Toddler Discipline: Setting Limits

Suzanne Murray

toddler discipline
Flickr photo by StarMama
Kids push the limits. That's their job. Parents set the boundaries. That's ours.

"Limits are important and are built into the world we live in," says Donna Mikkelson, the founder and director of the Garden Road School in Crompound, New York. "We all have limits, grownups included. Parents need to help children know where the limits are."

Limits provide:

  • Safety
  • Sanity
  • Kindness
  • Decency

Here's what to do.

1. Set the limit, according to how old your child is:

  • 0  to  1 may not understand why you're telling them no, so tell them what's yes: "We don't eat dirt, but you can eat an apple."
  • 2  to 3 can handle a little reasoning: "Don't touch the fire, it's hot!" Kids love passion plays -- act  it  out.  
  • 4  to  5  can begin to understand the values behind the limits. Tell them why the limit is in place: "If you touch something hot it will be painful, and you don't want to feel pain." 

2. Set rules ahead of time. Decide the "yes" and the "no" before you begin an activity. For example, before going to the store say, "You can choose one thing." Plan ahead, and foresee issues if possible.

3. Repeat, often. Young children need constant reminders. You need to be their memory -- they're busy. Kids tune out certain tones of voice. Be creative and find different ways to communicate. Go close and whisper or bend down to their level.

4. Don't try to talk things out in the heat of the moment. Later, when everyone is calm again, you can reason and explain the consequences. when the child agrees and knows the consequences in advance it's not a punishment.

How to enforce limits without punishment or screaming? "It's human to be upset," says Mikkelson. "It's okay to tell your kids your feelings are hurt or you're angry or frustrated. If you yell, apologize afterwards."

How do you set limits with your toddler?

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