My baby's 14 mo. I think it's crucial to divide behavior issues into "danger" and "preference" situations.
- Danger gets the most severe reaction. I reserve yelling for truly bad situations (sticking a hand into a fire, trying to get delicious-looking coins out of mommy's purse, etc.).
- Danger means taking the kid away from the thing or the thing away from the kid quickly, without waiting to use the situation as an exercise in teaching discipline.
- Toddlers hear the word "no" so often it becomes meaningless, which can actually increase their likelihood of getting hurt because they don't distinguish between what you think is dangerous and what you just plain don't want them to do.
- "No" doesn't tell a child anything about why he shouldn't do what he was about to do.
- I try to use words that specifically pertain to that situation, like "hot" "owch" and "danger" so my baby knows when she hears those words they mean business.
- Don't expect your child to get it--yet--but keep in mind that you're laying the foundation for later.
For preferences, discipline in steps according to rules
If my baby is doing something I don't want her to do but isn't putting her in imminent danger, I try to give her the chance to revise her behavior before I revise it for her.
- I have come up with short, easy to understand rules for just about everything.
- When she's beginning to do something that's against the rules, I use a low, ringing tone of voice reserved only for when she's in trouble, and tell her the rule firmly.
- If she stops doing the behavior, I praise her by telling her she followed the rule (repeating the rule itself) with a smile and a happy tone of voice and often clap for her. If she doesn't stop, I repeat step 2.
- If I get through steps 2 and 3 twice and she still hasn't stopped, I physically remove her from the situation.
- If I have to physically remove her, I explain the rule again in short, easy words/phrases.
One of my rules is "we do not climb." My daughter likes to stack things in general, but also has discovered she can climb on what she stacks. I don't want to stifle her play unnecessarily. If she starts to put her foot onto something, though, I will give her warning number one, telling her in a low, quick, loud tone reserved for trouble that "we do not climb." It usually startles her into pausing and taking her foot down. If she doesn't pause and just tries to climb up and is at risk of hurting herself, I will grab her and cut it off right there, repeating the rule as I do. If, however, she takes her foot off the thing, I praise her by saying something specific like "that's right, you're a good girl, you do not climb." If she takes her foot off and then puts it on again, she gets the warning again. If she continues to not listen to me, or keeps taking her foot on and off again, I will give up and physically remove her from the situation, repeating the rule.
Another example is "you can touch mommy's earrings but you can't pull." As she touches the earrings, I will repeat "you can touch" and things like "good girl," "good baby," "nice babies touch gently." If she starts to pull, I tell her "no, we don't pull." I repeat this if I feel I need to, and switch to praising her immediately if she goes back to just touching. If she's too squirrelly I will just remove her hands, put her down, or take the earrings off. But using this technique, I have not had to stop wearing the long, dangly, sparkly earrings I love. We've also been able to keep her from grabbing peoples' glasses off their faces or yanking on necklaces.
Be Quick, Be Appropriate
- Remember that the younger the child, the more immediate a world they live in. If you don't discipline right away, they will not associate the discipline with the correct behavior.
- Your child understands concrete things okay, abstract things barely, if at all. Keep it simple.
- Your child has a limited vocabulary. Use few and short words.
- Your tone means more than your words, so keep it consistent and only use your "preferences" voice when the child is doing something against your preferences. Only use your "danger" voice when the child is doing something that risks harm.
- Timing is everything. Praise the child the second he stops doing a bad behavior and jump on it the second he starts doing something you prefer he didn't.
- Praise is just as much a key component of discipline as punishment. Most children want to please their parents at that age. Discipline is a win-win scenario when you are vigilant about acknowledging good behavior.
- Consider other factors when disciplining. A tired, teething, hungry, over-stimulated, or sick child may just need to be removed from the situation even if it isn't overtly dangerous, simply because he doesn't have the patience to figure out your rules.
- Discipline is just as much about good communication and healthy boundaries as it is about preventing harm to the child. You can't childproof a neighbor's or relative's house, but you can take your healthy boundaries and good communication with you (the clear rule "we do not pull things out of bookcases" is portable). Putting your preferences as a priority teaches your child to respect you as a person.
- It's fine to not feel that something is worth making a fuss over, but consider whether your child might be doing that behavior in an attempt to elicit some guidance out of you. Your child may be more comfortable when even small things have boundaries that he can learn.
I have had great success with these methods; I wish you luck in figuring out what's best for your child!