Here’s something I wrote when my son was 13 months old. Rereading it, I was surprised to realize that the basic structure of my response to misbehavior hasn’t changed at all now that he’s three years old; these basic steps have become second nature, while the details have gotten more complicated and wordy!
I feel there are three basic steps to handling objectionable toddler behavior, two of which are optional depending on the situation:
1. The firm objection. Optional; use if behavior needs to stop immediately.
Example: “OWWW!! Let go of my hair!!”
2. The redirection to a positive behavior.
Example: “Touch gently.”
3. The consequence. Optional; use if behavior is persistent or if consequence is unavoidable.
Example: “When you pull my hair, I don’t feel like holding you.”
Another example: “Because you broke the jar, you’ll have to stay in here alone while I go sweep up.”
The other big thing I’m working on is checking my urge to say no. Often things I think are going to be problematic are not if I give Nicholas a chance to show me what he’s actually going to do, which may be different from what I think he’s going to do. For example, I kept stopping him from grabbing the phone cord near where it attaches to the wall because I was afraid he’d yank it and damage the flimsy plastic thing that holds it in. When I finally let him handle it without interference, I found that what he wanted to do was to hold the slightly slack cord about 6 inches from the outlet and shake it up and down in a joyful manner. That doesn’t hurt anything. The yanking I’d seen him do before was all caused by my attempts to make him let go!