I’ve had a few requests to write something on this subject matter but I’ve been putting it off because it’s a bit of an awkward post to write without A. sounding smug with a kid that behaves immaculately all the time (he doesn’t) and B. without sounding like a clueless mum who doesn’t actually know anything. That said, I do expect a lot of Jack and I think his behaviour is on the whole really good. Jack is two years nine months and we put him in a lot of adult situations and expect a lot from him; our upcoming trip to South East Asia with its accompanying 12 internal flights should be a good test…) On top of that, anyone that has been following me for a while will know that my parenting style is fairly relaxed and I definitely prefer to let my children learn through experience and have as much fun as possible along the way. Good behaviour is one aspect that I don’t compromise on though; I don’t want (or expect) my kids to be screaming in restaurants or drawing on the walls not even because of the embarrassment and costs to us as parents but I don’t want him for his sake to behave like that. I’m not my kids’ friend (even though I kinda wish I was) and teaching them right from wrong is all part of being a good parent. So whether that’s the importance of please and thank you’s or knowing that it’s not OK to wallop your sibling around the head, here’s my tuppence worth on how we don’t let the (toddler) sh*t hit the fan too many times [please note that this is very much me learning on the job and that my toddler had a total melt down yesterday in the dentist. We’re all just trying our best aren’t we…] and we do to ‘discipline’ him – not a word I really like but the easiest and most commonly used term to describe “what I do when my toddler behaves like a bit of a d***”. Here goes…
1. Less is more – it stands to reason that if you are constantly telling your children what to do, where to go, what not to touch etc, it’s likely that the important stuff will slip through the net. Make less noise and hold back for the really important “hold-my-hand-theres-a-car” sort of lines. I’m really careful with the amount of instruction or ‘telling off’ I give Jack; I think this means that when I do discipline him, he knows I mean it and (hopefully) listens more.
2. Bribe the crap outta the situation – and by this I mean make use of the “i” word. Yes, “if” is uttered a good few times throughout any given day and usually closely followed by “Thomas the Tank Engine”. But don’t do unrealistic bribes: I’m not going to tell Jack that if he does something, he won’t go to his friend’s birthday party because I know that I’d never actually follow through on that one. But I will use something like TV or suggest that I’ll take away one of his favourite toys – the love he has for his trucks is real and so this seems to work 90% of the time.
3. Stick to your word – be firm and don’t cave in when the reaction follows. If you’ve made the condition that there’ll be no TV (as much as it may pain you to), stick to it otherwise there’s no boundary or real consequences being put in place. Also, if you don’t follow through on what you’ve said, more importantly your toddler will know that by behaving in that troublesome way will eventually lead to them getting their own way which is not a good path to go down.
4. Distraction, repetition and questions are your best friends – I find questions like “What’s up there, Jack?”, “What are you doing tomorrow, Jack?”, “What shall we have for dinner, Jack?” works a treat when they’re on the verge of switching into tantrum mode. I think it’s the combination of distraction and engagement that can often grab their attention and diverts them. Kids also really like repetition, it seems so we spend a lot of the day repeating “yes please mummy”, “no thank you” and phrases about behaviour such as “when you nap, you feel so much better!”. I’m also having some fun with this one too; right now I’m working on “yes please awesome mummy“.
5. Think about language – I really try not to call him “naughty”, refer to the “terrible twos” and I don’t tell him to “be good” when I drop him off somewhere because I expect him to be. He understands pretty much everything I ask of him and can communicate back really well. I don’t want him to be labelled as something negative or get it into his head even that he has the capacity not to be good. Conversely, when he behaves really well I praise him and discuss how great he’s been. Maybe this is a bit of an idealistic one but the point is your choice of wording about or to your toddler about their behaviour is important too.
