As parents, our roles in our children’s lives include guide, cuddler, storyteller, and often enforcer. And when we start implementing consequences, our toddlers learn quickly about boundaries. Likewise, our toddlers learn from situations that reward their behavior. Even though the tears running down their cheeks after taking a toy away makes our heartache, consequences are an important tool in the parental toolbox.
I was at one of my son’s soccer games and overheard a parent talking about how they just had their sixth child. Sixth! I was amazed. Not only because they were out and about, but because I’ve repeatedly observed how well behaved their children are. Their son listens diligently to his coach and parents. I have witnessed that when his parents say, “it’s time to go”, the son immediately drops what he’s doing and heads out. I once complimented his mom on how well their son listens. Her response, “my husband and I definitely put the work in.”
That’s right, it took work. It was a result of her and her husband consistently enforcing the rule in the millions of situations where correction was needed.
Why Are Consequences Important?
The number one reason – they help us raise better kids and enable us to be better parents.
We’ve all witnessed the “out of control” child at the playground. The one who buds the line at the slide or pushes the other children down. One of the main reasons they act out is that they don’t regularly face consequences for their actions. Their desirable behavior is rewarded, but their unwanted behavior is met with indifference and even anger sometimes.
In case you’re wondering, parental anger is not a consequence. Anger is attention, even if it’s negative and a toddler that is looking for attention, they’ll take it in whatever form they can get it.
I firmly believe that toddlers should be free to experience their range of emotions, anger, sadness, frustration, happiness, excitement, etc. However, they should also be taught how to figure these emotions out, learn to cope with them, learn to manage them. That doesn’t mean throwing a toy that hits a sibling is an appropriate expression of anger. It’s our job as parents to teach our kids about the real-world consequences their actions can have.
And guess what? Toddlers actually want this structure. They are happier in a world with boundaries. Free reign is too much for a toddler to navigate. The feeling that they’re completely untethered leaves them with no direction or expectations, and they end up feeling overwhelmed and unguided.
How Do We Put Consequences into Effect?
Now that you’ve established rules that help your child navigate their world, when those rules are broken, you have to enforce the consequences. Otherwise, they’re not rules, they’re suggestions.
How do you enforce these consequences? Just like everything in parenting; clearly and consistently. For toddlers, the most effective consequence is the tried and true time-out – or a pause from their usual activity.
However you apply consequences for your child’s behavior, here are a few things to consider:
- Give a warning
A warning helps your child understand that their behavior is unacceptable and needs correction. There are obviously exceptions to the warning rule, but for the most part, a warning lets your child attempt to correct their behavior or earn a reprimand if they keep it up.
- Set up a designated area
Have a quiet corner, room, or stair, somewhere out of the way, but a safe place. Also, out of reach of their toys, somewhere boring.
- Set a timer
The easiest way to keep your toddler in that quiet area is to set a timer. Let your child hear you set the timer. And every time your toddler gets up, reset the timer. They’ll quickly learn that following the rules actually makes it shorter.
- Keep it boring
I know, I am repeating this one. A time-out doesn’t work if your child sits on mom’s lap for five minutes. Negative consequences need to be a bit unpleasant and without attention. We don’t want to reinforce undesirable behavior with a cuddle session or a treat just because it will ease the situation.
- Consistency is key
If you set a rule and don’t follow through, the behavior won’t be corrected. It may sound cliche, but I still love the saying, “A rule is only a rule… if it’s a rule.” If you’re not consistent, it adds confusion. Plus, they may end up getting frustrated that the same behavior the night before was allowed. So set clear rules and enforce them 100% of the time.
Parenting isn’t an easy job. And being “The Enforcer” is even tougher. We don’t want to be the bad guy. However, for the benefit of our children, we have to deliver consequences consistently.
Sound familiar? Consistency…
If you’ve started sleep training, you’ll understand the importance of consistency and being tough. On the positive side, you’ll notice that with your child sleeping better, their behavior and listening has improved. If you’re still struggling with sleep, please schedule your free, “let’s get acquainted call”. I’d love to chat with you about how to develop a plan to sleep more!