Toddler Discipline

Friday, May 15, 2015

Congratulations-- you made it!  You survived the first year!  No more monthly pictures next to the teddy bear!  No more crying with each passing milestone!  You have a one year old and they are learning to walk and talk and eat and sleep all by themselves!  Sweet bliss...

But then this thing happens, just as you're convinced that you're best parent with the happiest kid on the planet.  Somebody sneaks in in the middle of the night, and replaces your happy baby with an alien creature who looks a lot like your sweet kid but this thing seems to be bipolar and maybe has schizophrenia.  They will give kisses and hugs and say, "Mama, care me!"  And then they will throw themselves on the floor because you put your socks on, flail every limb when getting into the car seat, or scream like they're being kidnapped when you try to leave the playground.

 {See this sweet picture?  This was last April, when Charlotte was 15 months old.  She screamed and cried almost the entire photo session, literally laying herself down in the gravel and flailing all extremities.  I just stared at my mom, like "Who is this kid?"  I had never seen her act this way, was totally unprepared for it, and had less than no idea what to do about it.}
This isn't meant to scare mamas of infants-- you enjoy every second of that coo'ing little baby and remain in blissful ignorance, just like I did.  This is to send reassurance and encouragement to mamas of little toddler changelings... You are not alone and you are not a failure, but you might need a seat belt and maybe some Valium.  Here are few pieces of advice, kernels of information I might pass along to new mamas entering this stage, while I myself am in the thick of it.

1. It's Just a Phase...Probably throwing...tantrums...bed time resistance.... Every kid tests out at least one of these charming behaviors-- you're not doing anything wrong, you just have a toddler!  But how you handle it will probably have an impact on how long that cute little phase sticks around.    Don't give them a free pass because they're little and wait for them to grow out of it-- address it head on to make sure it indeed stays a phase, not becomes a habit.  Kids don't always know right from wrong, but it's our job to teach them.  Let them get away with it, or slather them with attention for it, you can almost bet that behavior will stay on repeat.

Or, it might not be a certain behavior but kids go through phases where they just seem off...they're extra whiney, don't sleep well, and their fuse is an inch long.  Last summer, when Charlotte was 18 months, we had the worst June on record. I literally cried every morning because they previous day had been so hard and I'd wake up optimistic it would be a better day...and even by 8am, it wasn't.  I was relieved to get to go to work every day, embarrassed to leave her with the baby-sitter, and guilty for feeling that way at all.  Was she getting sick?  Is she cutting a tooth?  Is it because Tyler is gone?  Does she have a brain tumor???  I did my best to consistently love her and correct her and not lose my crap.  I also looked for every excuse under the sun to explain why she was a maniac.  And then one sweet kid came back.  I can no more explain it than I could map the stars.

{Good resource: The Wonder Weeks-- it goes through 20 months, I think, but most times Charlotte seemed off, I'd check the chart and sure enough, there would be some developmental milestone she was undergoing that I wasn't even aware of.  I didn't always understand their explanation-- I just needed some affirmation that my kid wasn't actually of the devil.}

2. Give them credit.
They're still your baby, but don't kid yourself if you don't think they know how to push your buttons, or know the difference between right and wrong.  Toddlers are capable of a lot...including putting their toys away...putting dirty clothes in a hamper...and looking straight in your face and throwing food immediately after you warned them not to.  Don't lower your expectations of them-- teach them what your expectations are.

It can be exhausting-- when Charlotte was younger, I literally had to sit on the floor with her and hand-over-hand pick up toys or messes with her.  It is perfectly acceptable for kids to unload tupperware drawers and toy chests...but it is also perfectly acceptable for them to learn to put them away.  Take the time to teach them, and they will eventually do it on their own.  Charlotte still unloads drawers, "drops" food, pitches fits... She also knows how to use a paper towel and sit in time out.  You might have to do it over and over {and over} again...but they'll eventually get it.  Stay strong mamas!

2. Get on the same page.
With your spouse, that is.  It's not fair for one parent to always have to be the bad cop, while the other one is all hugs and bedtime stories.  It's also not fair for a kid to get away with something with one parent, and then get sent to timeout by the other one the next day-- it's confusing in the long run and I believe that kids need consistency when they're learning and experiencing so many new things every day.  It's also common for one parent to spend more time with the kids than the other, and that parent is usually the one that will set the discipline tone.  Fill your spouse in on what you're doing so they're not totally in the dark.  Discuss and have a plan on how you're going to handle certain behaviors, instead of reacting individually.

