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Toddler Talk - Discipline with Pat Rees

Tuesday, 27 March 2007


Pat Rees is here to help us through the tough times when our little angels begin to behave like angels no more! 

Most parents will find that at some stage a little past their first birthday, their darling angels will begin to test their limits. They become aware of what is right and what is wrong, but they also know what they want and begin testing to see what the best way to get it is. This can mean throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the supermarket to guarantee they'll get that chocolate bar. It can also mean biting/ pushing another child to get their doll.

Today Pat Rees is here to talk about the art of disciplining your child. Discipline is a form of teaching, not a form of punishment. You need to teach your child the important lessons - sharing, patience, cooperation, caution. This takes time and the teacher needs to be consistent, patient and compassionate on delivery.
Pat will also take phone calls from three parents with different disciplining problems.

What do we mean by disciplining your child? It's a very negative word associated with punishing. Is this the case?
Toddlers get to an age where they may begin to misbehave intentionally (as they are testing your limits), and they can do things that are dangerous or disruptive. For this reason, you need to introduce discipline. It can be introduced positively through positive teaching, reaching, guiding, learning, self-discipline and setting guidelines.

Children misbehave for many reasons, and it is important to try and find the reason for your child's behavior problems. Most toddlers misbehave as they are testing their limits and trying to see what they can get away with. Among other reasons are jealousy, feeling that they aren't getting enough positive attention, being frustrated, and during times of stress. When a child misbehaves, he will usually get a lot of attention. Even though this attention is negative, it can sometimes reinforce the problem behaviors if this is the only type of attention that he is getting. This is why time out and extinction and many other discipline techniques work.

Let's look at a few examples of problems where toddlers need disciplining!

Temper Tantrums
Emma from Co. Dublin has a 2 year old daughter Rebecca who throws the most awful tantrums when she doesn't get her own way. If Emma is out, she gets so embarrassed that she has to leave the place. When they are at home, Emma will lift Rebecca into her playpen until she shows remorse, which can take a long time. She wants to know how to avoid these tantrums and what the best way to deal with them is.
Pat's advice
Tantrums are usually at the worse time for parents: when they are on the phone, at the supermarket, or busy with one thing or another. Think about it. The very circumstances that make a tantrum inconvenient for you are what set your toddler up for an outburst. Your child will rarely do it without an audience. You should walk away from them when they throw a tantrum, show them you are not interested. Always start as you mean to go on. If you feel that your toddler will hurt somebody (themselves or someone else) then restrain them. Hold them back and put them in a place where they can't hurt anyone. Then talk to them about why they are throwing the tantrum.

Sinead from Co. Wicklow has a 2 ½ year old daughter who is pushing children her own age and even older. She has tried ignoring it and taking her away from the situation but it doesn't seem to work. She has a 6 month old baby (Anna) as well so she is obviously concerned even more for this reason. Please help!
Pat's advice
Shocking as it may be to you (and onlookers), aggressive behavior is a normal part of your toddler's development. When a child is out of control like this they need to be disciplined. You need to respond immediately and be consistent. If your child is being aggressive, there is obviously a lack of security. You need to sit down and ask her why she is hitting others. You need to have tough love and definitely don't ignore the behaviour. Teach your child an alternative. Wait until your toddler has settled down then calmly and gently review what happened. Ask her if she can explain what triggered the outburst. Emphasize (briefly!) that it's perfectly natural to have angry feelings but it's not okay to show them by hitting, kicking, or biting. Encourage her to find a more effective way of responding - by "talking it out" ("Jessica, you're making me mad!") or asking an adult to help.

Make sure your child understands that she needs to say she's sorry after she lashes out at someone. Her apology may be insincere at first, but the lesson will sink in. Eventually she'll acquire the habit of apologizing when she's hurt someone.

Siblings Fighting
Marie Therese from Dublin has 2 children, one 37 months and the other 21 months.  Her daughter's abuse of her son has meant she has been forced to go to a behavioural psychiatrist.  She has been biting and scraping him on his face and back. Marie Therese has been advised to have another child as this will put the focus on the baby.  Is this true?  She has tried everything -but nothing seems to stop this behaviour. Can Pat help?
Pat's advice
Certainly having another baby is not going to solve this. It will just add more strain and stress and may possibly end up another victim for your daughter to abuse. You need to restrain your daughter. As soon as it happens, your daughter needs to be restrained and removed from the situation. Do not use sending a child to their room as punishment as their bedroom should be a place where they feel security and love. Maybe use a bold corner where you can send them to actually think about what they've done. Go and talk to your daughter. Make eye to eye contact with her and explain to her that when she was a baby you would never have allowed anybody to hurt her as she was so special and that the same needs to go for her little brother. He needs to be treasured just as she was.

Some Practical Tips for Practical Disciplining
. Try to avoid power struggles, offer simple choices as often as possible
. Make a game out of good behavior (have a race to put toys away, etc.)
. Plan ahead (if he always gets in trouble at the supermarket have a plan setup before you go)
. Learn to pay positive attention to your child by 'catching' them being good. Let them know when you are happy that they are being good or when they have accomplished a positive achievement.
. Always get on your child's level, make eye to eye contact and listen carefully as well as talking clearly and firmly.
. Do not demand more of them than their age can deliver.

For more information
PRACTICAL PARENTING - An Irish Survival Guide by Pat Rees is available in book stores nationwide priced at €13.00