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Why does my Toddler need Consequences?

We all notice the kids who are unruly, the ones who don’t listen to their parents, the ones who cause a scene. (Let’s be real, those are our kids sometimes too). But have you ever noticed the kids that are doing what their parents ask? Listening and obeying? They aren’t as obvious, but they do exist. Yes, some of them may be naturally compliant kids, but I would also bet that those parents have done a LOT of work behind the scenes.

Today I want to talk about consequences; how they help us raise better kids and enable us to be better parents.

The most common issue I see with toddlers who are, what we might refer to as “out of control”, is that they don’t face any consequences. While their desirable behavior may be rewarded, their unwanted behavior is met with either indifference or anger.

You may be thinking that receiving anger from parents is a form of consequence, but I would actually call it negative attention. And while it’s not positive, toddlers crave attention and will do anything for it – regardless of the form.

Now, I think we can all agree that our children should be free to experience the vast range of their own emotions, both positive and negative. Whether that is anger, sadness, frustration or any other emotion, it’s important that they are allowed to explore those feelings. They can also learn how to cope with them.

So even if they are angry, that doesn’t mean it’s ok to throw toys or hit their siblings. It’s our job as parents to teach our kids about the real-world consequences their actions can have.

The truth is, your toddler doesn’t want to be able to do whatever they want. Toddlers thrive within structure and boundaries. I can’t count the times I hear from parents that their toddler behaves like an angel at daycare, but really struggles at home. The structure that most daycares provide gives toddlers a sense of security. The rules are enforced and they don't push them. Complete freedom is too much for a toddler to handle. They end up feeling overwhelmed and unguided.

So there have to be rules, and when those rules are broken, there have to be consequences. Otherwise, they’re not rules, they’re suggestions.

You may be wondering, how do I start giving my kids consequences? Just like everything in parenting; clearly and consistently.

Now I’m speaking for myself here, because there are endless ways to parent (and you will need to find what works for your family), but one of my favorite strategies is still the tried and true time out. If the time out isn’t effective for your child, you will have to find something that is.

However you apply consequences for your child’s behavior, here are a few things to consider:

1. Start with a warning Even if your little one knows that what they’re doing isn’t allowed, I usually like to try to give one warning before implementing a consequence. Now there are exceptions to this. One would be if you begin to see the same behavior over and over. In this case I would skip the warning and move straight to the consequence. By this time, they understand that what they are doing is wrong.

2. Set up a designated area Have a space where your child will go for time out. It needs to be a place that is safe and that will contain them. For some children, a designated chair is enough. Other children may need to be in a room with the door shut. It should not be somewhere that is fun and exciting. The more dull the better! Remember, they need to dislike the consequence.

3. Set a timer I’ve had parents tell me, “I try to give him a time out, but he won’t stay in the chair.” This is one of the reasons I like time based consequences. I find the best approach is to set a timer and show your little one how long they will be in time out. Reset the timer every time they get up out of the chair, or leave the room. They might throw a fit or get up to leave the first several times they’re put in the chair (or room), but after a while, they will start to understand that their behavior is only prolonging the consequence.

4. Keep it boring

Sitting on Mommy’s lap while she rubs your back is not an effective time out. We need the consequence to be unpleasant for your child. The goal is to steer your child away from making the same decision in the future. Be sure the timeout is spent without attention or entertainment.

5. Consistency is key Have you ever heard, “A rule is only a rule… if it’s a rule”? If you explain the rules to your toddler but only enforce them some of the time, well they’re not really rules, are they? It’s confusing for a child when they don’t know if the rules apply in a specific situation, and they can end up feeling frustrated if they get punished for something that was clearly not an offense the night before. So set clear rules and enforce them 100% of the time.

If you are just beginning implementing consequences for your child, expect resistance. It will be hard up front, especially if they have existed for some time without consequences to their actions. But don’t give up! The more consistent you can be, the quicker they will learn.

I understand that none of us want to be the bad guy. We want to have a smooth, loving, warm and fuzzy relationship with our children. But, to be blunt, it’s part of our job. We have the privilege of teaching and training our children as they grow. You may even find that you have more warm and fuzzy moments down the road after some hard work up implementing consequences up front.

Looking for specific help and ideas for your child? Don't hesitate to reach out!

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