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.
Read: Siblings Fighting? 6 Simple Ways To Stop The Drama
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.
Read: Time In Vs. Time Out … and is Time Out Damaging Kids?
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.
Read: 4 Year Old Behavior Problems – What To Do
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.
Read: Boundaries & Limits – Sanity For Mothers
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.
Read: A Surprising Reason Your Kids Are Insecure
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.
Read: 32+ Consequences For Negative Behavior
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?
“I got 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.”
This is exactly where I am right now. When she was younger I was so good at only saying thing one time, if she did not respond in an appropriate way I would say an appropriate response and she would mimic it or she would continue acting inappropriately and there would be a consequence. But lately I have been feeling like she doesn’t need that extra step but her behaviour has suffered and on top of that I have gotten into this awful habit of repeating myself. I recognized this over Christmas break and have been trying to get back to where we were.
Rachel Norman says
Shannon, hugs friend because I was right there. I felt myself sliding little by little but didn’t really notice until the behaviors themselves were so obvious in a different setting – public!
I tend to research a lot but have slipped on this discipline aspect and am now regretting it. I was just hoping that we wouldn’t need anything severe until she was older….now realizing she is almost three and my ten month old is following her lead…sigh. We do discipline but haven’t figured out what is too much (is a three minute timeout actually helping?), what should we really be concerned about (would it kill anyone for her to go into the fridge by herself to grab grapes without asking) and how to discipline. We are Christian so we do know the importance of respect and honor to parents and discipline, I just don’t know where to start. Can you recommend any other blog articles or books that you like? I feel like I’m drowning when my daughter refuses to eat then my ten month old will scream at the top of his lungs when his sister looks at him the wrong way! Thank you in advance!
Rachel Norman says
Melinda, this is hard. First, you don’t have to discipline for something you don’t have a problem with. And, if you’ve done something for a while and don’t mind but then wake up one morning and do mind – you can always stop it. So, that said, I feel your pain. I think kids need discipline from a young age and even my 13-month-old needs to be told no and to wait or he gets super fussy, the sweet thing. I’d Google “consequences for 3 year olds” and start there. Then “early discipline for toddlers” and there too. Good luck!
My daughter is 4 and is giving me a run for my money. She gets up at 6 a.m. or earlier and if her demands aren’t met at that moment she throws an all out tantrum….I’m talking screaming, flinging herself on the floor, or throwing things. I don’t know what else to do. It seems she is whining all the time. I’ve read different books about pointing out the positive things she does but that’s becoming few and far between. I do have a 5 month old to take care of too. I’m hoping this is just a jealous phase but it’s gone on since the baby was born. I’ve tried timeout and that hasn’t worked. Spanking hasn’t either and then I regret doing that. I feel like I get angry to quick and have tried to take a breather but she keeps pushing my buttons and won’t stop until she gets what she wants. whew that felt good to get out. .. ha. My husband is out of town a lot of work too and I think that is effecting the way she acts. Help. I want my sweet girl back.
Rachel Norman says
Carrie, have you tried creating a few “set” consequences for certain behaviors? Like no TV, tablet, or take away a certain toy, etc. if she does certain things? Then, when she does them, take that consequence and do it for a day or two? Sometimes kids respond better to losing a privilege or something they care about and that speaks louder than our own words.
I actually have done that. That happened this week actually. I took away her kindle tablet. The thing is I don’t know if I’m being too hard on her. I give her one chance to not do whatever it is she is doing for example light hitting, especially when she is mad. if she does it again I take something away. it works for right then b/c she says she is sorry and is good the rest of the day but then the next time she gets it back it starts up again.
Rachel Norman says
Carrie, part of that is that children take a while to learn and they push the envelope! I’d at least try with taking away the kindle and keep at it for a month or so. Or another similar consequence. It’ll give your girl time to catch up and “believe” that you do mean it!
