Many people think of discipline as just limits and consequences, and saying “no” to things the child wants. But a huge part of discipline is saying yes and telling the child what they can do.
We definitely want to set limits with our kids, and we absolutely need to say no sometimes (especially when safety is involved), but if you say no all the time, the word loses its power. If you feel like you spend your whole day saying no, think about ways to say yes. What can you encourage your child to do that will let him burn off energy, try out new skills, explore his world and connect with you?
Ask for the behavior you want to see
It’s important to know that toddlers don’t always understand the word “don’t” very well, so if you say “don’t bite”, they hear the verb in that sentence, and continue to bite.
Also, even if they understand what you don’t want them to do, they might not be able to figure out an alternative on their own for what they could do. So if you just say “don’t pour that on the floor” it doesn’t tell them what to do nearly as effectively as saying “keep the rice in the dish.”
So, when your child is holding something fragile, instead of saying “Don’t drop it!!” say “Hold it very carefully.” Instead of saying “Don’t throw that!” say “when you’re ready to set it down, let me know and I’ll take it from you.” Instead of “Don’t Run”, say “please walk” or “can you tiptoe very slowly?”
Use specific language to explain what you want and why
Instead of just “no”, try “careful”, “gentle”, “soft touch”, “slow feet.” “Hands up, that’s hot.”
“I want you to be safe in the playground. If you lie down on your belly and put your feet down first, that will help keep you safe.” or “I want you to stop banging on that, because it might break and we would have to throw it away. That would make us sad.”
Say what you are seeing and then say what you want to see
“I see you dumping all the toys out of the toy box. I want to see you get out only the things you want to play with. Can I help you find something special?” Or “I see you banging on grandma’s piano with your whole fist. I want to see you playing gently with just one finger.”
Give a bored child something to do
If you’re frustrated when he makes a mess while you’re cooking: give him his own drawer in the kitchen. Fill it with plastic dishes, cups that stack, and pots to bang. Let him play in a sink full of water, or with dried beans for pouring and scooping. Ask for his “help” with what you’re working on.
Create opportunities to say yes
Create spaces where it’s all about yes. Create a play area where everything is age appropriate, where it’s easy for them to keep things tidy…
Have times or activities each day where your child sets the agenda, and gets to play however she wants to, as loud (or quiet) as she wants to.
If not now, then when? If not here, then where?
If they can’t do it now, but it will be ok later, then instead of saying no, you can say “you can have a cookie later, after you eat lunch. first, we’re going to play some more.”
If this is not the time or place for something, tell her when it will be “it’s not OK to climb on the furniture here, but later today we can go to the playground and you can climb there.”
Remove predictable problems
If your child loves to throw, put away the hard plastic toys and metal cars for now. You’ll still work with them on not throwing things that weren’t designed to be thrown, but this lets you avoid injury.
If there’s one environment, or playmate, or circumstance that always brings out the worse in your child, can you avoid it? Or take it on only when your child (and you) are rested, fed, and healthy?
Set your child up to succeed
Schedule: When planning your errands for the day, or when choosing activities for your child, think about the natural rhythm of their day. When are they active and ready for engaging activity? When are they quiet but happy, and content to go along for the ride?
If you need your child to sit still later in the day, can you make sure they get plenty of physical activity early in the day? If your child is always wired up and excited at bedtime, can you adjust the activities to slow down as the end of day nears?
Make sure your child is well fed before taking her into any situation which will be challenging for her.
Predictable routines make everything more manageable. Think about areas where you have discipline challenges. How could you establish a new routine that reinforces the way you want them to behave?
What to say instead of no: www.regardingbaby.org/2011/11/05/what-to-say-instead-of-no-six-ways-to-gain-your-childs-co-operation/
13 ways to encourage good behavior: www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/discipline-behavior/13-ways-encourage-toddler-good-behavior
Here is a printable handout on Saying Yes – Telling Your Child What TO DO . Find more handouts on my Resources for Parent Educators page.