Don’t Wait Until Age 2 to Begin Guiding Your Child’s Behavior

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As a home daycare provider, I think a lot of times, parents think that they can just one day start enforcing boundaries and limits when a child turns 2 or 3 years old. But you really need to start early. Imagine having no rules or regulations at work for the first year and you could arrive late, do what you wanted, work or not work etc. and then after 2 years of being there, now there’s all these rules: that you have to be on time, to show up to work or you’re fired, lunch breaks are limited to this much time, etc. Talk about a transition shock! It’s not much different when it comes to children and the expectations we as caregivers have for them. We need to set out intentionally with boundaries, limits, have expectations for behavior, and an idea in mind of how we’re going to handle challenging behaviors. Because it’s not an “if” but a “when” for nearly everything.

It’s much easier to add rules in a little bit at a time that are developmentally appropriate (based on a child’s age and abilities) than to try to do a total overhaul once the child is a bit older like 2-3 years old. It’s also harder on them to start to follow all these new rules when they’re older because they’re used to doing things a certain way or have had an understanding of how things were/were handled and then it’s all tossed on its head once new rules come in. Start young, start early.

With my home daycare program and with being a parent to 2 young children, I just enforce my rules and expectations from the beginning at 4-6 months old (simple ones like: being gentle, not scratching, not hitting, etc.). It’s important to start simple with only a few things and then work towards more complex concepts and more concepts. This can be accomplished if you are consistent and react the same way each time, and have the same expectation. Using the exact same phrase each time also helps a child to understand and connect the dots with what’s going on.

Children need structure to thrive and they truly crave it. Being too permissive or too strict/authoritarian can both have negative impacts on a child’s development, on opposite sides of the spectrum. The middle ground type of discipline/guidance is called authoritative and is a balancing act. It’s important to pick your battles and let children make mistakes, but also hold them to have integrity and be good people, with certain standards of behavior, based on age. (If you’re wondering what an authoritative parent looks like, check out this article on it.)

Helping children understand boundaries from the beginning (as young as 6-8 months) will help them acclimate to your culture’s social norms, rules, and what’s appropriate. A little at a time is the easiest way to learn anything, and instilling good character, manners, etiquette, etc. in children is hard work and takes consistency and dedication, but it’s well worth it. You may not see the results right away, but give it 30-60 days and see how your child has changed. With consistency, children eventually follow your expectations and will only need mild redirecting later. The teenage years will show you how you did with their resistance to peer pressure and all else the teenage years bring.

What have you found to be successful for managing challenging behaviors in your daycare children or your own children? Comment your answers below!

**ACTIVITY**
Figure out what YOUR hot buttons are, as a parent or educator. A lot of times we will come across intense feelings if a child does this “hot button” activity and other times we know from the get-go what they are, before a real-life moment ever comes up.

1) Write down what specific things are your “hot buttons”

For me, it’s: throwing anything with food or drink in it, hurting others/being too rough while playing, not picking up after yourself (including at mealtime with busing dishes for those who are walking)/leaving trash/cups etc. around, and dirty laundry not in the basket.

2) Write down what you’re going to do/say if this situation arises.
That’s hard, right? I mean, we all have a sense of how we will react, but having a plan in mind well before the time comes will not only help you have a plan but it will also help you keep a positive frame of mind. (After all, children don’t know all the rules yet and it’s up to us to teach them!) Don’t have too many of these as you don’t want to be a stickler.

For me, it’s: “You throw your (insert item here), I take it away. (For cup) You’ll get it back later.” or a teaching moment, “If you’re all done, you need to sign ‘all done’ or hand me/Miss Holly your plate.”; “We need to use gentle touch,” and then I take their hand and show them what I mean; “This needs to get picked up. Do you want to do it yourself or would you like help?” or “Want me to show you how to clean up?” or “Let’s go take that to the trash can and bus our dish. Dump the food and then the plate in the sink. (once completed) Thank you!”; “Where do these dirty clothes go? In the…. laundry basket! Let’s go do that!”

3) Write down what you’re NOT going to do.
This one can be obvious when you’re calm and writing it on paper, but in the moment we can have memories of our own childhoods pop up out of nowhere and next thing the temper is rising, voices get louder, and we have proverbial steam coming out our ears.

For me, it’s: not hitting, spanking, or using any type of corporal punishment; not yelling; not losing my cool; not giving unreasonable consequences.

4) Have your partner/spouse/other major person in your child’s life do this too.
Having a united front is important for the child and for you- to come together and have a unified response and ideas for how things are handled. You don’t want one parent undermining the other, especially in front of the kids.

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