I have an almost 4 year old & it has been 18 years since I raised a toddler, he is out of control. He seems to listen to me & have more respect for me than he does for his father & I find myself constantly best stepping in. His father works night shift 3 day 4 day so he sleeping most of the time & when he’s not my son just wants his attention. We have spanked, timeouts, taken toys. He screams at the top of his lungs, talks back, hits, throws his toys. I am at a total loss, my other son didn’t act like this until he got older so I gave no experience with this behavior at all & I am 46 and find that I don’t have the patience to deal with his behavior. Honestly I just want to lick him in Hus room until he’s 18! Lol
Rachel Norman says
Annette, first I’d ask if you’ve seen any changes that could be causing him a bit of anxiety? Second, have you done specific consequences for things he really loves? Taking away the TV or tablet, etc. when he misbehaves?
Nice job!!You did a awesome job with the kids you have.
I like it.
What did you tell your children the consequence would be for whining or complaining about food they neither paid for nor cooked? I see myself using your method to create new rules with more confidence but struggle with appropriate consequences. Mother of three, 2,4,6.
Rachel Norman says
Yes, I’m with you girl I sometimes second guess my consequence. I’ve not landed on a perfect one but if the whining is very loud or disruptive I will remove them from the table. Then, when they are happier, they can come back. If it’s really bad and they are just refusing to eat they get dinner taken away and not replaced with anything.
I am so glad to finally read that someone has actually taken away dinner, PERIOD!!! I was raised “old school” by my dad, so that’s how I did. I have two daughters, 18 and 9. I was what they called a “hard parent”, I only gave one chance, I accepted no excuses, chores before rewards, if I cook it, you eat it or you go to bed hungry. I was a single mother working two jobs so I didn’t have the time or mindset for non-sense! There wasn’t too many people that agreed with my type of parenting minset, but no one ever minded taking her in public as she was very respectful, well behaved and a joy to be around!! This lasted until 6th grade…. at which point “outside people” started voicing their opinions of my “parenting ways” and that’s when my daughter started on the path to “today’s type of teen”. This is the biggest heartbreak of my life!! That’s why I MUST SAY, as a mom who loves her girls more than life itself, DONT WORRY IF YOU’RE BEING TOO HARD WITH YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS! With the world the way it is today, us parents HAVE TO BE HARDER THAN EVER BEFORE to make sure our babies grow to be the best of all they can be!!
I noticed my 9 yr old started showing signs of “attitude” on levels that are simply just not acceptable so I had to revert to my “old school” ways of parenting. She had a very hard time adjusting but eventually got there. It becomes easier as a mom to “change the rules” when you already know the outcome of any other way!! It’s never the same in every home or every family, just remember that it’s our job to show our babies how to become the best they can be as a person and to guide them in that direction and that direction only!!
Rachel Norman says
Love this and totally agree! I think we err on being too soft and kids, especially boys, pay for it.
Emily Highsmith says
I love reading your advice and suggestions….. From mom to mom, thank you!
Rachel Norman says
So happy to have you here :)
Hi Rachel. My daughter is 6.5 yes she is very aggressive don’t know what to do. Plz help me. She hit, push pinch her younger brother. Am worried about her. Plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz help.
Rachel Norman says
Tina, I’d google “Proverbs 31 strong willed child” it’s an excellent article
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I’m a mother of 5. Ages son16,(twin boys) 15, daughter 12 & daughter . My husband and I adopted the 16 & 12 2 years ago. The twins and 9 year old are from my previous marriage. I feel like my whole family is falling apart. The twins are in high school now and this year they’ve gotten into anything and everything it seems along with my 12 daughter is trying anything that they’ve done. I’ve got the twins and 9 year old only half of the time due to sharing custody with their dad. Have my 16 and 12 all the time it’s always a war and hearing the others don’t have to do what we do. I take phones grounded them and the list goes on. I do Know what to do to get all my children on the same page with the behavior that’s expected. Please advise me on any ideas to get them all to see Mama mean she business and enough of the trouble. Thanks for all your help!