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Two-year-olds are filled with wonder and curiosity. And they’re learning and growing at an incredible rate. So it’s no surprise that parenting and disciplining a 2-year-old presents some unique challenges.
Perhaps your toddler is using her newly developed motor skills to scale the furniture any chance she gets. Or maybe your 2-year-old has discovered screaming at the top of her lungs is an excellent way to get attention.
No matter what your 2-year-old is up to, there’s a good chance he’ll keep you on your toes. Here are some of the best ways to discipline a 2-year-old.
Find Healthy Energy Outlets
Two-year-olds are little bundles of energy. They don’t stop running, jumping, and playing until they’re about to drop. So it’s important to find healthy ways to help your child get out his wiggles.
Play on a playground, walk in the woods, or explore a children’s museum whenever you can. You’ll satisfy your child’s curiosity—at least temporarily—and help him find healthy ways to exert his energy.
Modify the Environment
Your 2-year-old is likely to act like a bull in a china closet if you surround him with precious family heirlooms and breakable items. And some kids just can’t resist testing their ability to climb stairs or touch those things you said not to touch.
Until your child gains better impulse control, modify the environment.
As he gets a little older and develops more skills, teach him to resist the urge to touch things that are off limits.
But until then, remove items from his reach, use gates to keep him away from the stairs, and install locks to keep him out of stuff he shouldn’t get into.
Keep Your Expectations Age-Appropriate
Expecting your 2-year-old to sit during a fancy dinner isn’t likely to work out well.
Most 2-year-olds have short attention spans and little patience. And that’s completely normal.
Expecting them to do more than they can handle won’t actually speed up their development. Instead, it’ll leave both you and your child frustrated.
So try to avoid situations where your child will have to be quiet or still for too long. And remember, that toddlers are likely to be cranky when they are hungry or tired. Planning ahead and picking your activities carefully can prevent a lot of problems.
Provide Physical Guidance
Toddlers explore with all their senses—especially the sense of touch. But their developing motor skills, combined with their impulsive nature, cause them to be clumsy. So it’s important to teach them how to touch things in a safe manner.
Saying, “Pet the dog gently,” from across the room isn’t likely to be helpful. Instead, you need to show your child what that means.
Place your hand over your child’s hand and gently pet the dog. Say, “Gentle touches,” as you do it. Then, whenever you catch your child being rough, repeat the lesson. Eventually, he’ll learn to use more gentle touches.
Similarly, teach your child to use a “one finger touch.” Then, when he’s tempted to grab everything on the shelves at the store, guide his hand and teach him to touch objects with “one finger.” He’ll be less likely to break things when he’s only touching them with one finger at a time.
Redirect Your Child’s Attention
Rather than telling your child that he can’t bang on your glass cabinets, hand him a cardboard box and tell him to bang away. Redirecting your child to the things he can do will help him get his energy out in a more positive way.
You can also use his short attention span to your advantage as well. When he insists on climbing on the furniture, turn on some music and tell him to dance. Hopefully, he’ll forget he really wanted to jump on the couch once he starts breaking out the dance moves.
Set Clear Limits
When your toddler insists on going near a hot stove or running in a parking, make it clear that she cannot do those things.
It’s important to say no and offer a short explanation of what behavior is unsafe. Get down to her level and say firmly, “No running,” or “Hot stove. No touch.”
Make sure she knows you’re serious about safety issues. While she may not appreciate it much now, as she grows older she’ll learn that your job is to set those limits that will keep her safe.
On the days when you’re tired, or during the times you’re feeling stressed out, it can be tempting to let your little one get away with things. But, allowing her to play with your tablet one day but telling her she’s not allowed to use electronics the next day will only confuse her.
Be as consistent as possible with your discipline. Your toddler will learn best when you set the same limits and follow through with the same discipline every day.
Structure Your Child’s Day
Two-year-olds need a predictable routine. So it’s important to structure her day the best you can.
Keep meals, snacks, naps, baths, and bedtime on a consistent schedule. When your toddler knows what to expect, and when to expect it, she’ll be better equipped to comply with your requests.
Praise Good Behavior
Most 2-year-olds crave positive attention. So each time you say, “You did it!” and clap your hands, she’s likely to repeat whatever behavior you just saw.
Give your child praise for good behavior. Say, “Good job putting your toy in the toy box!” and she’ll start to learn which behaviors you want to see more often.
Use Consequences Sparingly
Young toddlers have trouble linking their behavior to the consequence. You may need to take a toy away when his play becomes unsafe. Or, you might have to pick him up and carry him out of the grocery store if he’s disruptive.
But, punishments, like taking away a privilege for a long time or putting your child in his room, aren’t going to be effective teaching tools.
Time-out isn’t likely to be productive until your child is a little older—around 3. If you try to use time-out before your child is able to understand the concept, you’ll likely spend a lot of time trying to get him to stay in the time-out area or sit in the time-out chair. He may not understand why he’s being told to go time-out.
Ignore Attention-Seeking Behavior
Temper tantrums are common among 2-year-olds. Sometimes, ignoring is the best way to deal with meltdowns.
Most 2-year-olds lack the verbal skills to say, “I’m mad.” So often, they want to show you they’re angry by tossing themselves to the ground, screaming, and kicking.
Send a clear message that you won’t give in during a temper tantrum. It’s important for your child to learn that temper tantrums aren’t an effective way for him to get his needs met.
Address Aggressive Behavior
Hitting, biting, and hair pulling can be common during the toddler years. It’s important to teach your child that those behaviors are not OK.
Say, “No hitting. Hitting hurts.” And keep your message consistent.
If your child hurts someone else, pay attention to the victim. Say, “I’m sorry he hit you.” Offer to give a hug, Band-Aid, ice pack, or anything else to show that you are interested in helping someone who has been hurt.
As your child grows older, you’ll be able to involve him in helping you make amends. Offering to hug a child he’s injured might be a way for him to communicate he’s sorry.
As frustrating as it can be to tell your child not to throw things for the 100th time or to deal with ten meltdowns before lunch, do your best to stay calm. When you role model how to deal with your feelings in a healthy way, your child will learn to manage his emotions faster.
Take a deep breath, give yourself a time-out, or count to 10 when you need to. And make sure to carve out time to take care of yourself. Managing your stress in a healthy way will help you be the best parent you can be so you can discipline your 2-year-old effectively.