Establishing Rules for your Toddler

Toddlers can be tough—kids can be tough, teenagers too, but establishing rules for your toddler early promotes better behavior moving forward. Rules make doing the things parents like to do with their children fun and safe, whether that’s playing at a park, visiting toy stores, or even just having a nice breakfast at home. Different parenting styles will call for different rules, but no matter the expectations you may have for your child, a few helpful tips may help you and your toddler come to a better understanding. To learn more about parenting styles check out an article here.

Be Realistic

Before creating any rules, keep in mind that toddlers can be unpredictable. Not even the best mom in the world can prevent the occasional at-the-mall meltdown. Remember your child is developing, socially and mentally, every day and that improvement may be slow. As long as you see strides in the right direction, take some pride in you and your toddler’s success.

Keep it Simple

Instead of “Do not hit your friends,” try “No hitting” or “Nice touches.” Instead of “Don’t yell at your sister,” try “No yelling.” Even if your child is capable of understanding what you’re telling them, they are much more likely to remember something short. A good rule of thumb is trying to consider if your toddler would be able to repeat your words back to you. If they are, you’ve successfully created a rule that will stand ground the next time they’re tempted to do something they shouldn’t. Another useful tip for keeping it simple is to not overwhelm your toddler with more rules than they can remember. A good base should be established during this stage, and more rules can be added as they get older.

Establish Open Communication

Our previous tip suggested keeping it simple, but if your child is confused or doesn’t understand your rule, communication is key. As long as their questioning isn’t for the purpose of stalling or debating, don’t be afraid to sit them down and explain why running in the road and jumping off playground equipment is dangerous. This is especially true if your child has a tendency to seek understanding in the things around them. Even further, make deals with them. If you let them play on the playground for another twenty minutes, ask them to try getting themselves ready for bed that night all by themselves. Of course, this should be used in moderation, but you might find giving them little wins has the biggest payoff.

Be Consistent

If mom doesn’t allow running in the house, dad and, yes, even grandma shouldn’t either. Come to an agreement with other caregivers about the most important rules for your child’s temperament and safety—then stick to it. Easier said than done, but it makes a world of difference. Even under the supervision of one person, lack of consistency becomes a problem. A child should be met with the same consequence every time they break the same rule. Inconsistency to young children is confusing and may undermine your rule.

Redirect and Distract

You may not always have the time to correctly discipline or communicate with your child. Places like malls, grocery stores, and amusement parks make it difficult to find a quiet place to calm your young one. If this is the case, your best bet may be to redirect. Parents direct chaotic child-energy all day long, but the key is to stick to it, even when in stressful situations when your first instinct may be to discipline. Save it for when you’re confident your child is calm and focused enough to hear and understand what you’re saying.

Implement Positive Reinforcement

Children respond better to positive reinforcement than anything else. Find out what motivates your child. Would they give up anything to run around the yard for a few minutes? Great, you’ve found just the thing to reward them with next time they keep their shoes on in the grocery store. But tread carefully. Positive reinforcement should not be used as a bartering tool. If your child has already thrown their shoes down the last three aisles, offering their favorite activity to calm them down will only encourage them to do it next time. The best time for this trick is when they are calm and composed, following a rule they haven’t just previously broken. This prevents encouraging children to take advantage of their parents’ attempts to soothe them.

Use Consequences

Positive reinforcement is the most powerful tool, but consequences are necessary to give children a baseline for appropriate behavior. Still, it’s disheartening to watch a young child cry because you took their toys away or pulled them out of a trampoline park. Try explaining to them why their actions warranted such a consequence and that they’ll have a chance to get it right next time.

Consider your Child’s Age and Personality

Keep your child’s age and temperament in mind when creating rules for them. Some children may require strict regimens while others thrive with a kinder approach. But being strict with a sensitive child may cause more harm than improvement, just as being too lenient with a more testing child can cause them to get out of control. Test several approaches and find what works best for your child.

Realistic expectations, simplicity, communication, consistency, redirection, positive reinforcement, consequences, and some consideration may help establish a deeper understanding of safety and rules from your toddler. There will always be exceptions, and one mistake will not cause your child to be disobedient forever. Better than any tip or trick is to let your child know you’re rooting for them. You give them rules because you want them to be safe and happy, even if they can’t understand that now. The idea is to get back to what you and your toddler have fun doing.

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