Whether you have a bit of a problem child on your hands, or you simply want to raise your toddler with good behavior, it’s really simple. Really.
As early as 3-years-old, children start picking up on social cues and begin developing psychological awareness. They quickly become little scientists, running social and psychological experiments on their friends, siblings, and even you- their parent. They test the limits, and see how far they can push.
The good news is this: kids have better things to do than become household political activists constantly fighting the power. Deep down, kids want rules- it removes the anxiety of not knowing when or how they’ve done good or bad. They just want to know that things are fair, and they look to you, the lawmaker, to keep things fair.
You can do this by making sure that boundaries are set, and those boundaries don’t change day to day. Your household is now a kingdom, with rules, consequences and rewards. And you are the benevolent Queen who sets the law of the land by following these simple steps:
Whether your household rules are displayed, or are spoken- they need to be the way of decree in your home; black and white. The lines need to be clear to you and your child.
Rule 1: No Hitting. Ever.
Rule 2: No Throwing Balls in the House
Rule 3: No Sneaking Treats from the Fridge
Make some rules based off of human decency, and make some rules that address existing problems.
Don’t Be Flimsy
Whenever a parent threatens their child with a consequence without following through, it’s like taking half a bottle of antibiotics without finishing the prescription; the bad habit just grows stronger and more resistant.
If you have established a ‘No Candy Before Dinner’ rule, catch your child eating candy before dinner, and then say, ‘Next time I catch you doing that, you’ll be in trouble”…well, you’ve just created the beginnings of a monster. Your child will only push you further the next time by crying, or bargaining. By omitting a consequence last time, and then applying a consequence this time, your child feels like this is an unfair situation. No one wins.
Use Productive Language
When rules are broken there are consequences; this is just a fact of life. Your kid isn’t going to take it personal, and neither should you.
When applying a penalty, commentary should go like this:
“It’s unfortunate that you hit your brother, and broke our ‘No Hitting’ rule. As you know, once a rule is broken there is a consequence.”
Say nothing more, nothing less. It’s not a conversation.
No consequence should ever be cruel, or personal. Taking away a game console might have a dramatic effect in the moment, but if it has no connection to the crime, it might insight more anger than understanding. Have a few consequences in your back pocket for various circumstances, and a one staple consequence that will elicit introspection. The most productive penalty used in my house is The Naughty Chair.
There is a chair in our living room that is rarely sat in on a daily basis, which makes it the perfect designated Naughty Chair. This is basically ‘time out’ but in an isolated, consistent and non-threatening area. You don’t want to overlap good places and bad places.
So, once a rule is broken, I walk my child to the chair, explain to them why they are here, and tell them their penalty of X amount of time. Stick to your guns; if your child moves from that chair then more time is immediately added on. No exceptions.
Furthermore, when The Naughty Chair time is up, a conversation is necessary to turn this crime into a learning opportunity. Mine goes a little something like this…
“Can you tell me what you did wrong?”
“I hit my brother”
“Exactly, and that’s not okay. You are a good boy, but you did a not-so-nice thing. Go say you’re sorry and let’s move on. I love you forever and I forgive you.”
And it’s over! We can all get on with our lives.
Your child should never feel like they are bad; rather, it was their actions, which were bad. More importantly, they shouldn’t feel like mom or dad holds a grudge against them. Love them, support them and move past it. You can help your child build maturity, logic and rationalization while developing a healthy set of morals by being the pillar of reason.
If you take away anything from what you’ve read here today, it should be this: be consistent. Whether you choose to abide by one rule, or ten rules- stick to them and you will never be that parent of the screaming child in the grocery store.