Your new frontier: Discipline!

It can be an uncomfortable transition — from “you are my most precious little baby and I will never deny you anything” to “OK, I think we need to go over some rules.” 

The change often starts with an incident and an impulsive response — perhaps an unexpected step into the street resulting in a resounding, “NO!” Or maybe a crayon to Grandma’s newly painted wall followed by a self-conscious “serious discussion” at eye level.

Suddenly, you’re there: behavior modification, boundaries and consequences. Your knee-jerk reactions may shock you. Your anger and frustration may temporarily break your sweet little Toddler Parent heart. 

I’ve found that what worked yesterday might not work today. In the process, I’ve learned that consistency is a good goal, but flexibility goes a long way, too. 

Of course, there are only about 5,000 books on the subject. You nervously skim a few — wondering about the strength of your backbone and the effectiveness of the good old “time out.” 

What’s more, discipline has become — in a very strange way — an issue of scrutiny and privacy. Some parents scoff at anything punitive. Others cringe at buzzwords like “positive parenting.” 

Everyone’s nosing around in one another’s business. Watch out: If your kid has a meltdown at a department store, someone might record it on a smartphone and put your “bad parent” moment online with comments about your right to procreate. 

And so, we all question what and how we teach our children, while in the midst of figuring out what works best for our families. 


Making your own rules

As with pregnancy, childbirth, infant feeding and sleep, there is no one method to success … thankfully! 

You might try different methods of redirection and discipline before finding something that works. Then, as your child inevitably grows and changes and learns, the plan evolves. 

Different responses may be appropriate for different situations. For example, most parents would agree that it’s absolutely appropriate to physically restrain a child when it’s an issue of safety. Stealing a cookie from the cookie jar? A quick talk. A child in the midst of a crazy tantrum, on the other hand, is unable to engage in calm discussion, let alone process the meaning.


Writing a discipline plan

Anne and Chris Ferguson of Eden Prairie created an official family discipline plan after the birth of their second son. 

Said Anne: “It was a very tough time in our parenting career, trying to wrangle a very active toddler and care for a newborn. I put down on paper what we wanted to practice in terms of discipline. It was a reminder about how we wanted to parent.” 

The Fergusons’ plan wasn’t a “how to” as much as a philosophy, including ideas such as “discipline is an ongoing process” and “we do our best to understand what is developmentally normal at each age and set realistic expectations.”

What I love about the Fergusons’ plan is that it provides perspective, which, in turn, gives the parents confidence in their ability to navigate toddlerhood and beyond. 

In my parenting experiences, I have literally tried it all. I’ve read the books. I’ve modified my approach to suit each individual child. I’ve found that what worked yesterday might not work today. In the process, I’ve learned that consistency is a good goal, but flexibility goes a long way, too. 


You can handle this

At one point during my daughter’s “Terrible Twos,” I received a piece of advice that served me above anything else. A friend and fellow parent told me, “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘Because I said so.’”

Because I said so, I suppose, became my toddler parenting philosophy. It doesn’t mean that you never provide an answer to the innocent question, “Why?” It means, “I am the parent and I can handle this.” 

In testing the boundaries, a toddler is really only seeking confirmation of this fact. 

Though it’s a controversial topic and a tricky transition, try to view discipline as you’ve viewed everything else — the sleep associations, the feeding phases — and do what works! Do what makes you, as a parent, feel good and strong and confident.