5. Keep It Short and Simple
If you're like most first-time mothers, you tend to reason with your child when she breaks rules, offering detailed explanations about what she did wrong and issuing detailed threats about the privileges she'll lose if she doesn't stop misbehaving. But as a discipline strategy, overtalking is as ineffective as becoming overly emotional, warns Dr. Coleman. While an 18-month-old lacks the cognitive ability to understand complex sentences, a 2- or 3-year-old with more developed language skills still lacks the attention span to absorb what you're saying. Instead, speak in short phrases, repeating them a few times and incorporating vocal inflections and facial expressions, Dr. Coleman advises. For example, if your 18-month-old swats your arm, say, "No, Jake! Don't hit Mommy! That hurts! No hitting. No hitting." A 2-year-old can comprehend a bit more: "Evan, no jumping on the sofa! No jumping. Jumping is dangerous -- you could fall. No jumping!" And a 3-year-old can process cause and effect, so state the consequences of the behavior: "Ashley, your teeth need to be brushed. You can brush them -- or I can brush them for you. You decide. The longer it takes, the less time we'll have to read Dr. Seuss."
6. Give a Time-Out
If repeated reprimands, redirection, and loss of privileges haven't cured your child of his offending behavior, consider putting him in time-out for a minute per year of age. "This is an excellent discipline tool for kids who are doing the big-time no-nos," Dr. Karp explains. Before imposing a time-out, put a serious look on your face and give a warning in a stern tone of voice ("I'm counting to three, and if you don't stop, you're going to time-out. One, two, THREE!"). If she doesn't listen, take her to the quiet and safe spot you've designated for time-outs, and set a timer. When it goes off, ask her to apologize and give her a big hug to convey that you're not angry. "Nathaniel hated going to time-out for hitting his sister with the plastic sword, but I was clear about the consequences and stuck with it," says Angela Lampros. "After a few weeks, he learned his lesson." Indeed, toddlers don't like to be separated from their parents and toys, so eventually the mere threat of a time-out should be enough to stop them in their tracks.
7. Stay Positive
No matter how frustrated you feel about your child's misbehavior, don't vent about it in front of him. "If people heard their boss at work say, 'I don't know what to do with my employees. They run the company, and I feel powerless to do anything about it,' they'd lose respect for him and run the place even more," says Pearson. "It's the same thing when children hear their parents speak about them in a hopeless or negative way. They won't have a good image of you as their boss, and they'll end up repeating the behavior."
Still, it's perfectly normal to feel exasperated from time to time. If you reach that point, turn to your spouse, your pediatrician, or a trusted friend for support and advice.