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A Parenting Village: Response to a Reader's Question About Toddler Discipline

One of the greatest surprises about parenthood has been the willingness of other parents to offer their help.

I cried on their shoulders when my newborn had colic. They sympathized when I was trying to decide if I should quit my job to be a stay-at-home-mom. When we all had the flu, they brought soup and industrial-sized packages of tissues.

They’ve been generous with their time and help, but the most valuable assistance my mama friends have given me is this: their stories. Their insight. Why they decided to do what, and when. Parenting books are wonderful, but sometimes you just need to get the opinion of your girlfriends when you’re not sure what to do.

It truly takes a village to raise a mom.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to offer a Babble reader my perspective on a parenting issue she’s dealing with. Here’s what she posted on our Facebook page:

“How do I go about discipline and my 1-year-old? I am at a loss because I don’t want to spank her but I need her to understand when mommy says no means no. I know that she isn’t fully comprehending me still but I would like to start early. I would like some suggestions on how to teach her with out hindering her being vocal about her needs.”

The question of how to get our parental message across is one every toddler parent asks at some point. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way as a mom (and like this mom, I don’t think spanking is an effective parenting strategy). I hope they’re helpful!

Communication vs. Discipline

Instead of referring to the issue as one of “discipline,” I’d suggest looking at it in terms of communication. We know that toddlers — particularly one-year-olds — have very limited verbal communication. We need to be sure that we’re speaking clearly and in terms they understand. Think about it: toddlers have no concept of why things are off limits, so just saying no can be confusing and frustrating!

Redirect

Redirecting is effective because it gives your child options. Is she throwing blocks? Then offer to take her outside to throw a ball instead. Is she not behaving gently with the family pet? Show her how to pet it softly. The key is staying positive!

Allow them to Experience Consequences

One of the most difficult things to do as a mother is to allow children to experience natural consequences. Instead of simply telling your child “No,” tell your child what might happen if she continues the behavior: “If you tear the page, your book will be broken. If you stop tearing we can still read it.” If she continues tearing and damages the book tell her that it makes you sad that she broke the book and take it away.

Setting limits for your child is not hindering her development. Children need boundaries and limits and help understanding cause and effect.

Be Consistent

It will be confusing for your toddler if you use different approaches on different days. Create routines your child will be able to anticipate, and reinforce previous learning experiences when your child encounters them the next time: “Remember when you spilled the water this morning? Let’s hold the cup like this this time.”

When it comes to toddler parenting, it isn’t about isolated behavior incidents. It’s about setting up a loving environment where your child will be safe, grow, and succeed. Toddlers want to please their parents, and at the same time they’re learning new things about the world every day. Give them the tools they need through preventing the need to say “no.” Remember that they learn best through play, so look for books on the subject (one of my favorites is No No Yes Yes by Leslie Patricelli).

There’s no doubt about it: parenting is tough stuff. But watching our toddlers learn and grow with every experience is a wonderful thing, and so is the village that’s created every time a woman becomes a mother.

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

More by Mary Lauren:

Back to School Baggie Binders: My Secret Weapon for Finally Becoming Organized

Toddler Packing 101

An Alphabet of Preschool Snack Ideas

Photo Credit: Isabella Blake Photography

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