Toddlers have earned themselves a pretty bad reputation for being impulsive, oppositional and temperamental. They are notorious for throwing impromptu tantrums in the grocery store, refusing to eat their meals, not sleeping the way we’d like them to and otherwise causing their parents endless frustration. I think toddlers have it pretty rough, though. They are generally misunderstood and have yet to master verbal communication. It can’t be easy to be a toddler in an adult world. You have someone constantly dictating what you can or cannot do, when and where you can do it and even telling you when to be hungry or tired. I’d be throwing tantrums, too!
One of the biggest conflicts between a toddler and her parents is her newly emerging sense of self. She has a desire to exert her will and that often conflicts with her parent’s wishes. Then out comes the most overused word in the parent-toddler relationship:
What’s a parent to do? It’s very easy to find yourself constantly correcting her:
“No! Don’t touch!”
“No! That’s not for you!”
“No! No stairs!”
The most important first step in reducing this conflict is to understand the goal of discipline. To discipline means to teach. When we tell the toddler “No,” and we stop her exploration, are we accomplishing that goal? In most cases, the answer is not likely. The reason? Toddlers learn through hands-on exploration, not verbal correction.
From a developmental standpoint, the toddler is hard-wired to explore. If you have a toddler, you’ve seen this in action. But this exploring is not just fun. Exploring, touching, tasting, climbing, and throwing are extraordinarily important steps for the toddler to learn about herself and her world. She must engage in these activities or she cannot learn.
When the toddler has the need to explore and we have the responsibility to keep her safe, there is an alternative to telling her “no” when she goes outside the boundaries. Create an environment that will set her up for success.
How to do this? Lock up every item that could harm her. Install baby gates to prevent her from going up or down stairs. Install latches on cabinets and drawers you don’t want her exploring. Babyproof your doorknobs. Cover your electrical outlets.
What does this accomplish? A safe, “no”-free zone. This doesn’t mean you will never say “no” to her. Of course she will need to learn how to communicate and every word should be included. But this will allow her to explore freely, as she needs and is instinctually driven to, without the constant frustration of adult interference.
Your toddler needs to explore her world. You need to know she is safe. There is plenty of time in her life to learn her limits. This is not the time. She will learn the word “no” gradually as she masters herself and her world. When you create an environment for her to safely explore, you not only allow her to develop naturally, you allow her to feel joy and success as she does. You may also find you can breathe a little easier when you don’t have to follow her around every minute of every day. And when you do need to say “no,” she might actually pay attention.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome!
- Tips for Effective Toddler Discipline (thelaboroflove.com)
- Positive Parenting: How to Stop Saying No to Children (diaryofamom.tjandpals.com)
- Learning through Play (languagemusicandmore.wordpress.com)
- Toddlers: Learning by Playing (kidshealth.org)
- Positive Parenting: Breeding Confidence (alexiskrystina.com)