. Discipline - Manitoba Parent Zone | Healthy Child Manitoba
1-877-945-4777

Toddlers and Preschoolers - Behaviour

Discipline

preschool boy drawing on wall

Discipline is one of the ways you teach your child to handle challenging situations and feelings so that she grows into a confident adult capable of treating herself and others with respect. Not what you were thinking? You aren't alone. Many parents believe discipline means punishing your child for bad behaviour, but discipline actually means training and guiding, and can be positive. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that parents do not use any physical punishment, including spanking, to correct a child's behaviour. Instead, setting clear limits and expectations that your child can understand is the first step. Providing consistent routines and unconditional love – even when she does something wrong – is key.

It is always better to praise your child when she has done something well than to yell at her or criticize her when she has done something wrong. Children in loving families generally want to please their parents so if he does something right and you praise him, he will feel good about the attention and will continue to follow the rules to get that positive response from you. Remember that how you talk to and act with your child will also influence her actions. If you can remember to say please and thank you to your child, she is more likely to say please and thank you when speaking to you. It's important to remember that our children learn from watching us and if we misbehave they might misbehave too!

Often parents don't like disciplining their children, but it is very important for parents to do their best to be as consistent as possible. Reasonable rules and limits help children to understand the world and keep them safe in a way that allows them to explore and learn. Toddlers can be taught simple rules like "be gentle" or "no hitting," but too many rules can create a lot of frustration for you and your child. As preschoolers are able to understand more than toddlers, the discipline approaches used with preschoolers may differ from those used with toddlers. With preschoolers you can tell them why you have rules: to keep us safe or to be nice to others for example. Whenever you can, try to phrase your rules in a positive way — say "do" more often than "don't" — because this positive approach will help your child follow the rules and will help you feel more positive too!

Remember that your child is learning about the world and her place in it. Many of the things she may struggle to do "correctly" are a part of her developmental stage. Struggling to do these things may cause her to feel angry, upset or frustrated. For example, learning to play with others and share toys as well as learning to feed or dress herself are very important tasks in these years. She will likely feel angry or frustrated when these things don't go smoothly for her. If your child is feeling frustrated because she can't zip her jacket, for example, you can label her feelings: "it can be frustrating when your jacket won't zip up," so she will learn it is okay to feel frustrated and she will also learn to manage her frustration. These moments are opportunities to teach your child – not moments to discipline.

If your toddler is playing with something that might harm him, you can gently but firmly tell him "not safe," then remove him from the area and distract him by giving him something else that is safe to play with so he can focus on the new toy or object. With your preschooler you can further explain why it is not safe and what might happen to him if he continues to play with it. Do your best to ensure your home is safe for your exploring child as this will reduce the number of times you say, "not safe" and will also reduce your worry or stress when your child is playing at home.

When speaking to your child, it is a good idea to get down on his level. Crouching down and looking your child in the eyes will help him stay focused on the conversation and will better ensure he hears what you are saying. It can be frightening or upsetting to have someone standing over you telling you that you've done something wrong. Because of their size, children can easily feel intimidated if their parents don't get down on their level during these moments.

If your toddler is biting, hitting or acting in a way that is inappropriate, tell him "no" and engage him in a different activity. The practice of distraction can help in many situations with your exploring toddler. Reminding yourself that your toddler's behaviour is normal – though inappropriate – and thinking of the situation from his point of view may also help you stay calm when dealing with difficult behaviours.

Discipline should teach children to change their behaviour; it is not meant to punish or make children feel ashamed or embarrassed. Children should feel safe and loved when they are disciplined. Yelling, teasing or name-calling will not encourage your child to follow the rules. It will only create negative feelings for you and your child.

Often the first step when your child is misbehaving is to firmly explain what the child is doing that is wrong and why it is wrong. (Firmly does not mean yelling.) If the child continues to misbehave, removing the item or leading the child away from the area for a few minutes might allow the child to calm down and focus on playing with something else. If your child is able to calm down, go back to the activity and show him how to play nicely. Praise him for using good behaviour.

Praising your child is an easy way to encourage following the rules and builds confidence and pride in your child. If talking, removing and distracting don't work, you may wish to try other strategies available at Manitoba's Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) website.

If you'd like to learn more about positive discipline and behaviour management techniques, visit Manitoba's Positive Parenting Program (Triple P), a website that has lots of good information for parents. You can also call the Triple P help line to ask questions, or join the Triple P program in your neighbourhood, by calling 204-945-4777 in Winnipeg or toll free 1-877-945-4777.