I first really started wondering about when and how to start the process of toddler discipline about four months ago when Vivi wouldn’t let me eat my food at a restaurant because she demanded that I hold her the entire meal. Some people suggested that I wasn’t raising my toddler right because I hadn’t already been in the habit of disciplining my toddler—to them I say, “Have you been around a toddler recently?”
Sorry, but anything more than a very stern no and putting a stop to the behavior seems like it’s too much for a twenty-month-old. As each month passed since the incident in the restaurant, it has become more and more clear that it’s time to start using something more than the simple no, but it’s tough to tell how much discipline is too much for someone that little.
Vivi is a toddler and it is clear that she is in the middle of trying to figure out how to regulate her emotions. The littlest of problems can turn into the biggest of disasters. For instance, the kid loves to play with rubber gloves. If she gets a pair from a doctor’s visit then we all know we’re in for a rough day because of the gloves. The kid gets very frustrated very quickly when she figures out she can’t fit the gloves perfectly on her hand without any help. The gloves soon gets spiked, followed by her throwing herself to the floor as she screams as loud as she can in frustration.
Tantrums like that are pretty common with toddlers and while we have to teach Vivi how to regulate her emotions, I don’t think timeouts are really appropriate. But there are times where it’s pretty clear the kid is purposely trying to push our buttons to see who controls the house and it’s in those instances where I’ve struggled doling out the discipline.
A couple months ago while Casey was out of town, Vivi was having a pretty bad day. She hadn’t taken a nap in a few weeks and she wasn’t sleeping much at night. A tired toddler makes for a very grumpy toddler. Vivi had a cup of crackers that she was snacking on. She took the cup of crackers, looked at me, and she began pouring them onto the floor. Vivi did it all on purpose just to see what my reaction would be. I asked Vivi to pick up the crackers, but she refused and that was the first timeout that kid ever received.
I walked Vivi up to her room and set her in her bed where she screamed for two minutes. (The bed isn’t a customary place for timeouts for our kids, but right now it’s the only thing that will corral Vivi in one place since she won’t sit still in a corner voluntarily.) Then I took her downstairs and asked her to pick up the crackers. Surprisingly, she picked up the crackers, but minutes later she purposefully poured them back onto the floor and refused to pick them up. Vivi received her second and third timeouts from that act.
By the time Vivi was done with her third timeout, I could tell the little girl couldn’t take anymore. It was too much for her and out of guilt, I avoided giving her any more timeouts for the next few months.
This last week Vivi did something else that warranted a timeout and I decided to give her one. I took her up to her room and she sat and screamed for two minutes. I took her out of her crib and her behavior completely changed. She recognized why she got the timeout and what the purpose of timeout was.
But even though the timeout worked on the last occasion, I still don’t know what to do if it takes two or three timeouts to get the message across. I don’t know how much is too much with her. I don’t want to break my toddler’s spirit.
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