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Friday, April 15, 2011

Disciplining Kids Under Two (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

            Disciplining children under two years old can be very challenging because they do not have adequate speech and language skills, inability to sit still, and have short attention span.  However, it is possible to do so.  It just requires different tactics rather than strategies like time out.  Here are some of the principles and strategies to use when disciplining a child under two years old.

1.      Lay a strong foundation.  It is best to have an action plan before a problem occurs.  If you are in a two-parent household, then team up with your partner and continually discuss how you will discipline your child and execute it accordingly. Your rewards will be much sweeter if you take this route.  Keep in mind that it will take some time to get to this sweet place and sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.  Nonetheless, with patience and consistency you will get there.  

2.      Investigate. When a negative behavior occurs, try to figure out what the function of that behavior is. Is it for hunger, sleep, attention, pain, avoidance, independence, etc?  After you have identified the trigger of the behavior then take appropriate action.  

3.      Redirecting.  One of the most effective strategies is redirecting the very young ones to something else that is appropriate to do.   The parent will often have to model the appropriate behavior.  For example, let’s say that your one year old insists that spaghetti goes on top of her head, instead of the bowl.  You then simply tell her that spaghetti is for eating and it belongs in the bowl.  You can help her put it back in the bowl. This has to be done repeatedly until the child understands.   

4.      Distraction. I use this strategy a lot with my two year old daughter, who has speech and language delays. For instance, she likes to resist when I try to put on her hearing aids. I put her in front of the computer and let her play with the keyboard while I quickly insert her hearing aids.  Keep in mind that you will have to change your distraction ever so often. You will know when the child gets bored with the distraction because they resort back to the negative behavior.  With my daughter, before the computer keyboard, a Chapstick would be enough to keep her busy. She would take the top off, put it back on until I got the aids in. She got bored of the Chapstick in about two weeks.   

5.      Ignoring. I would like to spend some time explaining this strategy because people do not take it seriously. This is because they do not understand how this actually works to stop negative behaviors.  I will refer back to Psychology 101, in particular, behaviorism which states that a behavior that is reinforced is a behavior that continues. Positive attention is a great reinforcer. If a child feels they are not getting the attention they desire, then they will settle for negative attention. In turn, the negative behavior is reinforced and continues. Therefore, ignoring is an effective strategy to stop a negative behavior.  By ignoring, you are not reinforcing a negative behavior and therefore ending it.

            To exemplify how this works let’s say your 1.5 year old throws a temper tantrum. If there’s no danger of harm, you ignore the tantrum. Yes, even if it happens in public places like the supermarket or the mall! I actually believe if you practice ignoring in a public place during an dramatic temper tantrum then your success in eliminating this behavior will be quicker. Why is this? Well, children are very smart and they like to test your limits, especially when you are most vulnerable. How much more vulnerable can you be than in a mall full of people watching your every move as you handle your out of control toddler?  This has happened to me personally. I just let my son go through his tantrum in middle of the food court. I calmly picked him up and let him continue the tantrum outside the mall. The tantrum stopped, and we went home. I can honestly recall this sort of tantrum happening one more time since then and I have to take ownership of that. I didn’t prepare my son before going to ToysRUS to buy his friend’s birthday gift. I should have explained beforehand that we were going to buy only the gift and that I would be the one making the decision on what we buy.  Well, I’m sure you can imagine how that scene unfolded.


  1. My twins had few temper tantrums, mostly because I ignored it and they never resulted in whatever had been wanted by the child. I cringe whenever I see a parent give into their child during this phase. I think much lower of that parent when they give in than I would have if they had just let their child have the tantrum and disturb the rest of us. (I always add in a silent "Sucker!" when they give in! lol)

  2. C: You raise a good point. Ignoring is a very difficult thing to do, especially in public. When I witness a parent practice appropriate ignoring in public, I silently say "Now that's a confident parent!"