot misbehaves, react calmly but quickly so he can easily associate the consequence from the misbehavior. Not only do sermons, lecture, scolding, and emotional outbursts remove that association, they “do not give our toddler the clarity he needs and can create guilt and shame,” the mom of three stressed.

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    6. Choose appropriate consequences.

    If your child messes with his food, then let his punishment be connected to mealtime. If it’s about getting dressed, then you might not just take him to the playground if he doesn’t comply. Try to ensure that the consequences you impose are fair. Don’t think your little one will accept it, but at least he wouldn’t feel like he’s shortchanged or manipulated.

    Your child might not yet have the tools to keep still and reflect during a time out, though you can certainly teach it as he grows up. A time out, Lansbury adds, can do little to control a child’s behavior and may just be a form of punishment. Removed from the situation, if you have to, but don’t simply just send him to a time out to rest the issue or avoid making a scene.

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    7. Let your child express his emotions.

    Your little toddler is becoming more independent and also feeling a lot of intense, conflicting emotions, and that’s okay. Let your child feel anger, frustration, confusion, exhaustion, or disappointment, without judgment — they’re not bad for feeling that way. Acknowledge his feelings and let him ride it out, as long as he’s not put in any danger, and turn it into a teaching moment about handling emotions.

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    8. Don’t use love as a currency in the discipline.

    Saying, “I don’t love you anymore” or “If you love me, you won’t do that” makes it seem like your love for your child is conditional and is lessened whenever your child misbehaves. This thinking can carve out a huge gap in your child’s sense of security.

    Dr. Drexler, in her piece for Psychology Today, advises parents to approach discipline as a chance to connect and a discussion, and “not a reprimand meant to intimidate or cause fear.” “Setting limits and using discussion to discipline can help kids manage impulses on their own, develop a gauge for acceptable behavior, and grow into adults who are cooperative and secure in who they are,” she explained.

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    Several studies have proven that spanking does little to curb misbehavior or teach discipline, but rather, it makes children act out more. Inflicting pain in your child through a violent act can be confusing and should not be construed as love. Hopefully, when you follow the guidelines above, you never have to entertain the thought of spanking your child as a form of discipline.

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