6. Sympathise with them – yes it can be annoying not to mention baffling to come downstairs and find your living room looking half ransacked but try to get inside their head and understand why this might have happened. Were they trying to reach something? Toddlers are all the time exploring and learning so try (hard I know) to remember this. If Jack does something like this, I also always leave the space as he left it and bring him back to it to discuss which brings me to…
7. It’s good to talk – if Jack behaves badly we *always* talk about it afterwards once he is calm and happy. We mull it over whilst in the bath that night, whilst walking along the next day, and sometimes (gently) before he goes to bed. Maybe I think of it as some kind of weird toddler (&parent) therapy but I think it helps to remind him what bad behaviour is.
8. Leave the stern words for later – this is a particularly personal one but I choose not to discipline Jack in public. Personally I think it’s uncomfortable for everyone involved; for you, for your kid, for the person at the table next to you just trying to enjoy their lunch break. Of course I’ll try to gently tell him he mustn’t swing on that chair for example but I don’t think it’s right to make a scene disciplining your child basically and instead revert to #6.
9. Exclusion is a powerful (and horrible) thing but it seems to work. Jack has a little brother and has been known to be a little rough with him (he enjoys rolling him around…) so I have started calmly putting him outside the room and staying inside the room with just Sonny when he does this. Jack really doesn’t enjoy this at all – who wants to be left out of the action? I think it is a gentle way of shaming him and showing him there are consequences to when he behaves badly, and that those consequences are no fun at all. He always comes in again somewhat meekly and I think now is really beginning to understand.
10. Overtiredness eats good behaviour for breakfast – you can try and try and try but if my toddler is tired he always behaves sub optimally. In fact generally, when Jack is misbehaving it’s because he’s tired and needs a sleep so as his mum, if I can, I’ll remove him gently from the situation and take him for a sleep. Generally he wakes up bright as a button. The same goes for me as his mum; it’s when I’m knackered that I’m least patient and that’s inevitably when his behaviour challenges me.
11. Keep calm and carry on smiling – most importantly of all, always try to stay really calm and never raise your voice. I get down onto Jack’s level slowly, look him in the eye and speak softly but firmly. I’m sure that if I were to lose my patience and become stressed (and of course this has happened) Jack’s behaviour, along with the general situation, only worsens.
12. Reverse psychology – I still can’t quite believe Jack falls for this one, but hey – happy days. By asking Jack to do the opposite to what I actually want him to do seems to more often than not result in him doing *exactly* what I want him to do. So for example, when wanting him to come upstairs for a bath, I might say “please can you stay downstairs” and nine times out of ten he jumps up and replies “No, I want to come upstairs.” I’m sure it is to do with giving him the power and letting him think he’s decided – I’m sure there’s some complex psychology going on there but whatever it is, it seems to work.
13. Make him think *gently* he’s missing out – I have to be careful with this one as I don’t want to be “mean” and admittedly this works best when there is another sibling but gently making Jack feel as if he might be left out of something fun tends to really work in encouraging him to follow instructions. So following on from the previous example , after asking him to come up for a bath and him insisting he wants to stay downstairs and play, I might say “OK I’m going upstairs with Sonny now“. What kid wants to miss out when his sibling is off somewhere to play with mum and a bathtub of toys?
14. Be consistent – I’m not a toddler so I don’t know but I can imagine that two parents disagreeing over what the right thing to do or say in the moment must be confusing, not to mention divisive to the you and your co-parent. I’d say that it’s crucial that you both to be on the same page when it comes to discipline – what things matter to you? What can you let slip? And if something matters to your partner that you couldn’t give two hoots about, I’d say it’s about communicating fully and coming up with a middle ground that your little one can understand.
15. And when nothing works – TV. Ice cream. And cuddles. Good for their soul. And good for theirs.
I really hope some of these tips may resonate with you or may get you thinking. I’d love to know if you use any of them or what techniques you have up your sleeve to encourage good behaviour from your toddler – what’s your secret sauce?
Thank you so much for reading and please do share this with anyone who you think might find it useful.