Discipline is guidance…

Two year olds.  Wow.  This is a whole new world for me.

Independence, stubborn-ness, curiosity, defiance, approval, responsibility.

This is stuff two-year-olds are made of.  And as a parent, I am challenged to the core.

Yet, I embrace this challenge with gusto because as always, my little mermaid is teaching me how to swim more effectively in this big ocean called life.

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I don’t just accept that discipline should be done out of fear, with yelling and consequences and time-outs, and spankings.  While those are all personal choices of every parent, I choose to discipline in order to GUIDE my daughter, and I believe this can be achieved with love, understanding, and willingness to set aside my own agenda for what’s best for my child. So below I’ve outlined several strategies that seem to be working for JoZi and I as we turn this defiant time into a chance to understand the needs of each other more, develop trust in each other and our surroundings, teach and comprehend valuable life skills (for both of us), and do it all with love. Now, I’m not parenting expert, but I will say that these strategies are making the “terrible-twos” more aptly called the “terrific-twos” in my house.

  1.  Time-in’s instead of time-outs. The idea of separating my child from myself seemed more painful for me in the long run.  So I decided to teach with time-ins.  When Zi gets frustrated with a toy, or with a rule I’ve implemented, I gently pull her towards me and say, “Let’s have a time-in, and sit for a moment. Right now you are (sad, mad, frustrated),” and I name her feeling so that she learns what it is she is feeling, “and that’s okay.  When mommy was little like you, my toy made me mad too, but then my mommy hugged me and fixed my toy and I felt better, would you like me to do that?” Or perhaps, “I understand you are mad because you don’t want to go take a nap, so I think the best thing to do right now to make you feel better is to take a deep breath.  When Mommy takes a deep breath, it makes my head not feel so mad.  So we breathe in…..{inhaling} and then we breath out…{exhaling}…and again (and I do it with her again, and you can instantly see her calm down).  Now let’s say a prayer together to be strong, and kind, and loving. These “time-ins” really give me a chance to not only teach her the emotion she’s feeling, but do so in a way that bonds us rather than separates us.
  2. Time-outs are for mommy.  There are still going to be moments when the frustrations of raising a child are just too much on top of daily stress, lack of sleep, PMS, and just life.  This is when time-outs should really be set aside for mommy, not baby. In a moment where you feel you could literally pinch your child’s head off, stop, leave the child (if it’s a safe place like your living room to do so), go into your room and lie down and take some deep breaths, or say a silent prayer.  Pray for wisdom as to how to respond to your child, or simply lie there and let your silence dissolve the rage and fill you with the innate inner knowing of how to handle your child with calm-ness and love. It doesn’t have to take long, nor should you leave the child unattended for very long, but just the act of breathing or praying, or sitting quietly can give you “a better way.” Then return to your child, start with the words, “I love you…” and maybe even explain to your child why you left the room and how it helped you, so that this could perhaps be a tool for them to use as well…
  3. Stop yelling.  Using the approach of getting louder and louder and louder was the way my mother parented me, and I was sorely afraid of her.  I didn’t have the utmost respect for her like a child should.  I was deathly afraid of her and her tactics.  I don’t want my child to fear me, nor do I wish to parent as a fear-monger or a control freak.  So yelling isn’t a choice I want to make. For me, the best option when JoZi isn’t doing what I asked her to do, is to get down on her eye-level and look her in the eye and say,…..nothing. Just look at her. If she tries to flee, I simply grasp her hand and look into her eyes with full attention but not smiling. Pretty soon, she starts doing whatever it is I needed her to do.  Then I begin to thank her. Does it always work?  Not always, but mostly.  Sometimes, it’s simply a choice of repeating what I need her to do, over and over and over in a calm voice and offering her consequnces calmly if she doesn’t obey.  I also use the question, “Are you obeying? Are you showing kindness by obeying mommy?” She responds with “No.” and then promptly does what I have requested.
  4. Use less of the “if you do this, then you will get this…” I was guilty of doing this for a time, and I didn’t want to dangle the imaginary carrot in front of her all day.  Especially at meal times. It seemed like meal times were becoming a bargaining battle of “if you eat 3 more bites of this, you can have that over there…” With regards to meals, I didn’t want to force her to eat more food if she was full, in order to get a treat.  It’s hard to know when toddlers are truly full or if they just don’t want to eat that food anymore. So I chose to simply say, “Are you finished?” “Yes.” “Okay, then I will save your plate for dinner then, because that’s the next meal time.” With JoZi, I only do breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner.  No grazing in between meals. So now if she is hungry and it’s not meal time, I simply remind her that she should eat more of the food she is given at said meal time so that she isn’t hungry later.  Then at the next meal, I give her the same plate of food she didn’t eat before (kept chilled and reheated) to help her develop an appreciation for the food we are given, and develop taste buds for that food in the event she tends not to really like it.  Which brings me to my next tip…
  5. “Thank you” bites.  This strategy I’ve held strong to since she started solid foods.  We take 3 thank you bites of everything we are given.  “Thank you God for this food, Thank you Mommy for preparing it, and Thank you but I am all done.”  In this way, it teaches her to have appreciation for the food she is served, but also to develop her taste buds.  The average child who is served a certain food they do not like, will develop a taste for it after being served on average 13 times (sometimes sooner).  So by continually offering say a vegetable she isn’t fond of, eventually her taste buds will taste it and enjoy it.  By the way, the same is true for adults, for those of you who haven’t yet discovered the health benefits of sardines.
  6. Allow for learning. Of course we all want to teach our toddlers right from wrong, responsibility, and manners, and yes, they want to learn, but we have to allow space for that to happen.  This is more of a discipline for us as parents than for them.  Allow them to make a big mess sweeping up the floor with you just because they want to help.  Allow them to try to pour water from a glass even if they spill it in the process.  Allow them to get dirty when teaching them a new responsibility, or playing with them.  Allow them to swing the t-ball bat the way they want to swing it for awhile, even if it’s wrong.  Then take another opportunity to teach them the proper technique.  In essence, let them be them, and avoid always instructing, always correcting, or saying, “No, get out of the way, I’m cleaning.”  It may take longer to get things done, but you are giving them valuable attention and space to grow in the process.  Which is far more important than any clean floor.
  7. Ask them questions. “Are you making the right choice?” “Are you showing kindness right now?” “Are you obeying what I asked you to do?”  This allows JoZi to reason with he fact that she is perhaps not making the right choice, since in many respects she understands what I am asking of her. I find that this reminds her of making the right choice or showing kindness time and again.  When they do present kindness through an act or through using their manners, praise them repeatedly and let them know you love it when they make the right choice and show kindness. And remember: the right choice and love and kindness is best showed by you rather than talked about.

