Discipline Strategies (2-4 years)

So your adorable compliant toddler has turned into a raging tyrant overnight.

Rest assured that the ‘terrible twos’ are a normal stage of your child’s development towards independence! With a little patience and discipline, you can guide your defiant preschooler towards more acceptable behaviour.

Why is my toddler behaving like this?
Shocking as it may seem, aggression is a normal part of your little one’s development. Limited language skills, impulsiveness and an intense focus on ‘me’ makes children of this age quick to lash out.

The most common misbehaviours are tantrums, being uncooperative, whining, defiance and aggression. Determine what the triggers are that are causing this behaviour. Is your child tired, bored, hungry or frustrated? Identifying the problem and stepping in early to avert it, is the ideal way to minimise the meltdowns.

Methods to avoid
Shouting and smacking may only teach your little one that verbal and physical aggression is the way to solve problems. Instead, showing them that you can control your temper, helps them to control theirs. Smacking has been linked to lower their self-esteem. Remember, you are setting the example. Rewards for good behaviour, distraction and redirection may be more effective discipline tools.

Don’t overreact to defiance. Respect is mutual, so always do your utmost to remain calm. Remember, they are testing your boundaries.

Some effective discipline tactics

  • Respond to the naughty behaviour immediately and remove them from the situation for a time-out. Allow them to connect their behaviour with the consequence and realise that if they hurt others, they miss out on the fun. After the time-out, teach a replacement behaviour by asking your little one “What will you do next time?”
  • When your little one has emotional outbursts due to frustration, stay calm and offer a helping hand, continuing to encourage them to do it themselves with your assistance.
  • On the other hand, don’t indulge a manipulative tantrum -“I’ll throw a fit until I get my way!” Simply make it clear that you can help them when they calm down and speak properly. A short time-out may be helpful. Your little one will gradually get the message that bad behaviour gets them nowhere.
  • An uncooperative child may need more opportunities to make some decisions. Let them choose what t-shirt they would like to wear from a selection you have laid out for them. Ask them if they’d prefer beans or peas with supper. Praise them for cooperating.
  • Whining for sweets in the supermarket is a common nightmare. If your little one is hungry, rather choose a healthy snack before queuing. Have a chart where every well-behaved trip to the shops gets them a star and eventually a reward.
  • The important non-negotiable rules, like holding your hand to cross the road, need to be enforced consistently. An appropriate discipline would be the removal of a treat or outing until they cooperate.

While you try to limit and discourage naughty behaviour, remember that disciplining your preschooler does not mean controlling them – it means teaching them to control themselves. Your long-term goal is to teach your little one more acceptable and effective ways of communicating their feelings.