Does your toddler seem to want to break every rule you try to impose upon him? Does he go around the playgroup hitting and pushing? Does he try to break just about every safety rule in the book? Well, of course he does! This is what he is supposed to do at this age! (If your toddler doesn’t do these things, then consider yourself blessed!) Although such behavior is frustrating for parents, consider what a toddler’s mindset is. The whole world belongs to him. Everyone around him exists for his benefit. If someone is in his way, move over!
There is nothing wrong with a toddler feeling this way. It is a survival instinct, a way for young children to ensure they grow older. Young animals fight for food and territory, why shouldn’t young humans? While this behavior is expected for a young toddler, it certainly becomes less acceptable as he grows older. This is where the principle of setting limits comes into play. This is a principle of discipline that is important for parents to understand at this age. Setting limits refers to teaching your toddler what rules or boundaries you want him to respect. Such rules may include “do not run into the street alone” or “do not hit”. Understand that at this age baby is probably not yet ready to obey such rules, simply because his brain is not yet capable of understanding that there are consequences to breaking rules. Our grown-up minds can understand the three-step process of consequences: 1. Do not hit others, 2. If I hit others I will be punished, 3. Therefore I will not hit others. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, to our minds it does, but a young toddler is not capable of thinking this through to the third step. He can probably understand that you have told him “no hitting”, and that if he hits he will be punished, but his little mind simply is not capable of concluding, “therefore, I will stop hitting others because I do not want to be punished”. So if your child will not yet obey such rules or boundaries, why even bother? The answer is that you don’t want a three-year-old who won’t respect rules. By practicing this exhaustingly repetitive cycle of enforcing and punishing rules, you help your child to eventually learn the third step in this thought process. He may learn it in a few months, or it may take a year. But by enforcing these rules over and over again, you allow his little mind to practice this thought process until he is mature enough to respect and obey the rules. This leads us into one very important principle of discipline.
Choose your battles wisely
At this age, toddlers are incapable of following every rule about safety, social behavior, and family life. If you try to enforce every rule on an 18-month-old that you would on a three-year-old, then your whole day will be spent punishing your child. Your child won’t learn to follow rules; he will only learn that life is full of fights and punishments. We suggest that you choose which rules that you feel are the most important, and decide which rules or boundaries are minor ones that are not yet worth fighting over. For example, perhaps it is important for a toddler to learn not to let go of your hand and run into the street, or not to bang on the sliding glass door with a hard object. These are pretty important rules. However, if your toddler likes to bang on the wall with his plastic toy hammer, or wants to let go of your hand to run around in your safe driveway, these are things that might be slightly annoying to you or border on being unsafe, but are probably not worth fighting over. By giving your child the freedom to explore, try new things, make some noise, and get a little messy, you are simply allowing him to be a toddler. Let the little things go. Concentrate on the big things. You will be able to spend more time playing with your toddler than disciplining him.
This has become a popular form of discipline, and is a good alternative to spanking. Time out simply means removing your child from the location where the unwanted behavior occurred and making him stay somewhere else for a short time. One minute of time out per each year of age is appropriate. Places to put your child include the couch, the stairs, his bedroom, or a chair. The main point is to place him away from the situation. Most toddlers at this age won’t stay where you have placed them for the time out. Holding them on your lap for time out is a good alternative. This may not seem like a punishment, but if you pull her away from where she was playing and place her on your lap, she will probably protest. When you place your child in a time out, simply say “do not hit, that is an owie” or whatever the offense was.
Will giving an 18-month-old a time out change or decrease the unwanted behavior? Probably not! So why do it, you ask? For the reasons discussed above under “Setting Limits”. Eventually, your child will mature intellectually enough to start obeying the rules. Giving time outs at this age will help her get there.