How Do You Discipline a 2-Year-Old?
Here in the year 2020, it’s all about positive parenting. You can find all the latest positive parenting techniques in entire blogs that are dedicated just to this purpose. Their e-books and lots of other parenting tools to help you learn positive parenting techniques. But isn’t it a little more difficult when you have a two-year-old? They’re not quite old enough for some of these parenting techniques. Yet they are old enough to start getting into a little bit of mischief (if you want to even call it that at this age of exploration).
So, what do you do when your child is very young but you want to encourage the best behavior? What can they understand? Will they remember what you are trying to teach them? What if your friends, neighbors, family members, or others are pressuring you to smack their hands or pop their rear end? What if this does not sit well with you at all? There are so many questions and here at the Babienet blog, we thought you might have some of these questions too.
This article will discuss the various aspects of discipline when it comes to your two-year-old or younger child. We’ll discuss their cognitive abilities at this age, what types of behavioral issues you might be dealing with at this age, and some simple techniques that you can use. You may not be able to apply all of the latest positive parenting trends when you have a 2-year-old, but you can certainly get started with a few simple methods. Here’s how to get started with discipline when your child is two years old or younger.
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Babies to 2-years-old present discipline challenges because:
- They have no concept of danger.
- They have little concept of time.
- You cannot reason with a child at this age.
- Children at this age are still learning language and communication skills.
- Babies learn by touching and tasting so they are doing what is natural to them.
Some behavioral issues you may find at this age are:
- Grabbing things that are not safe for them to grab
- Slapping at or bothering family pets or siblings
- Temper tantrums
- Refusing to eat or go to bed
- Being bossy or mean
- Having conflicts with their siblings
- Refusing to share
- Refusing to pick up toys
- Refusing to cooperate with clothes changing or putting on shoes
Avoidance & Prevention
The most important thing that you can do for your child who is this young is to baby proof your home and remove anything that could harm your baby. Your two-year-old is busy moving around your home in new ways and they have a greater propensity to getting their little fingers into things they shouldn’t be messing with. It is so much safer for your baby and easier for you if you simply remove things that could harm them.
Prevention is absolutely the best way to deal with two-year-old and baby behavior. At this age, you cannot simply reason with your child and convince them of why something is not a good idea. Nor can you ask them for their input and work toward a solution. You have to prevent them from the behavior or provide ongoing reinforcement and wait for them to learn by repetition.
You will want to be sure that cabinet doors your child is able to open do not contain things that could be potentially harmful to your child. You also want to make sure that they are not able to open the exterior doors to your home. Keeping them physically safe is your number one priority especially as they began to crawl and then walk around and become more mobile.
Some small children are prone to climbing, which poses concern as well. When it comes to these physical explorations, they are simply discovering the world around them and it’s up to you to be the reasonable barrier between them and potential danger. Observe your child enough to have an idea what kinds of things are simply irresistible to them. But also think ahead of them. Look around your home for anything that could be potentially dangerous.
It only takes a few seconds for a child at this age to get into a very dangerous situation.
When I was just two years old, I recall sitting on the floor in the kitchen while my mother talked on the phone with her mother. I can still remember that spiral cord making a little clicking sound as she walked around and it rubbed against the corner of the doorway. I was a very imaginative child and while most people do not have memories at this age, I have a very clear memory of what happened that day.
In my mind, my grandmother was very tiny and she was stuck in a hole in the wall. I knew that keys opened things and somehow I thought that I could unlock the door and let her out. Essentially what I did was stick an entire set of metal keys into the light socket on the wall in the kitchen.
This resulted in blowing my tiny body across the kitchen, setting the wall on fire, and electrocuting me. I had to be rushed to the emergency room where I was treated for shock and burns to my face and hands. I still, to this day, have dreams from time to time about looking at my hands and they’re all black and blue.
That horrific moment happened in just mere moments. At that age, one might say that I was being mischievous, but what looks like misbehavior is simply an exploration of the world to learn. In my tiny little mind, I was playing. Remember that your child is simply looking for things that are interesting and fun and new. It is up to you to keep them from finding things that could hurt them. Prevention is the number one thing that you can do to keep your child safe.
Distraction & Redirection
When your baby is just an infant, you don’t have to worry about discipline. It’s all about safety and nurturing. Then, as your baby begins to crawl around and respond more to your language you may find that they are testing you a bit. That may reach for something and you tell them “no” and they reach for it again, grinning or laughing. They are pushing your limits to see what is okay and what is not. To avoid a temper tantrum or causing a power conflict with your child, distraction and redirection is an excellent way to keep things moving in the right direction.
How does distraction and redirection work?
At this young age your child is biologically programmed to explore the world around them. Imagine how confusing that is for them when they are doing what is perfectly natural to their growth and development and are met with a resounding “NO!” They do not understand the concept of “no” in the same sense that older children or adults do. They are likely responding to the negative response rather than the actual word of “no.”