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Also, some very powerful tips towards a happier, healthier, more terrific-two-year-old include:

  • Proper nourishment. Too much sugar can cause for an anxious brain, and this will be evident in a toddler who can’t calm down, can’t stop moving, can’t sit still, has trouble sleeping, and tends to throw tantrum after tantrum.  Think about how you feel when you are all hyped up on caffeine.  Jittery, anxious, and unable to feel calm.  That is how a child feels when fed too much juice, processed sugar, fast food, or even too much fruit.
  • Earlier bedtime.  Toddlers have no business being up past 8pm in my professional opinion.  Their bodies are working so hard to grow and develop and heal from the stress of development and this requires large amounts of sleep.  Naptimes are crucial but early bedtimes are even more important.  The hours of power for healing in adults are from 9-2am, and so how much all the more so should it be said for a toddler?

If you would like further information on What to feed your baby from A to Z, which is my ebook that includes 26 foods that are best for brain development, sleep training, and digestive immune health, click here!

Just remember, not only is your toddler learning to grow, but so are you.  By understanding your child’s needs and allowing time, space, and love to help you form them, you are encouraging your own growth of becoming a strong role model for them for their future self.

“The best way to teach a child is live an exemplary life.” 
― Lailah Gifty AkitaThink Great: Be Great!

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