Puck & Pearl: Exploring Childhood & Parenting

Puck & Pearl

Disciplining Our Toddlers: Why doesn’t my toddler listen when I say “NO!”?

IMG_1621Good Question.

When my child plays with the garbage, or handles the toilet, or insists he must open the door, or even hits another child, despite my saying NO NO NO over and over again, he still does it.  Why?

I went straight to one of my favorite (old) books, The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood
to see what Fraiberg has to say on the matter.  Here is a summary:

Between 18-36 months (before the toddler has more facility with language), the child understands the word NO, but has difficulty overcoming his impulses.  When he has a wish to do something, the motivation to do it is practically unstoppable.  When parents become infuriated that the child is still misbehaving  and they increase their attempts to control the child, the child then has another motivation to misbehave: “retaliation” (Fraiberg, p.149).

Fraiberg recommends at this early stage to use “blocking” or substitution” techniques- that means helping to redirect the child’s impulses to something that would be more acceptable to the parent.  The goal is to avoid a power struggle with your two year old!  If you get into a power struggle with your toddler, you will inspire him to defy you!

In the case of hitting, of course, the parent’s message to the child is: “Don’t Hit!”.  If the child had a command of language, the parent would encourage the child to talk about her feelings when she feels compelled to hit another child.  However, a younger child will not have words to express their feelings, and so a substitute object, such as a doll, might be required.  If the child does not have an acceptable outlet for his aggression, he might express his feelings through temper tantrums.

It’s important to continue to show approval for good behaviors and disapproval for bad ones, but while doing that , we also lower our expectations:  we do not expect that she will overcome her impulses, or have a conscience.

As a psychologist, I love re-reading Fraiberg’s work as it relates to my current dilemmas/questions in parenting.  I’m inspired to share some of my insights here.  In the next post, I will write more generally about the role of punishment in disciplining our children, again, from Fraiberg’s perspective.

Do you agree with what Fraiberg has to say about disciplining youngsters from 18-36 months.  What do you expect of your toddler, and how to you shape his or her behavior?

Fraiberg, S.  (1996). The Magic Years: Understand and handling the problems of early childhood.  New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

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