Four discipline techniques that work for toddlers and preschoolers

As young children develop independence, they can easily grow frustrated because they don’t always know how to communicate their feelings or how to think and act rationally. (Photo: SilviaJansen, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

When put to the test, it’s not quite as easy as you’d think to dole out effective discipline  — especially when dealing with a strong-willed child.

As young children develop independence and learn more about themselves and their environment, they can easily grow frustrated because they don’t always know how to communicate their feelings or how to think and act rationally. 

As a parent, it’s crucial to recognize these limitations and to set rules to protect your child and people they encounter. It’s important to ensure a child is not engaging in aggressive, inappropriate or dangerous behavior. These rules — including a parent’s or caregiver’s follow-up actions — allow your child to learn and develop a better understanding of what is (as well as what is not) appropriate behavior.

Here are a few key ways to correct negative behaviors that will help get your child on the right path for the future:

1. Use positive reinforcement

Whenever possible, look to deliver specific and positive praise when a child engages in good behavior, or if you catch them in an act of kindness.

A child is more apt to recreate good behavior after being praised by parents and caregivers, called positive reinforcement. (Photo: CreativaImages, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Always focus on the positive things he or she is doing, so that they are more apt to recreate those behaviors.

2. Be simple and direct

Give your child constructive feedback instead of simply telling them what not to do or where they went wrong. Give reasons and explanations for rules, as best as you can for their age group. For example, demonstrate the correct motions and tell your young child, “We’re gentle when we pet the cat like this,” versus “Don’t pull Fluffy’s tail!”

3. Skip time out

Encourage to have alone time when they may feel out of control. Sending a child to a “feel-good” area and emphasizing that they are there to have some alone time rather than as punishment removes the child from a situation that’s causing them distress, provides much-needed comfort and allows for the problem-solving process to start on its own.

Parents can try removing their child from a situation that’s causing them distress instead of punishing them. That provides comfort and allows for the problem-solving process to start on its own. (Photo: Koldunov, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

4. Use “No” sparingly

When a word is repeated over and over, it begins to lose meaning. There are better ways to discipline your child than saying “no.” Think about replaying the message in a different way to increase the chances of the child taking note. For example, rather than shouting “No, stop that!” when your toddler is flinging food at dinnertime, it’s more productive to use encouraging words that prompt better behavior, such as, “Food is for eating. What are we supposed to do when we’re sitting at the dinner table?”

The above methods help create teachable moments by providing opportunities for development, while making sure the child feels safe and cared for. It is important to mirror these discipline techniques at home, and communicate often with your child care providers so that you’re always on the same page. After all, we are all working toward the same goal of raising a positive, confident child.

Richard Peterson is the Vice President of Education at Kiddie Academy. He has more than 20 years of experience in early childhood education. Peterson holds a B.S. in Biology from the University of Maryland. He is also a father of four and a grandfather of two.

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