What!? You must be one of those super permissive, lazy parents. Was that your first thought when you read my title? Let me clarify.
Ok. First things first, I do sometimes on rare occasions tell my daughter, firmly, “no!”. I save this for times when she is engaging in behavior that could potentially be dangerous to herself or others. For everyday, toddler shenanigans, I redirect, redirect, redirect! Here’s why.
First, let me throw it out there, when I’m not “momming” I am working as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. I have been working with children for over a decade now (ouch, that hurt to write). I digress, when you ONLY tell your child “no” you are doing them and yourself a disservice. Yes, they may stop what they are doing in that moment. But, and this is a big but, they learn nothing about what they should be doing.
What do you mean, Christa? Let me give you an example. My daughter recently started a super fun phase where she loves to slap me right in the dang face. This happens most often when she is frustrated. I could scream, “no” at her (listen, sometimes I so badly want to just yell) and hope she gets the point. Instead, I calmly set her down (as to not give additional attention to a negative behavior!) and firmly say to her, “When you have calm hands I will hold you again.” Her first and second and third and one hundredth reaction to this was to throw herself to the floor and flail around. I try really hard not to roll my eyes visibly when she does this. Mom life is tough.
Just tonight though, we were seated together in a chair reading books. I don’t recall exactly what happened right before this. I believe I offered her something she did not want to eat and BAM smacked in the face. Toddlers, am I right? So again, I took her off my lap stood her on the floor and told her that I can only hold her if she has calm hands. She did not tantrum, but looked at me with a face of pure rejection, progress! When I saw she was calm, I immediately asked her if she was ready to have nice hands with me and wanted back up. “UH HUH!” she answered and back on my lap she went. This is one of the reasons my husband and I have recently taken to calling her the Sour Patch kid. First she’s sour, then she’s sweet.
Now, we will certainly have more behaviors like this in the future. She is only 20 months old and testing and learning boundaries. I certainly snap and lose my temper at times, I am human after all. But, consistency is key and this is a behavior I refuse to let get out of hand by not nipping it in the bud.
We use redirection with so many things in our house. Coloring on the walls, “You can color in this book or on this paper”. Pulling on the dogs ear, “Let me show you how to pet her nicely.” Trying to drive her “choo choo” on the TV screen, “That goes on the table”. The toddler stage is hard and they will test every single boundary that exists. I have found in my experience as a behavior analyst and my brief time as a parent that children, my daughter included, respond significantly better to redirection and explanation than to me just “scolding” all the time. Children want to learn.
What are some of the strategies you have found successful in teaching your children boundaries and how to respond with expected behavior?
“Every day, in a 100 small ways, our children ask, ‘Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?’ Their behavior often reflects our response.” ~ L.R. Knost