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Too Cute for Time Out? Discipline Troubles with Toddlers

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Disciplining a toddler is hard. Sometimes our presuppositions and beliefs about this stage of development can make it harder. Here we explore some mental pitfalls that can prevent parents from making the most of those impressionable early years.

The other day I came across a shirt that said: Too cute for time-out! I know that the designer of the t-shirt was not intending to promote any particular parenting philosophy, but it made me think of the difficulty some parents have disciplining their toddlers. There are many mental pitfalls that parents get stuck in as they struggle to make the transition from baby-hood to childhood. Here we will look at a few of these pitfalls and how you can combat these undermining presuppositions.

“He’s just a baby, he didn’t mean it.” Many parents use this phrase to excuse their child’s misbehavior, crediting it to exploration, an innocent mistake, or simply not knowing any better. What many parents fail to realize is that somewhere around 6 months, babies start to develop wants rather than just needs. Parents are often slow to realize that those temper tantrums are purposeful events. Your little one is not “just being a baby;” he is being a willful child and needs training, not excuses. You can learn how to effectively deal with a toddler temper tantrum here.

“He’s so cute, it’s hard to get upset.” While you may think it is cute when your smiling 18 month old squeezes a banana through his fingers, your reaction to such an “experiment” will create a road map in his mind for future behaviors. Yes, he is exploring with his tactile sense. Yes, he has a cute smile when he does it. But what are you training into him when you smile back and laugh with him? It is true that your toddler needs lots of opportunities to feel and explore with his hands. Play-dough and wet sand are much better candidates for this type of exploration. The goal is not to remove all fun from your child’s life. Rather, your goal is to re-direct those desires to appropriate outlets. You can do this by saying, “Bananas are for eating, not squishing” and then remove the food from his tray and replace it with play dough.

“He’ll grow out of it.” This is certainly true. Most misbehaviors (but not all) will naturally extinguish themselves at some point during your child’s early years. After all, you don’t see many 12 year olds having a full body temper tantrum on the living room floor. But this is yet another excuse that only serves to excuse you, the parent, from providing training at a time when your child is most impressionable. Clay is molded when it is wet. Iron is forged when it is hot. Character is built when our children are little. We need to teach them self-control, concern for others and gentle hands when they are so malleable.

“He’s just a strong-willed child.” The categorization of some children as strong-willed has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has freed parents from the guilt of feeling like they have done something to create their difficult child. No doubt, some children are simply designed to question authority and make parenting hard. On the other hand, it has given some parents license to throw their hands up in despair, claiming that there is little they can do to change their child (this, of course, is the crux of the nature vs. nurture debate). If you are among those blessed with a strong-willed child, you will have to work harder, not less, at training. For a great article on how you can do just that, click here.

Toddlerhood is one of the most challenging stages for parents (it’s right up there with adolescence!). It is a time of boundless energy, creativity and exploration. Parents of toddlers will need to possess all three of these traits as well in order to effectively train their child to navigate through it.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
. Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional counseling. Read our full disclaimer here.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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