A better method for changing unwanted behavior is to distract and redirect their attention. You’re basically taking advantage of a short attention span at this age. When your child reaches for something that they should not be touching, intercept their attention by showing them something equally interesting that is okay for them to touch. Do this with the positive reinforcement of an excited tone in your voice, a smile, and by excitedly showing them a behavior you prefer.
Babies at this age are easily distractible and you can redirect their attention from one thing to another fairly easily. Quietly remove them from the situation if you need to, and get their attention focused on something that is more acceptable. If they are throwing a fit over a toy you can remove that toy from their line of vision to help get their mind off of the item causing their disruptive behavior.
If they are hitting, kicking, slapping or doing other physically aggressive activities, it is possible they need to express themselves physically. This is a good time to bring out some bubbles or a ball or some other physical activity where they can chase something around and redirect their physical energy into a more acceptable behavior. You can respond with “no” to the unacceptable behavior but then immediately redirect their attention to something more pleasing and shift your energy to positive excitement about the new activity.
Making a noise that suddenly catches their attention will also help to redirect. Sing a song or shake around a container with blocks inside of it to help snap their attention from the undesirable behavior to a new activity.
Interrupting negative behaviors and redirecting to positive behaviors is not something that will work indefinitely after the very first time you do it. It will work but they don’t necessarily learn to follow your direction if you simply do this once or twice. It is a method that you will need to practice on a regular basis.
You are using redirection to help encourage cooperation with your child. As your child cooperates with your direction, make sure to reward that behavior with a positive outcome.
It is also important here to note that in more dangerous circumstances such as a child running out into the street, parents often argue that a sudden spanking will reinforce the dangers of the situation. What those parents are not really considering is that oftentimes it is spanking that relieves the parent of the burst of worry and fear but transfers that worry and fear to the small child. A small child does not understand the difference between a busy street and a not busy street. What they do understand is how frightening it is when their parents are angry, shouting, spanking, or otherwise frightening them. A better method would be to redirect the child to an area that is safer and create barriers between the child and the unsafe zones.
Here is a great article on distracting and redirecting your child with some great input from child psychologists:
Your baby reads your facial reactions. They look for your emotional response to what they do. You can tell this because a baby will often reach for something and watch to see what you do about it. Sometimes when you respond with a resounding “no” it can become a fascinating response to them and they will repeat the behavior just to get you to do that again. But if you respond to a pleasing behavior with a happy response, a smile on your face, and an excited tone in your voice this can also be a pleasing response that they will seek.
What you have to do is make negative behaviors that you don’t want to see a negative outcome or a neutral/boring response on a consistent basis. And you want to make more pleasing behaviors that you want to see turn into something fun. Babies will consistently do things that give them pleasing outcomes.
Use your facial reactions and the tone of your voice to reinforce the good behaviors that you like to see. This is also something you have to do on a regular basis in order for your child to learn the correlation between good activities and good responses. Remember they are learning about the world by touching, seeing, feeling things with their fingers or their mouth, and moving their bodies around into new spaces. They may be climbing things to see what it feels like to be up high or to reach things that they can’t reach from the floor. While this is perfectly natural to them you may not want them climbing onto the kitchen counter. So, remove the ways that they are able to climb up there and put exciting things down low where they can get to them without climbing. If there are items on the counter that are a constant distraction to your little one, consider putting them away inside of the cabinet and do so when they are not watching you.
When a small child is throwing a temper tantrum, the best method is to ignore that negative behavior, as hard as that is to do. They throw a temper tantrum because it works. It gets your attention. It stops everything from going on around them so that they can get the immediate attention they need for how they are feeling at that moment. It is very important to remain calm. It is also very important not to reinforce the bad behavior with lavish attention. Try to redirect. Try to get them interested in something else. Or simply keep them safe while they are throwing a fit and offer them calm reassurance when they are done expressing that emotion. If you encourage your small child to do something more fun or to rest when they are feeling stressed you may be able to avoid many temper tantrums.
Disciplining a two-year-old or younger is less about discipline and more about controlling the environment your child is in so that they are safe. When disagreeable behaviors begin to present in your child, often relieving their boredom and finding them something interesting to do can be enough to discourage the unwanted behavior. You can reinforce behaviors that you want to see versus behaviors that you don’t want to see simply by the look on your face and the sound of your voice. Small children naturally want to please their parents and they want a joyous response to their activities. Use this natural tendency to help direct their behaviors and to help keep them feeling positive, encouraged, excited about activities, and enjoying themselves without being in danger and without harming others.
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Christina M Ward is a mom, grandmother, and writer of lots and lots of words. When she’s not busy obsessing over writing poetry and well-living articles, she is out in nature exploring or doing needlepoint crafts in front of Netflix. She loves books and reading, learning geeky things about nature, and helping other people live their best life.
How Do You Discipline a 2-Year-Old? is an article to help parents and caregivers to learn methods of discipline, redirection, and positive reinforcement for two-year-olds and younger.