If you have a toddler or preschooler in your home, you likely have researched the topic of discipline and consequences before. Whether you are looking for age-appropriate techniques or ways to reign in a totally out of control child, it is generally agreed upon that children need boundaries and consequences to thrive at home and in the outside world. Consequences and boundaries help us raise better kids and enable us to be better parents. I’m a baby sleep consultant in Fort Collins, but I’m also a mom, so I get it.
As a pediatric sleep consultant, the most common issue I see with toddlers who are, what I would describe as, “out of control,” is that they never face any consequences or have any boundaries with their caretakers or parents. Their desirable behavior is easily rewarded but their unwanted behavior is met with either indifference or an angry reaction from mom or dad.
Although it may seem that showing anger to your child is a consequence, anger is actually giving attention to their behavior, even if it’s negative attention, and if your toddler is looking for attention, they’ll take it in whatever form they can get it. It’s best to react to negative behavior with black and white consequences.
As a parent to a toddler and your baby sleep consultant in Fort Collins, I would consider myself as progressive as the next parent. I believe that children should be free to experience emotions and work through them in their own way. Anger, sadness, frustration, and other big emotions shouldn’t be suppressed, and a child should never be belittled or told to “toughen up.” Children should explore those feelings and learn how to cope with them.
At the same time, allowing your child to process their anger does not take away the need for boundaries and consequences for undesirable behavior. It’s our job as parents to teach our kids about the real-world consequences their actions can have.
The truth is toddlers don’t want that level of autonomy. As a sleep consultant, every toddler or preschooler I have worked with has been happier living in a world with structure and boundaries and parents that enforce them, even though they initially may act out or push away. Although letting your child get away with negative behavior sounds easy on the surface, it’s not the kind thing to do for your child. The feeling that they have free reign, with no direction or expectations, ends with them feeling overwhelmed and alone.
There must be boundaries, and when those boundaries are broken, there has to be consequences. Otherwise, are we really laying down boundaries for our children or are they just suggestions?
How do you put consequences into effect?
Just like everything in parenting, consequences should be calmly, clearly and consistently carried out. I recognize that there are many functioning ways to discipline a child and parents should consider that each child has different needs. One child may respond well to something that another does not. One of my favorite strategies is still the good old warn and then consequence. Warning your child to stop or else X happens, points out that they are misbehaving and gives them an opportunity to correct their behavior on their own. “I see you standing on the couch with your popsicle. If you do not get down, I am taking your popsicle away.” Warning before consequence appeals to allowing the child to make their choice, whether right or wrong. That’s just life, right? We all have the free will to make the right choice.
When implementing this technique, consider these action steps:
- Warn Wisely
Always pick a consequence that fits the “crime” and be prepared to carry it out. For example, “if you don’t stop throwing sand, we are leaving the park.” If your child continues to throw sand, you instantly stand up, put them in the stroller, and go to the car. This is a black and white boundary, and you must be consistent. Threatening consequences, that you have no intention of implementing is sure to backfire.
- Repeat Simply
If your warning goes ignored, you will need to clearly and briefly state why your child is being disciplined. “We are leaving the park because you threw sand.” It’s important to connect the undesirable behavior to the consequence for your child. Simplicity is best so they can understand you.
- Consequence Quickly
Just as rewards need to be instant for toddlers, so does discipline. Your toddler’s memory is not complex enough to connect a consequence to a negative behavior that occurred 8 hours before. Make sure you are addressing the behavior right away, no matter where you are or how embarrassed you are. Letting undesirable behavior slide because it’s not convenient for you or you just want to meet the peace, is not going to pay off in the long run.
- Repeat Back
Once your child has calmed down, it’s important to connect the dots for them once again. If your toddler is old enough to communicate freely with you, ask them to repeat back what they did wrong and why they received a consequence. State “we left the park because you threw sand.” Then ask them to repeat back to you why you left the park. This exchange with your child will help them internalize what just happened.
- Forgive and Forget
Once you have processed your child’s behavior and the subsequent consequence, it’s time to move on. There should not be any lingering anger or resentment towards your child. Leave the lectures behind – your child has learned their boundaries today and the hope is tomorrow they will make a better choice.
Consequences Surrounding Sleep
As a parent to a toddler, you are likely familiar with all of the bedtime stalling tactics and middle of the night excuses. From excessive book requests to multiple trips to the potty, your toddler is likely a master at stalling at bedtime.
My best advice is to keep it simple and black and white. Your bedtime routine should be 4-5 steps long and last no longer than 30 minutes. If you child is making demands for extra steps, warn them that they are risking losing X in the routine (the common consequence at our house is no singing after the book).
Often children respond well to feeling like they are in control. Offer them choices in the bedtime routine – of these two books, which would you like to read? Don’t give endless choices but narrow down to a few and allow your child to have the final say.
Your child might benefit from a visual of the bedtime routine. Consider implementing a chart that is hung on their bedroom wall, that shows them exactly the steps to follow. If you’d like, you can even give them a sticker for each step they complete without a fuss.
Likely if your child is struggling with following their bedtime routine and acting out at night, they are also acting out during the day too. Establishing healthy boundaries with your child, that are age-appropriate and simple, is your sure way to restoring peace to bedtime.
As your baby sleep consultant in Fort Collins, I’m here to make your life more rested and help you find the balance you need to enjoy parenting.
If you’re looking for a toddler or baby sleep consultant in Fort Collins, I’m here for you. Please reach out with any questions or concerns. We’ll work together to get your kids sleeping so you have the energy to parent how you want to during the day. Reach out and set up a time to chat here.
And if you need a laugh, check out this article – Real Parents Reveal the Craziest Things Their Kids Have Ever Said or Done.