Toddler Discipline - The ABC of Understanding Toddler Behavior

Toddler discipline - sound a bit severe? Discipline actually refers to training so this page is about toddler training. Sounds much better doesn't it?

It's important as a parent to remember that it is a normal part of child development for a child from about 18 months of age to want to have his whole world at his feet. It is also normal that you, the parent, will want to teach your child that he belongs to a family and he has to fit in.

  • What are the principles of toddler behavior management?
  • Why isn't ignoring the behavior working?
  • What is the ABC of Understanding Behavior? 

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    What are the principles of behavior management?

    The principles of toddler discipline and child behavior management are:

    • give positive reinforcement for behaviors you want - praise even the small things, like "what a good boy for listening so well". Praise everything that is good, which by definition is everything that isn't bad - so "good boy for sitting still", "good boy for eating dinner", "good boy for playing nicely" etc. Note that the praise is for a positive action not a negative one (so don't say "good boy for not hitting", "good boy for not shouting"). Consider a reward chart - read more.
    • ignore behaviors you don't want - it can be hard, but specific advice is given on pages for temper tantrums (read more) and breath-holding spells (read more)
    • use time out for "out-of-control" behavior

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    Why doesn't my ignoring seem to work?

    I often find that parents know the principles but still can't figure out how to change their toddler's behavior. Sometimes, you are just too close to see what is happening.

    Ignoring is actually failing to reward. If it doesn't seem to be working, maybe you are inadvertently giving the reward.

    Using the ABC of Understanding Toddler Behavior you will be able to understand what is really going on for your child and then you will be able to implement the strategies above successfully.

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    What is the ABC of Understanding Toddler Behavior?

    • A is for Antecedents - you need to ask yourself "what happens before the behavior?" so, for example, for understanding tantrums what happens before the tantrum.
    • B is for Behavior - you need to be clear what behavior you are looking at. If your child has a few behaviors you don't want, pick one behavior you want to change most and start with that.
    • C is for Consequences - what happens once the behavior starts? What do you do? What's in it for the child? Usually, the answer will be attention of some kind.

    Now, you're armed with all you need for toddler discipline - toddler training!

    You know what brings the behavior on and what the "reward" for the behavior is.

    To change the behavior, simply do not reward it in the way you have.

    To "ignore" is to "fail to reward".

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    • Green C. Toddler Taming. Doubleday. 2001. ISBN: 1 86471 053 5

    To go to the top of the Toddler Discipline page, click here

    To go to the main Behavior page, click here

    To read more about Reward Charts, click here

    To read more about Time out, click here

    To return to the Home page, click here

    Last reviewed 2 June 2011

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    Dr Maud MD

    Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.

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