When your munchkin flashes that adorable grin or reaches up for a cuddle, it’s easy to forgive his mischievous ways — even if he’s pushed your buttons a dozen times today. Breaking rules and seeing how far he can push you is a big part of how your child learns — in fact, it’s his job. Your job? To act as rule-maker, limit-setter, explainer-in-chief of all things right and wrong. Sure, doling out discipline isn’t the fun part of parenting, but it is the basis on which happy citizens are built. So whether your tot is biting his buddies or about to earn an Oscar for a meltdown at the mall, at least one of these discipline strategies should help.
Remove the audience (aka you).
When tots start hungering for attention (or candy or that toy they just saw on TV), they’ll do whatever it takes to get it. Cue the manipulation tantrum (millions of kids can testify to its amazing powers of persuasion). Don’t give in — when your child launches one, calmly remove yourself from the situation and ignore him (just make sure he can’t hurt himself). It may take every ounce of zen you have, but this discipline strategy sends a clear message that this type of behavior is unacceptable and — maybe more important — ineffective.
Catch ’em being good.
There’s nothing like a healthy dose of praise to motivate a person, big or little. When you see your cutie cleaning up her toys without being asked 12 times or doing the deep-breathing trick you told her to try when she’s feeling frustrated, give her a shout-out for a job well done. It’ll show her that you’re really paying attention. Plus, your pride will encourage her to feel proud of her actions, too — an important first step in self-discipline. There’s one catch though: It’s important not to go overboard with praise, especially for things that don’t require much effort. As your child grows, start raising your standards of good behavior and she will too.
Distract, distract, distract.
You may think this discipline trick is effective only with babies and young toddlers, but it works with older toddlers and preschoolers too. As soon as you spot the windup to a meltdown (the whines, the quivering lip, the crocodile tears), enthusiastically change the subject. “Hey! Did you know your cousins are coming over tomorrow?” or “I totally forgot to show you something…come quick!” The surprising turn in your response may just be enough to snap your darling out of his downward spiral.