A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Parenting Young Kids? Put on Your Teacher Hat!

The job description for a parent should read something like this: “Wanted: One warm, caring, and endlessly patient teacher.”

After all, as parents we’re responsible for teaching our children how to behave so they’ll develop into respected, admired, and happy people who others enjoy being around. And all that teaching of toddlers? It sure takes patience!

To succeed at this job, you must set limits to discipline your child. While the word discipline can have negative connotations, it actually comes from the Latin word for teaching! Children thrive when they know what’s expected of them, and what the consequences are if they don’t behave. Clear boundaries make them feel safe and encourages behavior that make them – and you – feel proud.

Here are some ideas for teaching your young child to be well-behaved:

  • Never give in to a tantrum. For example, if your child throws a tantrum in the supermarket and you buy candy to appease them, they’ve just learned that next time they can pitch a fit to get more candy!
  • Tell your child what is expected of them. Try this: Before your next trip to the store, tell your child what you expect and what will happen if they don’t listen. Consider setting up a trip when you don’t really need to buy much. Explain you’ll be quick and you expect them not to fuss. Say you won’t be buying any candy, and if they make a fuss you’ll leave the store.
  • Follow through – don’t make empty threats. If they fuss for candy, immediately leave the store. Don’t warn your child again or talk about the candy. Leave your cart where it is and walk out with your child, even if they yell louder. In a grocery store, you’re surrounded by other parents and employees who’ll understand exactly what you’re going through! They’ve been there or seen this before! Explain to your child in simple words that they didn’t do what was expected this time, and you know they’ll do better next time. Then try again soon to give your child a second chance to succeed – and when they do, praise how well they did. For that matter, tell everyone else too!
  • Be consistent. Try to be consistent with your rules from day to day and between you and your partner.
  • Support each other’s decisions. If you disagree with how your partner is handling a question of discipline, don’t say this in front of your child – wait to talk about it in another room. For example, if your partner tells your child that it’s time for bed and you pipe up with, “Just let him finish playing this game,” it may seem harmless but it teaches your child to manipulate the other parent when they want something.
  • Don’t name call. Your child believes what you say about them. Instead of calling your child “a brat” if they throw a tantrum – tell them you don’t like how they’re acting. Calling names teaches your child to do the same when frustrated – then they may head to school and call their buddy names! Also, the reverse is true. If your child is behaving the way you want, avoid saying they’re a “good boy or girl.” Instead tell them what they did well.
  • Don’t get physical. Hitting or spanking teaches your child to use physical means to solve problems. It sends a message that violence is okay. If you’re feeling angry or stressed, take a break for some deep breaths or fresh air; you can tell your child you both need a time-out! Then talk about what they’ve done wrong and how they can do better next time.
  • Get into their head. If you can understand what your child is feeling, you can often understand why they’re misbehaving and help them avoid future problems. Maybe they’re fussing because they’re hungry, tired, or need your attention after a busy day.

Teaching a child to be well-behaved certainly isn’t easy! It’s a slow process that requires lots of patience – both with your child and yourself!

Resources for parents:

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