The Art of Correcting Toddlers

—Rules, Reasons, and Repercussions

When you correct a small child who wants to do something that would be dangerous, try not to overly frighten him. Show him the danger and explain what could happen, and if possible try to show him the correct or safe approach to take.

Keep in mind when correcting a child over some small matter (such as breaking something) that no matter how valuable the item was, it is important to not shake his confidence that ultimately he is more valuable and precious to you than the item. Children need to have this personal sense of security that no matter what, you love them and they are very special to you. Explain your hurt or upset to them as much as possible. “My mother gave this to me when I was little like you, and it is very special to me, and now I am very sad that you’ve broken it.”

Children need guidelines. A child’s scream, for example, should be reserved for emergencies—when there is danger or the child is seriously hurt. Toddlers should be corrected when they scream simply out of frustration, displeasure, or anger.

Parents don’t need to think too long or hard to come up with good reasons for the “no screaming” rule: Anyone within earshot needs to know that a scream signals a drop-everything-and-rush-to-help emergency, not a child’s temper tantrum. Children also need to learn to control themselves in order to live in harmony with their families and peers here and now, and with the rest of the world as they grow older.

The reasons for a rule are obvious to us as grown-ups, but children may not immediately understand or embrace such wisdom. So what is a parent to do when their child doesn’t obey rules that are set down with good reason? Here’s where consistent, loving, godly discipline comes in.

According to the Bible, it is the God-given duty of every parent to exercise firm but gentle and loving authority in the lives of their children—to establish boundaries and guidelines for behavior, and to administer correction or punishment when those boundaries are crossed.

Problems multiply and escalate quickly when there are no boundaries or discipline, so parents who lack a standard of discipline are only making it difficult for themselves and their children. Putting down specific guidelines makes it much easier for everyone.

Children can become very “selective” listeners, especially if what you tell them conflicts with what they themselves prefer to do! At times like this, they do not even seem to “hear” or “understand” or respond when you speak to them. Sometimes they truly are very engaged in what they are doing and seem not to hear or do not want to be disturbed just yet. Break into a child’s personal activity time with respect, but if there is something he needs to do, then it’s not good to let him simply ignore you.

At times you may wonder if something is wrong with your child’s ears. It is good to have them checked, but another way to estimate a child’s hearing and comprehension is to observe his behavior throughout the day as he acts and reacts in various other situations. This will give you a good scale to measure his known ability to respond if he wants to.—The next challenge is to get him to want to!

Children can develop bad listening habits very quickly if you allow them to not respond to what you say, and if you get into the habit of just saying things again and again rather than insisting they respond to you the first time. Capturing a child’s attention and getting him to respond to your request—usually for a change in his behavior—can be hard work. He has to learn that you mean what you say, that it is important to you and to him or you would not bother saying it. Help him to learn that you do expect him to respond and will act if he continues to ignore you after reasonable warning or time to comply.

Make it easy to be good

Parents are responsible to keep situations that warrant discipline to a minimum by making it as easy as possible for their children to keep the rules. For example, little children shouldn’t play with matches, but parents shouldn’t leave matches within a child’s reach.

Applying some common sense and “childproofing” your home will spare you and your children a lot of discipline. It will also keep your small child safer and you saner, as you won’t have to always be telling him not to touch this or that, or having to make too many rules.

“The best way to avoid accidents,” someone once said, “is to make it impossible for them to happen!” Of course, with very active little children it’s practically impossible to remove everything that could be harmful, but parents should do what they can, like keeping dangerous or breakable objects out of their children’s reach, and not leaving the children unattended in potentially dangerous situations.

In this and all other areas, once you’ve done your part, you can then teach and enforce basic rules. Enforcing certain rules is something you will need to do for the sake of your child’s training and your own peace of mind. There are varying opinions and in some places laws on what are good and acceptable methods for correcting children. How you enforce a rule with your children will need to be according to your personal situation and convictions.

“Time out”—having them sit down and away from their current activity for two to five minutes—is usually effective for little children, as is missing a snack or special activity. A correctional tap or swat or two on the hand or bottom can also help reinforce the importance of keeping the rules, especially if it concerns their safety, such as walking out into the street or touching the stove. With small children, whatever method you use usually needs to be put into effect right away so that they clearly understand that what is happening to them is a direct result of their misbehavior. Once your children understand the rules and the consequences for disobedience, they will be less inclined to disobey.

