Toddler Discipline: (Some) Rules Were Made to Be Broken

Suzanne Murray

Photo by AshBayGrammy
If your toddler isn't obeying you 100 percent of the time, you're doing a great job, mom! And so is your kid.

A new study done by researchers at the University of California suggests that kids are most likely to break the rules they most need to break. "Growing up means more than learning which rules you must follow," says Kristin Hansen Lagattuta, Ph.D. "It means learning which rules you can legitimately break."

And what rules would those be, you ask?

For the most part, kids learn to follow moral rules (or at least know that they should be following them): "Don't bite your sister"; "Don't steal Johnny's toy." When kids break these rules, they feel bad.

Rules that tots tend to break -- and without remorse -- are rules that threaten their sense of self: "No, you can't wear Daddy's underwear on your head to the tot park today," or "Stop smushing your peas in your mashed potatoes." If you over-discipline a child in when it comes to this type of stuff, the researchers say it will limit his ability to express himself, and can make him feel like that part of his personality is somehow immoral or unworthy.

From now on, when my two-year-old (who already has a very strong, albeit weird, fashion sense) insists on wearing a completely mismatched skirt and shirt with her two-sizes-too-small flowery rain boots (on a warm, cloud-free spring day), topped off with a sock around her neck, I'm going to let her -- without so much as a grimace.

What rules do you think you could bend a little on to give your toddler some sense of personal control?

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