Of course, there will be breaks in the system.  Tyler tends to be more lenient because he's home less and has more patience left in his tank at the end of the day.  He also doesn't want the few hours he has with her to be used on discipline.  I'm usually at my whits end by 6pm and I've already corrected her 555,600 times that day.  Sometimes I just need more patience, and sometimes Tyler just needs to be the bad cop.  It won't be perfect, but do your best to have a balanced, consistent approach...coming from both of you.

3. Stand your ground.
Dammit if toddlers aren't the most persistent little suckers on the planet.  They will  "Iwantmusicmommy, Iwantmusicmommy, Iwantmusicmommy, Iwantmusicmommy."  The overarching theme to shaping our kids is love and consistency-- try your darnedest to respond consistently to what your child is or isn't allowed to do, how they're expected to treat and speak to adults, and how they're expected to treat their peers {we're in the throws of sharing drama around here}.  Even when they do it 900 times in a row, which they will.  Don't give in, don't negotiate with terrorists.
Charlotte and my friend's son, Ben.

4. Take notes.
Learn from friends you trust.  Similarly to newborn advice, everyone will have a different approach to share, everyone has different expectations of their kid, and everyone kid has a different personality.  Take cues from friends who's parenting styles are similar to your own philosophy.  I have friends who I think are too hard on their kids and I have friends who I think are too easy {opinions I keep to myself}.  Seek out council and advice from friends who have survived these years and have kids that behave similarly to what you expect-- you'll probably be surprised to hear those seemingly-perfect kiddos were once terrible toddlers too.

Along the same lines, many of those baby books we thumbed through last year have produced follow-up editions for toddlerhood.  Be it BabyWise, Happiest Baby on the Block, or Secrets of the Baby Whisperer-- if there is a particular author or philosophy that really aligned with your parenting beliefs, chance are there is a toddler edition to consult.  Books don't have all the answers {and who has time to read them??}, but it's always nice to add a few tools to your arsenal when you're just not sure what to do.

{And at the end of the your instincts.}

5. Be a Model
It's cute when they pretend to talk on the phone or put on lipstick... You know what wasn't cute?  When in the middle of a crowded Target aisle, Charlotte yelled, "Come on, move people!"  Yikes...someone has spent a little too much time in the car with me, apparently.

Try to be aware of the tones in which you speak, the language you use, the way you react to your own child.  From what you say in traffic and how you speak to customer service on the phone, remember that little eyes are always watching.  It's hard for a kid to learn patience and gentleness when they're watching you lose your cool all day.

6. Extend Grace
To yourself and to your toddler-- you won't get it right all the time.  We overreact or we'll let something slide that usually isn't allowed.  We're not perfect and there are plenty of times I've been too tired or lazy or worn down to correct Charlotte one more time.  I've given in when she's demanded something instead of asked for it... My Mother's Day gift to myself was to let her watch movies in the car while we drove around town {a treat reserved for road trips} because I just couldn't deal with her whining any more.  We had a recent battle of bedtime prayers and after Tyler and I walked out of the room, I said, "We got that wrong..." I straight up yelled after she turned over a bag of pretzels in the middle of the floor after I'd asked her three times to put the bag down.  I'm not proud of my impatience and I know I need forgiveness for a thousand other things-- as a parent, wife, co-worker, sister....  Our kids aren't perfect either and our purpose as disciplinarians is not to build an army of little obedient robots.  We can't be on every single little thing all the time-- it's no way for us or them to live.  So choose your battles, decide what's important, and know that neither one of you are going to get it right all the time.

The toddler stage is so, so, fun... When you thought you couldn't love your kid any more, they start to talk to you...and kiss you...and hold your hand while you walk down the sidewalk.  There is so much joy in our day and they learn so much so fast-- I can barely keep up with it.  And then the hard stuff is hard.  And exhausting.  And it takes discipline and consistency and a lot of patience.  But the rewards are big and the hard work is worth it-- there is a lot at stake.  Nothing irks me more than older people complaining about the next generation as if they had no hand in it.  This is just the beginning of the hard work, and we have a big responsibility to raise up the next generation into loving, kind, polite, patient, generous, {the list goes on and on} adults...

Let's do this, mamas.

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