Parent Question: How do I start disciplining my 18 month old? What age can I start `time-out'? I don't intent hitting my child as a form of disciplining but I don't really know where to start when it comes to non-physical ways of disciplining. I was hit as a child, so I don't have any form of reference when it comes to other forms of disciplining.

As a parent you need to have what I describe as ‘A Toolkit’ as disciplining your toddler involves using a number of different strategies.  There certainly is no need for the physical discipline of hitting as we are often reminded of in our society today. However, you, just like most other parents are then not given the second piece of the puzzle, which is the strategies you need as an alternative form of discipline.   Over my 18 years as a psychologist I have seen many different forms of discipline and by now I can confidently direct you to the few that you need and that really work so that you can have them in your toolkit.

Firstly you need to understand your child’s behaviour.  By that I mean understand why your toddler does what he does and why.  This is simple, but it is unlikely that you have come across the real information you need in your reading or chatting with friends.  The easiest way to find this information is to read a brilliant book called “The Parent Child Game” by Sue Jenner, she has recently published another “The Parent Baby Game” which I am currently reading and I am just as impressed with this book as her first.  It also answers the gap in information that exists as most discipline or parenting books start with looking at the behaviour of a 2 year old however, fail to recognize that your child learnt and developed from 0 - 2 years.  I always teach parents about behaviour over this time and how to direct it where you want to go.

I have always strongly believed in the simple fact that while your baby learns many physical skills from birth and certainly learns language and a lot about their world, they also inadvertently learn about you and how you want or prefer them to behave as well as social skills.

Next strategy – ignoring.  You need to sort the behaviours you would like to see disappear into two categories and the first is minor but annoying.  These become the behaviours you choose to ignore.  Please note I said ‘choose’!  This is a well-documented and researched strategy and actually works.  When you ignore these minor but annoying behaviours then they stop working for your toddler.  By this I mean they stop getting you involved and will quickly fade away.  For example, not keeping his shoes on, let it go, and do not mention it or instruct him more than once to put his shoes on.  (It’s not dangerous and doesn’t hurt anyone)

Next strategy is praise… at this point you need to look for the opposite of the behaviour you are trying to erase and praise the behaviour you want.  For example, keeping their shoes on.  Praise your toddler every time you see that he has kept his shoes on.  He will respond to this praise and repeat keeping his shoes on.

The second category is for more major behaviours and ones that involve hurting others, dangerous etc. and when a behaviour fits into this category you then need to choose a discipline strategy that would be appropriate.  Remember your toolkit – then choose one of these: time out, removing the danger, counting strategy or removing your child if you can’t remove the danger.

At this point I need to clearly let you know that when you use a time out strategy or a counting strategy there is one correct method that I prefer and I say this because when these strategies are used incorrectly they do not work, half work, or force or guilt children to behave rather than your child choosing the correct behaviour.  It is this choosing that you as a parent need to teach your child.

For a counting strategy the only one I recommend is the 1,2,3 Magic program, this can be found at where you can buy dvd’s or find psychologists to teach you who are trained in their strategies, which I am.  This will apply to your toddler when he is 2 years of age and be useful up until the age of 12 years.  The triple P program is also excellent although I am inclined to educate parents to use more planned ignoring than is promoted in this program.  Again certain psychologists can teach you this.

I’m sure this will get you on your way to gathering the ‘tools’ strategies you need in your toolkit, if you need any assistance I’m happy to help.  I would recommend that the time spent learning a handful of strategies is well and truly worth it and certainly makes your job and role of a parent easier and more enjoyable.



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