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I'm in disagreement with my spouse on how to handle consequences for our usually well behaved 2.5yo toddler. I prefer telling him how to behave, e.g.

  • "Don't sit on your baby brother" (and pulling him away)
  • "Be careful with that toy or it might break"

If he doesn't listen and tries to sit on the baby again, I act, taking the baby away to look at a book saying "your brother is a bit too rough for us at the moment". Which usually results in the toddler sitting next to the baby and me and behaving nicely, as he also wants to look at the book.

Similar for the toy, if he continues to play rough, I would take the toy away, which causes some tears and he might get the toy back after promising to be careful.

My spouse first warns about the consequences and tells me to do the same, e.g. "The toy might break. Be careful or I'll have to take it away."

My question: Should consequences be announced as a warning or is it better to act directly?

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    To which does your son respond? Commented Aug 26, 2017 at 22:15
  • Hard to say to which he responds. He does respond to the consequences. But how to tell if he behaves because he wants to be nice or because he wants to avoid the announced consequences?
    – AnonDad
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 20:01

2 Answers 2

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You have to consider the age always. At 2 the ability to predict what will happen next is pretty limited. Repetition of behaviors, even ones with unpleasant outcomes is normal. That is a good thing believe it or not. Imagine if when your child tried to walk, then fell, got hurt and then quit trying because the outcome was crappy the first try. Keep that in mind when your child does something, has a bad outcome, then does it again and you wonder "why". It's a function of them sorting out if it's really not a good thing to do or if it's merely something they haven't yet mastered how to do it.

Back to lacking the ability to predict well, that is in line with warnings. Warning a child of what may happen, in any situation is really your choice. You may opt to warn your son walking on bumpy rocks is prone to tripping and tell him to "be careful", or you may be the sort hat prefers to let him take those risks and trust him to handle the fall and learn from it. Neither is really a "wrong" approach, it's just different and in parenting, some issues are okay for mom and dad to handle differently. This isn't a major divide on what your child is permitted to do (like perhaps if she let's him jump on furniture but you do not), this is a minor difference in approach to handling the same rules.

My spouse and I are even further apart in approaches than this often. I am more the sort to tell small kids what I want to see. Instead of asking them not to do something, I prefer to tell them what I do want them to do. My reasoning is that I get a better response. I think toddlers are terrible at figuring out what we want and constantly telling them what we do not want doesn't tell them what we prefer to see. So instead of asking them not to sit on the baby, I may ask them to sit on the floor next to baby and be gentle, and then go over and demonstrate what I mean. If they are being rough on a toy I may just remove it (without warning) and offer something else that is more suitable to the roughness they are seeming to want to display. If they start tossing wood blocks I may intercede and say that if we want to throw, we need to find soft things so we avoid breaking anything or hurting anyone. Then I tell them we need to hurry and pick up these blocks so we can get out the soft toys.

The other reason for my approach is that teaching is about showing children what we want. If they are learning ABCs and get it wrong, we don't tell them what is wrong thinking that will fix it (you missed K pal and ellamennopee is actually 5 letters you need to enunciate), and then ask them to say it right. We go over it with them and walk them through the order of letters again and accent that L, M, N, O, and P are separate. I see early behavior (when we mean typical situations) as the same. You walk them through what you want versus focusing on what they shouldn't be doing. There are literally a million things you do not want your 2 year old to do. You don't want them to hurt animals, be rough to babies, hit other little ones, spit on the table, throw food, on and on. I imagine that it is frustrating while exploring your world, your body, your constantly changing abilities, to be constantly told you are wrong, to stop, to do this or that. That is also a reason. I avoid as many negative interactions as I can because it seems to also reduce friction and stress the toddler is experiencing. I generally can get very good results (at least as good as any "no" will get you) while having less push back and upset from the child.

That alllll said. The TL:DR is that I think BOTH approaches sound fine and like you are both involved, engaged parents and if you intercede when unacceptable behaviors happen, the type you describe are going to wane with age (and then you have new issues/behaviors based on new situations with older ages that replace them, such is parenting).

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  • Thanks for pointing out to look for something desirable to do instead. I usually try, but it's not always simple. Often he has set his mind on which toy he wants to play with, and might not be very open to alternative suggestions.
    – AnonDad
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 20:40
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The important factor in this is the consequence. Your wife may voice the consequence with the warning while you may just voice the warning. As long as you both consistently have the same consequence for the action, it doesn't matter.

I would, however, recommend you voice the consequence with the warning when it's a new situation. If the situation has happened before, make your son responsible for understanding the consequences. If it hasn't happened before, let them know upfront of the consequence, this way there will be know surprises. In either situation, if a discipline is handed down, they will know what it will be because it was told beforehand, either previously because it happened before or because you just voiced it.

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