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When it comes to discipline in a young child, you must realize that infants younger than 6 months do not respond well to praise or punishment, so just be the comforter-in-chief before then. After about 6 months, you can expect her to respond to punishment and reward, but most psychologists agree that the positive should outweigh the negative at least 3 to 1. In other words, praise and reward the actions you like, and reserve negative responses to actions that may be dangerous.
Following the “goodness of fit” theory by Thomas and Chess: Shy children benefit from being encouraged by parents to explore, and will remain shy and inhibited if you are overprotective. Aggressive children benefit from more restrictive control and lower parental negativity. Children who have difficulties with self-regulation benefit from firm, consistent parental discipline.
Studies have shown that fearful children tend to develop an early conscience, and do best under parental warmth and gentle discipline that promotes internalizing the difference between right and wrong. More fearless children do their best under maternal responsiveness and secure attachment. In the long run, warm, supportive parenting appears to predict higher levels of effortful control of attention and impulses than cold, directive parenting.
Understand that toddler’s brains work much slower than yours. Even when he hears you, his brain works slowly, so it could take some time to register what you want, and then some more time to connect that with action (or stopping). Understand he is not being defiant, just doing the best he can with the tools he has.
Use consequences to discipline a young child directly connected to the action. Yelling and spanking can be confusing, as the child may learn, “Mommy doesn’t like me” instead of, “I shouldn’t run into the street.” Unfortunately, long explanations will probably not be understood. Use short, direct sentences like, “Don’t hit mommy. That hurts. Don’t hit. Don’t hit.” Short time-outs serve more as a redirect of attention than a punishment, but can be very effective.
Prevention is better than cure. When you see frustration building, distract and re-direct before it becomes a tantrum, because then it is too late. Praise positive behavior much more than you focus on negative behavior: Don’t be one of those parents who “No!” too much, and have children who grow up saying, “I can’t” rather than, “I can.”
Give a warning whenever you see trouble brewing, like, “I’m counting to three, and if you don’t stop, you’re going to time-out. One, two, THREE!” If he doesn’t listen, take him to the quiet and safe spot you’ve designated for time-outs, and set a timer for 30 seconds (which will seem like 30 minutes to him). When it goes off, ask him to apologize and give him a big hug to convey that you’re not angry and you still love him . . . and whenever possible, practice the behavior you want a few times.
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