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Toddlerhood is a stage where children are seeking independence. They push the boundaries we have in place. They become stubborn when not allowed to do as they please. They want to do things on their own, even if they aren’t yet physically able to do so (hello food all over the floor from the toddler trying to carry her plate to the sink after dinner!).
Disciplining a toddler is crucial. We have to help guide them to make good choices and to understand that poor choices have consequences. Being consistent is key, even though it’s not always easy.
Our third child is in the toddler stage right now and she’s my most stubborn toddler yet. I have always required our children to reply with a command I give by saying “yes ma’am” (this allows both myself and the child to know that they heard me and understood what I was asking of them as well as the discipline action that will take place if they choose not to obey). Even just getting the “yes ma’am” response from her can be a struggle!
I’ve thought a lot about this stubbornness and how to best discipline to her specific needs. It’s true what they say about all children being different…they are! Each of our children has responded to our parenting methods in different ways and we’ve had to tweak things along the way to cater to each of their unique personalities.
I have recently come up with what I call “The Two Choices Method of Discipline”. I completely invented this myself so feel free to make fun of the name 😉 I keep things basic around here. And the name is exactly what the method is!
Rather than present my toddler with a command and expect a “yes ma’am” response, I instead offer her two choices:
Choice 1 is to do whatever it is I’m commanding her to do.
Choice 2 is whatever discipline I deem appropriate for the situation.
Guess what she chooses every single time?
I am really loving this method and wish I had thought of it sooner with my other children! It achieves so many things:
1. It clearly lays out my expectations for the child in a way she can understand. It’s simple instruction. It is a clear statement, and not a question (how often do you hear people say “Darling, clean up your toys, ok?”). It does not leave room for misunderstanding or the option for saying “no” (a toddler’s favorite word, of course!)
For example I will say “Tess you have two choices. Choice 1 is to clean up your toys.”
2. It also clearly lays out the consequence of choosing not to obey my command. Again, it’s not in question form. It’s a statement. Basically it’s an “if/then” situation. If you don’t do such and such then this discipline method will happen. Toddlers need things explained in a simple way and this keeps it very, very simple.
With the example above I’d then say “Choice 2 is to sit in time out (or get a spanking or lose a privilege or have isolation or whatever you deem appropriate).”
3. It allows HER to make the choice. She knows that it’s HER decision if she gets the consequence or not. She knows that the ball is in her court. She can do whatever it is I’m instructing her to do, or she can opt to disobey and receive whatever discipline method I offered her. This is PERFECT for a toddler. Especially one who is more strong-willed and stubborn and independent.
It is also how I want to raise my children, I want them to CHOOSE right and to want to make good choices in their lives. Every day we’re faced with choices. Good decisions and poor decisions and there are always consequences involved. My goal as a parent is to steer my children towards the path of Christ and to train them to make choices on their own, without my influence being needed.
4. It allows me to think through the consequence in advance and holds me accountable. I’m able to take the second or two to decide what the appropriate consequence is for the situation prior to giving her instructions. It prevents me from giving a command and then not really knowing what I’m going to actually do if she doesn’t obey it.
It also ensures that I follow through with the consequence! No lazy parenting allowed here, I told her flat out what will happen with Choice 2 so I have to follow through. It’s easy (especially with that third kid) to get distracted or to just simply not have the energy to deal with discipline but by presenting the child with the consequence up front, it’s motivation to get off my butt and not slack off on what I said would happen!
5. It’s easy to stay consistent. It works everywhere we go. It works with any situation. It can be fit to any circumstance and any discipline action can be used with it. I’ve used it at Disney World. I’ve used it at church. I’ve used it in the car. (Example for the car: “Tess you have two choices. Choice 1: You can leave your shoes on Choice 2: You can throw your shoes and you won’t be allowed to play on the playground”).
It’s important to remember to be there in the moment for the follow through. The child chooses which option they will take and then they MUST do it IMMEDIATELY. It’s not “I will clean up my toys” and then sit there and wait for you to remind them. It’s instant.
For example. Tess will say she chooses “clean up toys.” I instantly praise her for this choice “Good choice Tess! That makes Mommy proud and God proud too!” As I’m praising her, she’s cleaning up her toys. Right away. No pausing. She may be crying, she may be upset that she is cleaning them up. But SHE chose to clean them up so I stand firm and stand back and continue to praise her for that good choice.
This really is a way to parent the heart. You’re praising the choice the child made! Using this method sets your child up for a positive verbal exchange with you. Rather than scolding them, you’re able to praise them in a moment where they would otherwise be receiving discipline. They chose a good choice! They are doing whatever you instructed them do to! Yay! They walk away from the situation feeling valued and proud and you walk away with whatever it is you needed to have accomplished finished in a quick, easy way. And, sure, maybe you feel proud too 😉
It’s a simple three sentence discipline method that I use multiple times a day! Even my older kids have picked up on it and will use it with her (Choice 2 is typically “I will tell Mom” ha!).
It’s valuable to have a variety of discipline options in our “parenting toolbox” and this has moved to the top of my personal list for my toddler. I am sure it would work from a pretty early age (she’s 2 1/2 and I just recently thought the whole thing up and it’s been amazing). I’m also sure it will continue to work as she gets older. I don’t need to use it with my older children as, at this point in the game, they are typically quick to obey and don’t need a “choice 2” 🙂
Give it a try with your toddler! I’d love feedback about how it works for others!
Emily is a busy mother of three who is waiting on her fourth baby through adoption. She shares everything from real life moments to parenting tips and Disney planning advice over at The Journey of Parenthood. You can also follow her on Facebook and on Instagram (where she’s basically obsessed with making Stories).
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