Why Toddlers Need Consequences
When you discipline with love you are giving them the greatest gift of all.
The main reason why people don’t discipline is that they think of it as harmful.
But I’m going to suggest that we look at this differently.
A toddler’s brain is often compared to a sponge; it soaks up experiences like a sponge soaks up water. But that analogy isn’t accurate. A toddler’s brain assimilates experiences more like adding water to flour to make a dough.
When a sponge soaks up water, you can ring it out, when you add water to flour to make a dough, the flour and water come together, creating something new. You can’t reverse the process.
In the same way, a toddler’s experiences become one with them as a person. Their experiences don’t just influence them, they become them.
A toddler internalizes the information they receive at this age.
What this means:
It means that the lessons you do or do not teach your child during this phase of life become a part of who they are. Their brains are programmed to absorb the information you provide. A toddler is always searching for input.
Think about the “terrible two’s,” when it feels like your toddler is testing you at every moment. During “the terrible two’s,” kids are collecting data regarding limits and boundaries — it’s nothing personal, and they’re definitely not trying to be terrible. They are trying to figure out how they fit into the world.
A toddler is learning everything from scratch. They have no frame of reference for anything. They are continually observing data, patterns, and feedback because those are the things they are hardwired to look for.
When your kid repeats a behavior, they are looking for your feedback and logging data, they can process into patterns. From those patterns, they draw conclusions that become the lessons they internalize.
As a parent, the more precise and consistent the feedback you provide, the faster they will internalize the lessons.
Most rules are about safety, that’s how it is in society. Laws keep us safe and prevent people from hurting each other. The rules in our houses are the same, they discourage unsafe and anti-social behavior.
Discipline reinforces rules that are in place for everyone’s good.
Discipline is the consequence that creates clarity for the outcome of the experience. It needs to be a logical conclusion to the behavior: the discipline needs to match the action.
Consequences need to be painful enough (emotionally speaking) to capture attention and act as a deterrent.
When parents are unable or unwilling to discipline, they rob the child of valuable information and deprive them of necessary data to make sense of how we live in the world.
Undisciplined children don’t get to feel unpleasant consequences, so they don’t have the incentive to master their impulses.
Children who live without discipline or inappropriately applied consequences have poor impulse control, more tantrums, poor social skills, and difficulty following instructions.
This is why consequences are necessary: self-control is learned and needs to be practiced to be internalized.
Unfortunately, unpleasantness is an excellent teacher, so trying to save your child from all discomfort is cheating them out of this crucial developmental imperative.
Children learn through association. When a child experiences an unfavorable outcome caused by an action, particularly when the pattern is consistent, they will connect the two. They will learn to subconsciously anticipate the consequence, and that will inform their choices.
The result? Better behavior.
Discipline doesn’t mean getting angry or violent, discipline means providing a logical consequence.
Discipline and anger are two different things. Discipline is not violence. Having consequences means you will spend less time actually getting angry at your kids because the behavior won’t escalate. If you continuously provide them with consistent outcomes and clear messages they can internalize, you are helping them make better choices.
When children make better choices, parents are happier and less stressed.
It’s an interesting paradox that the more strict you are, the less severe you need to be.
Everyone knows the old saying: rules were made to be broken. What that really means is that you need to know and live by the rules first to understand how to break them appropriately.
The fact is that children who live with strict, consistent, appropriately reinforced consequences require less discipline over time. They become self-disciplined and learn to live by the rules instead of having to be continuously reminded. With these children, you can break the rules occasionally, and it won't affect their behavior. You can go easy on them because they can self regulate.
Discipline is also a tool for keeping yourself under control.
I discipline rigorously in my home because I can’t afford to let myself get angry with any child. The safety of the children depends on me being cool and in control of myself and our circumstances always.
When you refuse to discipline, bad behavior escalates until you get angry and snap. When you snap, you have been pushed past your emotional limit. You are out of control.
I can never be out of control in my job.
Every day I’m surrounded by young, vulnerable children. They’re fast and reckless, I need to be on my game always. If I didn’t teach them how to be safe, it would be a chaotic free-for-all. I’ve seen daycares run like that, they’re unsafe and confusing for the children.
Many providers feel uncomfortable reinforcing consequences, but I view it as a sacred duty. People who don’t follow through with rules when caring for toddlers are begging for trouble much worse than a tantrum from time to time.
As the children internalize the rules, I can trust them more. I can relax a little and focus on meaningful interactions instead of just putting out fires.
I encourage you to teach your children the tough life lessons in small manageable bites that they can internalize.
Help them develop self-control and self-mastery. Practice discipline as a way to keep control over yourself before you get angry at your child. In this way, reinforcing consequences is far from mean and cruel, and well worth the effort.
The best news of all is that doing this hard work, in the beginning, makes everything much easier in the long run.
Thanks so much for reading!
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