Like most preschoolers, my son could be a handful when he was 3 years old. But even when he was naughty, he was so adorable that I couldn't bring myself to discipline him properly. He'd act up, then he'd flash a mischievous grin that made me laugh and forgive him. My husband and I let him get away with much more than we should have. And many times, we gave in to Eric's demands because we were too tired to deal with the whining or crying that set in when we did say no. The result: Eric turned into a discipline nightmare.
So how did I put an end to the madness? By changing my discipline habits. For starters, I realized that I had to set rules, then stand firm no matter what. And if he didn't follow them, I had to enforce consequences. "If a child can make you change your mind just once, your 'rules' become something he can ignore," says developmental psychiatrist Denis Donovan, M.D., author of What Did I Just Say!?! Could you use a little backbone in the discipline department too? Try these strategies for dealing more effectively with common behavior problems.Hitting
- Why kids do it: Hitting is a normal phase in toddler development, and it usually begins at about 2 years old. But this does not mean you should ignore your child's aggressive acts. You need to teach toddlers that hitting is wrong and help them learn to control their impulses.
- Are you handling it wrong? You need to discipline hitting immediately. "When you say to a child, 'If you hit him again, we're leaving,' you're giving him permission to do it one more time before he gets in trouble," says Edward R. Christophersen, Ph.D., coauthor of Parenting That Works: Building Skills That Last a Lifetime. In your child's mind, saying this is the same as giving him the go-ahead—and that's not the message you want to send.
- How to stop the bad behavior for good: Never let your child get away with hitting. When he whacks another toddler—or you—immediately pull him away and say, "No hitting. Hitting hurts." Stating your rule and then explaining it will help him understand why he should follow it. Then remove him from the situation. If you're at the playground, leave immediately. If you're at home, put your preschooler in a two-minute time-out. And be sure that hitting doesn't pay off. If he hit a playmate while grabbing for a toy, be sure to take away the toy. He'll begin to realize that using words and gestures is more effective.
- Why kids do it: Because it works! Whining grates on parents' nerves, so they tend to give in rather easily, says Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., creator of the DVD 1-2-3 Magic: Managing Difficult Behavior in Children 2-12.
- Are you handling it wrong? Admit it—kids sometimes need to whine to get our attention. When your child asks for something in a normal tone of voice, you may ignore her or just say no because you're too busy or too tired to deal with whatever she wants at the moment. That irritating voice is supereffective—it gets you to turn around and focus on what she's saying.
- How to stop the bad behavior for good: Simply tell your child, "I don't listen to whiny voices. If you ask me in a nice voice, I'll help you get what you want." Then keep the promise. Really listen when your daughter asks for something. Don't say no automatically—think about whether there's a valid reason to refuse her request. If there is, explain why so that your child knows you mean it. While she may not be happy, she'll stop whining.