Decide to Discipline: Toddlers

Toddlers learn to control before they learn to communicate. In actuality, tears and tantrums are a form of vocabulary. Think of it as the way your three year-old curses and it will be easier to know how to handle the situation.

You are out to dinner with your good friends. Their children, of course, are sitting politely at the table coloring the children’s menus the waitress provided. Your child has just thrown her crayon with major league precision and it currently sits in a wine glass at the next table. Using every ounce of parenting patience and skill you possess, you gently grab your toddler’s wrist before she is able to launch the menu. With a firm “no” you remove it from her grasp. Giving your friends a nervous and somewhat envious smile you turn your head away from your daughter. That is all the time necessary for her to send her Cheerios into your husband’s lap and scream.

Why is she behaving like this? She wants out of that booster seat and she knows how to make that happen. She is manipulating, communicating, and cursing because it works. She is now out of that chair and in your arms.

What is a parent to do? We can’t allow our child to upset the entire restaurant, cause a food fight, and embarrass us in front of our friends. Why is this happening? Is our child naughty? Self-centered? Emotional? Manipulative?

Absolutely! She is smart too. But you are wise and want to raise an intelligent, well-mannered daughter. She won’t believe what happens next.

Look at moments like this as toddler counseling sessions. Yes, it will take time and you might have to eat your dinner out of a Styrofoam box a few times—but this works!

Back to the restaurant. Your child is in your arms, thinking she has achieved her goal. Suddenly, you stand, apologize to your friends, offer to buy another glass of wine for the table next door and then you carry your princess to the car. Cinderella is stunned at her good fortune—she gets to go home or, even better, now has your undivided attention. She finds herself buckled into her car seat, and then begins to watch you eat your dinner (which someone has brought to you) in the car while listening to the radio. Confusion is painted across her face and she begins to whimper. As the whimper turns to a wail, you simply turn to her and say, “Shhhh, Mama can’t hear her songs.” Turn back around and keep eating. (By the way, if there is a next time, it’s Daddy’s turn.)

When the noise eventually subsides, tell her that you can’t allow her to bother other people. She can choose to scream and throw a tantrum, but such behavior must happen in the car, and without the benefit of food. Give her permission to choose, and then give her consequences she won’t want to choose the next time. She may test your resolve another time or two, but trust me, she will soon choose to eat instead. (Hint: You might want to skip or shrink the afternoon snack if you have reservations for dinner.)

A proven parenting theory! Allow your child to choose, then hand them the appropriate consequences. Eventually, they will learn that rewards are a lot more fun than discipline. These counseling sessions will cost you as well. You will miss a few meals with friends. You might have a headache or two from the noise. The good news—there is a great return on this investment in self-control, especially when the princess turns fourteen!