Discipline - Children

12 Ways to Discipline Without Saying No

Many parents discipline their children by constantly telling them “NO”, and maybe you are one of those parents. Earlier, I wrote about how conceptually toddlers don’t really understand ‘no‘ and how it is a discouraging situation for both parent and child.

There are many other ways to guide your child in a positive manner and I thought I would share them with you to serve as a reminder or guide when you need to get ‘parent centered.’

To help a toddler develop autonomy and initiative (instead of guilt), try some of the following methods that invite cooperation:

  1. If you are screaming, yelling, or lecturing, stop. All of these methods are disrespectful and encourage doubt, shame, and guilt in the future.
  2. Instead of telling your child what to do, find ways to involve him/her in the decision so he/she gets a sense of personal power and autonomy. “What are we supposed to do next?” (For pre-verbal children say, “Next, we _____,” while kindly and firmly showing them instead of telling them.)
  3. Be respectful when you make requests. Don’t expect children to do something “right now” when you are interrupting something they are doing. Ask, “Will it work for you to do this in five minutes or in ten minutes?” Even if you don’t think a younger child understands completely what you are saying, you are training yourself to be respectful to the child by giving choices instead of commands. Another possibility is to give him/her some warning. “We need to leave in a minute. What is the last thing you want to do on the jungle gym?”
  4. Carry a small timer around with you. Let your child help you set it to one or two minutes. Then let him/her put the timer in his/her pocket so he/she can be ready to go when the timer goes off.
  5. Give him/her a choice that requires his/her help. “It will be time to go when I count to 20. Do you want to carry my purse to the car, or do you want to carry the keys and help me start the car?” “What is the first thing we should do when we get home, put the groceries away, or read a story?”
  6. Pre-verbal children might need plain ol’ supervision, distraction, and redirection. In other words, Stop talking and act! Quietly take your child by the hand and lead him/her to where he/she needs to go. Show him/her what he/she can do instead of what he/she can’t do.
  7. Use your sense of humor: here comes the tickle monster to get children who don’t listen.
  8. Be empathetic when your child cries (or has a temper tantrum) out of frustration with his/her lack of abilities. Empathy does not mean rescuing. It does mean understanding. Give your child a hug (or rub their back) and say, “You’re really upset right now. I know you want to stay, but it’s time to leave.” Then hold your child and let the child cry and have his/her feelings before you move on to the next activity.
  9. Children usually sense when you mean it and when you don’t. Don’t say anything unless you mean it and can say it respectfully. Then follow through with dignity and respect–and usually without words. Again, this means redirecting or “showing” them what they can do instead of punishing them for what they can’t do.
  10. Create routines for every event that happens over and over: morning, bedtime, dinner, shopping, etc. Then ask your child, “What do we need to do next on our routine chart?” For children who are younger, say, “Now it’s time for us to _____.”
  11. Understand that you may need to teach your child many things over and over before he/she is developmentally ready to understand. Be patient. Minimize your words and maximize your actions. Don’t take your child’s behavior personally and think your child is mad at you or bad or defiant. Remain the adult in the situation and do what needs to be done without guilt and shame.
  12. Understand that your attitude determines whether or not you will create a battle ground or a kind and firm atmosphere for your child to explore and develop within appropriate boundaries.

Your job at this age is to think of yourself as a coach and help your child succeed and learn how to do things. You’re also an observer, working on learning who your child is as a unique human being.

Never underestimate the ability of a young child, but on the other hand, watch carefully as you introduce new opportunities and activities and see what your child is interested in, what your child can do, and what your child needs help learning from you.