“If you don’t behave, I will call the police and they will come and catch you!”
“If you don’t come over here right now, you’ll have no more Daddy.”
Guilty of making such threats to your toddler, especially when you’re overwhelmed by his misbehaviour and lack of cooperation?
Remember that scare tactics are likely to have an immediate effect at first – when your little one initially hears these threats, he will probably stop what he’s doing, think and perhaps cooperate with you. But they will soon make his behaviour even worse.
• He’ll soon learn that those are empty threats that are never carried out. After all, do you think the police really are going to arrive at your house and warn your toddler to behave? And what will you say to him when his father does appear later that day?
• He’ll start to doubt any threats of punishment that you make. Making empty threats teaches him that, often, you don’t mean what you say when it comes to punishments. He’ll be willing to take a chance that you won’t actually follow through on your next threat.
• Such discipline through fear eventually wears off. Your use of rewards and punishments should be to encourage your growing child to learn how to control his own behaviour. Control through fear doesn’t encourage self-discipline.
• Punishments are most effective when they are immediate. So there is no point in threatening Junior with punishment that can’t be implemented straight away – he would have forgotten about his behaviour by the time the police really arrived anyway!
For all these reasons, avoid scare tactics that are so extreme that you know they cannot be carried out.
Here’s how you can work it out instead:
Set limits and stick to them
Decide what you expect of your toddler’s behaviour. Set the limits, explain that he mustn’t cross the line, and then stick to your decision.
Don’t give in to his tantrums, or else he will soon learn that losing his temper gets him exactly what he wants. In other words, be firm without making meaningless threats.
Use rewards rather than punishment
If you find that you’re reprimanding more than rewarding him in a typical week, it’s time you turn things around.
An excess of punishment creates a negative downward spiral that makes everyone miserable.
Use reasonable and fair rewards
Your reaction to his behaviour should be moderate and appropriate.
For example, a cuddle is usually an effective reward whereas a trip to the zoo may be too much. Rewards and punishment should follow the behaviour as soon as possible.
Emphasise his good behaviour
When he does what you ask without complaining, make a big fuss of him. Let him know how pleased you are with his behaviour.
This helps both you and him realise there are good moments, too – he isn’t naughty all the time.
Have realistic expectations
Don’t expect too much of your growing child – he still has a lot to learn about discipline and good behaviour.
Set yourself attainable goals instead of creating expectations that are totally unrealistic. Look for small progresses in his behaviour over time, rather than sudden improvements.
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