Five simple steps to follow when correcting a toddler

Small children like to do things with you. Try to help them work on a solution to the problem.

1. Stop their activity and explain the problem.
2. Suggest a solution.
3. Appeal to them for help.
4. Help them do what they can to correct the problem.
5. Praise and encourage them for doing well, and sum up the lesson they learned and how they will now be able to help others who might make that same mistake, as well as avoid making it again themselves in the future.

Serious situations

Small children are not able to determine how serious or life-threatening a situation may be. They do not see the danger of the oncoming car; they only see the ball as they run after it into the street. They do not see the danger of running with a sharp object in their hands or playing too near water, or leaning out a window many floors up, or sampling a bottle of pills, or drinking from a bottle under the sink, or poking things into the electric sockets. There will be times when your child’s instant obedience can save him from serious injury or even death.

Sometimes you can give your children quite a bit of independence, letting them move along at their own pace, working things out in their own time and in their own way, but at other times they have to learn to work together closely with you, to stay close and obey.

Children often need help tuning into the seriousness of a situation, especially if they have been used to letting you handle all the business details of life. When you as a family are faced with a very serious situation, it is good to stop for a moment if you can, explain to your children what is happening, pray with them, and assign different responsibilities. Tell them clearly what you expect from them, and if necessary what might be the consequences if they do not follow your instructions closely.

With older children you could perhaps develop a family code word or phrase when something serious is happening that concerns them. If you have the opportunity you could say something like, “Okay, children. Please get quiet now and listen carefully. We are in a ‘team-time’ situation here. This is a time when we need to pray and obey and all work together and not get into play. What is happening is that …” Life has its serious times, and children need to learn how to tune into times of danger and work with you to get your “team” through safely. Even when there seems to not be much that children can physically do to help, they can always help by praying together and praying for you and those who are trying to handle the crisis.

Some areas need clear guidelines

Children develop respect for parents who take a firm stand on things that are important to them. Your children often use you to evaluate something, to see what is right and wrong. Small children will constantly test you by their words and actions to see what you will do. They want feedback. If you do not react, they assume what they are doing is okay. When they see a sudden change in the seriousness of your spirit, your face, your eyes, your voice—if your children have been brought up to respect and respond to you, to be sensitive to you, to be accustomed to looking to you for guidance, then they will be able to quickly realize when something is not good, or is dangerous and to be avoided.

When they do something that is wrong or dangerous, take the time to explain to them why it is wrong. For instance, never allow cruelty—cruelty to animals, cruelty to the baby, cruelty to others. Simply do not allow it.

When you love your children enough to correct them, it teaches them not only to be more sensitive and compassionate, but more emotionally stable and socially well adjusted. It helps them be able to get along better with others, because they are accustomed to being considerate of others and being mindful of the needs and desires of the people they live with.

Teaming up with your toddler

Working as a team together with an adult or older child in a serious way helps children mature quickly, as well as learn to appreciate the skills other people have and the contributions they can make. Whether the task at hand is building a sand castle at the beach or trying to get a kitten out of a tree, it is important to learn to work together. Learning to share, to be considerate, to set aside their own wants and ways for the sake of others is the stuff maturity and sound character are made of.

Teaming up with you to learn about life helps them grow in observation skills and to know that you love and trust them. From babyhood onwards you can help your children learn team skills, such as the following:

* To be helpful (“Please, hold this for Mommy while I brush your hair.”)
* To be more patient with others (“I will get you a glass of juice in a moment, but first I have to turn the stove off.”)
* To share their toys (“You have two cars. You could let Bobby play with one of them.”)
* To cooperate (“Roll the ball back and forth to each other.”)
* To consider how their actions are affecting others (“Grandma is sleeping right now, so we need to be very quiet so she gets a good rest. Let’s find something fun but very quiet to do.”)

Children need direction, correction, explanations and consistent reminders on how and when to show consideration to others. Learning to keep the noise level down when others are working, resting, or discussing things is a very challenging undertaking for some small children, but they can learn. Daily progress charts with stars or moving markers that indicate their progress and zero in on some particular act of consideration, such as saying please and thank you when they request something, can help them develop better habits.

On a lighter note...
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As at Junior’s new work on our walls!
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