Toddlers spend a great deal of their time observing you, learning new things, trying to understand limits... pushing said limits.
It is out job to teach them the rules of living in society, to act kindly, to respect other people, to act safely, etc.
Multiple studies prove that spanking and negative discipline not only damage your child, and your relationship with him/her, but also don't teach your child to act with kindness and respect. Rather, you may end up with an aggressive child that hits other kids at school, does poorly at playdates, etc.
What the research says about spanking
Before getting into the Do's of your discipline plan, let's go over the major Don't: Spanking.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated their discipline recommendation, indicating that spanking is "Ineffective and Harmful to Children". More from their official bulletin:
"Parents who spank their children are more likely to use other unacceptable forms of corporal punishment.21 The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults.20 Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence22 when used with older children and adolescents."
What are Natural Consequences and Related Consequences?
Positive Discipline is a method of discipline developed by Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs in the 1920's and later on developed in more detail by many specialists (Most notably Dr. Jane Nelsen) and widely adopted all around the world.
Positive Discipline is one of the main methods we use with our very own Tantrum Fix solution and its effects have been proven to produce excellent results. (Read more about the evidence for positive discipline).
One of the main tools drawn from Positive Discipline is the concept of using Natural Consequences. Natural consequences teach children cause --> consequence, in the context of learning rules. For example if we say to our child: "Don't jump on that mud puddle!", a natural consequence for doing so is having your child having to walk home wet and covered in mud. That should ideally teach the lesson in a more effective way than telling them simply No.
But not in every situation we can use a natural consequence. For example, if your little ones are fighting aggressively, you wouldn't want them to keep carrying on to "teach them a lesson" and have them hurt each other. In those cases, we can use "Related Consequences", for example having to miss a playdate, losing screen time privileges, or putting her favorite toy away for a day or two.
Your Plan of Action:
- Set clear expectations and what the consequences are for not following them.
- When misbehavior occurs: Act quickly, and firmly. Avoid threatening your child without taking real actions: You'll only get frustrated and end up damaging your authority and your bond with your little ones.
- If the consequence for not sharing a toy was that said toy is being put away, do it right away, don't negotiate. Or if your kids have been fighting/getting aggressive, explain to them they lose their screen-time privileges, or whatever it is you are taking away from them (just make sure it is something they care about...)
- Whenever expectations are being met: Praise your child for good behavior. Some examples: "Great job washing your hands!", "Very good listening!", "Thank you for waiting so patiently for your dinner, I'm almost done!".
Disciplining the strong willed child
Some kids can be very strong willed and will test our patience. Even within a family, if you have multiple kids, you may notice one is quiet and rule compliant, while the other one is extroverted and rule-breaker.
Parenting a very strong willed toddler is really challenging, but as tempted as you may be, try to stay away from spanking.
Try your best to remain firm and loving. Set expectations, and praise even a very small improvement.
Offering limited choices can also help give them a bit of power. For example, at nighttime, you can have them choose between 2 PJ's, or they can choose up to 2-3 books to read.