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Teaching Your Toddler Through Role Modeling


You’re waiting in the grocery store checkout line, and your little one is screaming like a siren because you said “no” to the candy he wants. What’s your response? If you’re like a lot of moms, you are tempted to give him the candy, just to end the embarrassing scene. You tell yourself, “Everyone in line must think I'm not a good mother.”

Stop right there! It’s time to learn the “teaching model” of child discipline.

parents giving their baby girl loving attention

Who’s In Control?

To begin with, instead of feeling that your child is bad (and therefore you’re a bad mother), ask yourself this question: Where does the responsibility for your child’s behavior rest? The answer? Squarely on the precious shoulders of your child, of course!

Your child controls his behavior, and you control how you react to his behavior. Keep this distinction in mind beginning in this early season of parenthood. Doing so will help you stick to a teaching model of child discipline, and not a punishment model.

How To Be a Teaching Parent

The way you talk to yourself about your child’s behavior controls how you react to what he does. When you tell yourself that the way he’s acting is “terrible and embarrassing,” your reaction to him will most likely be anger and frustration - and that may lead you to want to punish your child.

But when you tell yourself that your child’s inappropriate behavior is an opportunity for you to teach him how to behave better, you become a teaching parent. For example, if he is throwing a tantrum because you will not give him candy, you can model patience, or “frustration tolerance,” by saying, “I know you want the candy. I’d like to have some candy, too. When I can’t have what I want, I think about something I can have, like singing a song. Let’s sing our favorite song together!” Soon, you and your child are having fun instead of being upset. If his behavior report card includes biting another child, see it as a message that your child needs to learn what to do when he is mad so that doesn't need to hurt someone else.

The bottom line: You may not like what your child does, and it may indeed be inappropriate. But the message you send yourself - I can teach him another way to behave because he is responsible for his behavior, and I am responsible for how I react to that behavior - will help you be a teaching parent.

Your toddler’s behavior is just that - behavior. Who your child is and what your child does are two separate things. How he acts might change from “naughty” to “nice,” but he is always the same person - the person you love.

The Modeling Job of The Year

By reminding yourself of these positive messages, you'll help your child build the foundation for a loving, positive relationship with you and others. While he tests, explores and learns how to navigate his world, you - along with everyone else in his world - are responsible for helping him on his journey with kindness and caring. When you teach your child behaviors you value in a constructive way, you encourage him to react to your lessons with the same respect you are showing him.

Teaching appropriate behavior, such as not hitting the cat (“We stroke the cat nicely”), or the consequences for inappropriate behavior, such as not cleaning up toys (“When you’ve put the truck away, you may go outside to play”), helps your child learn what he needs to know in order to get along with others and take responsibility for his own behavior - your ultimate parenting goals.

This information is not a substitute for personal medical, psychiatric or psychological advice.

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