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If your children’s behavior is out of control, these discipline strategies will help you to develop obedience in your toddlers and preschoolers.
Before someone says it for me… I’d like to paraphrase Beth Moore here.
“We aren’t in complete control of anything or anyone.”
Parents cannot make their children become anything. They are their own people with their own free will choices. And yet…
We are in control of the consequences, rewards, and discipline in our own home.
The other night I nearly died of self-inflicted shame. It was an unruly chain of events compounded by all 4 kids being up past bedtime, eating in an unfamiliar place, and in the midst of a lot of chatter.
My kids were whining and I was so embarrassed
We were at a wedding rehearsal dinner and, as we put the plates in front of our kids, they immediately began complaining/whining/reacting. Negatively and loudly.
Interestingly enough, it was a meal they normally love. There was too much parmesan. Not enough parmesan. Too many noodles. Not enough salad. I sat back – in a twilight zone moment – and wondered when the slip had begun.
I hadn’t become a short order cook.
We hadn’t changed our mealtime rules.
And yet, even accounting for their tiredness, their attitudes of ungratefulness simply did not and will not fly. Particularly when we were eating a very delicious dinner someone else prepared for us.
The slip had happened gradually, nearly without my noticing. But now that I noticed it, it was time to change.
I had to get my children’s behavior under control
I sat back and mulled the situation over for a few days. I am putting my new strategy into effect this week, but first I wanted to share with you how I got off track, in case it helps you.
- We gradually began responding to their complaints, whines, and mealtime meltdowns with too much empathy and not enough, “We don’t complain about meals others cook for us.”
- I began repeating myself over and over and over again. Instead of letting my “no” be a “no” I kept using every situation as a teaching opportunity even though they already knew the lesson. Essentially, I lectured instead of just dealing with the issue.
- We grew weary of requiring first-time obedience. Instead of making eye contact, asking for a “yes, mommy” and then having a consequence for disobedience, I waited around, hoped they’d comply, then did something about past the point for it to be effective.
Here’s how to get your toddlers and preschoolers behavior back under control
Admit you have a problem
This is often the hardest part, admitting we’ve let things go. But fear not, admitting things have gotten out of whack is freeing. You already know it deep down, so admitting there is a problem gives clarity.
Very quickly you see things without the rose colored glasses. In fact, I feel encouraged when this happens. I never was nor will ever be perfect, so I relish the opportunity to improve our home atmosphere. Particularly when I’m the reason it’s changed.
Pinpoint the problem behaviors
Be as specific as possible. Is it tantrums when you ask them to do something? Refusal to do chores? Yelling, spitting, hitting, or kicking? Be very clear so you can find a good strategy going forward.
If you just say, “My kids don’t listen” you won’t know exactly how to combat this.
For me, the clincher was more times than not my kids sat down at the counter, saw their food, then immediately launched into a tirade because it wasn’t what they wanted. Additionally, they’d started getting up and down multiple times during the meal for imaginary reasons.
Brainstorm plans of action
I need a plan so that I can create rules.
Clear rules so I can teach the kids the rules. I need the kids to know the rules so they will follow the rules. Kids respond to boundaries that are clear and fair.
Create appropriate “rules” for the problem behaviors
Choose a different word if you like, but create some new guidelines. This is important because you want to be able to communicate the changes to your children.
By having a clear set of boundaries for your kids, you will now feel more confident and in charge as you tackle these discipline issues. Also, children will likely comply far more simply because they know exactly what you want.
I’ve told my kids, “You cannot complain or whine about a meal you neither paid for nor cooked. Period.”
In a normal voice, they are allowed to kindly share their thoughts, but if it enters into whining, meltdown, or meanness… no. Saying, “I don’t really like pickles” is different than, “Take my plate away (shoves plate), I hate pickles.“
Have clear consequences they expect
This is key. After you share the new guidelines, also share what happens if they do or don’t follow through.
It’s also how you can stop nagging and lecturing. If they do A, B happens. If they do B, C happens. If you are able to hold these consequences tight they will do the hard work for you.
Be consistent and give it time
Kids are always learning and responding to our lead. If you’re consistent, fair, and kind you can expect change to happen fairly quickly.
It’s natural for things in the home to ebb and flow and go through phases. Some old rules become unnecessary and new ones necessary. That’s life. As with most things, consistency is key.
I highly recommend Kevin Leman’s book Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. It’s hilarious and surprisingly healing. A lot of mommy guilt slides away reading that book, and we can’t say that often can we?