I’m Not As Stellar At Disciplining Toddlers As I Thought I Would Be

disciplining toddlersI’ve always been kind of a bad ass. I’m not trying to brag, but people don’t generally mess with me.

Maybe it’s due to my line of work, which has given me a thick skin and above average people management skills. I’ve been a bartender for over 20 years. Behind that bar, I’ve always been known as the woman to send the difficult customers to. For some reason, even the most ornery jerks don’t abuse me.

It’s not that I’m mean — quite the contrary, actually. I just possess an air of “I’m not going to take your shit.” And it works. On everyone but my toddler. Mom’s a bad ass – but apparently he hasn’t gotten the memo.

Having mastered the nuance of dealing with the general public, I was sure that when I had a child I would have no problems with discipline. I imagined myself as one of those mothers who could administer “the look” and have her child fall into line. You know “the look” I’m talking about – the one that makes your child stop whatever he’s doing, apologize profusely, and go make you an omelet?

Yeah, right.

I used to hate it when people would say, “you have no idea how hard it is until you become a mother.” But you know what? Whatever images you have in your mind about the mother you will be, whatever fantasies you have about the way your children will act — you might as well abandon them right now.

You have no idea how hard it is until you become a mother.

My son just had his second birthday, so I guess I should have seen it coming. Everyone has heard about the “terrible twos.” I, of course, had heard of them, too. I just couldn’t imagine any event or circumstance that would turn my child from a sweet, smiling, satisfied baby into a whining, pissed off, impossible-to-please toddler.

There’s not a whole lot of need for discipline when you have a baby. They just spend the whole day “being.” They eat, stare, smile, and play with their fingers. Then baby turns into older baby, and they do much of the same – with a little more mobility. They eat, stare, smile, start to mimic and crawl. You see them start to eye things out of their reach and begin to childproof your home. At this point, your house still looks like a home – not a succession of empty rooms with toys strewn about. You believe you’ve got the mothering thing down. Yay, you!

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You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • Sara

    I have to admit that I worry about this, too. I’ve been a teacher for ten years and have worked with every grade from kindergarteners through college students. In my classroom, I run a very tight ship and the result is that (if I do say so myself) my students generally listen, follow directions, and do what they’re supposed to do, and it’s usually a pretty pleasant place to be. I’m not constantly having to yell at and nag my students, which makes my job a lot easier. No, it’s not perfect, but I have a pretty good formula down of “clear, age-appropriate expectations + consistent, logical consequences = well behaved students”.

    While it’s tempting to think that these skills will automatically come into play when I’m disciplining my own thirteen-month-old, I’m not going to get too over-confident. I’ve seen too many parents gloating and judging when their own children were babies (or not born yet) only to eat their words later. Yes, I will still employ my time-tested system of setting clear expectations and using consistent, logical consequences, and I’m pretty confident that I’ll have a good outcome that will eventually result in a pleasant, well-behaved child–I’m not not going to expect that the result will be a child who behaves perfectly all the time. Especially when she’s a toddler and still learning.

  • C.J.

    The terible two’s is when children generally start trying to test their limits. All kids go through it. It’s better they do it at two, it’s whole lot easier than if they wait until the teenage years to test their limits. Even he best behaved kids go through a period of testing their limits. You are correcting him, it will pay off eventually.

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

      I truly believe that – but sometimes I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel!

  • Kiinu

    Mine responds to ‘the look’ now, with a success rate of about 80%… He is 3 years old… it is only within the last two months that the look has gotten so much success. I think I conditioned him to respect the look lol… from like 16mos to just before he turned three I HAD to use consequences… following through on all the threats I made wasn’t always easy, I had to leave restaurants and stores with a full cart and it SUUUUCKED. But! He is now three and for the most part I can convey that he had better cut it out with a look.

    There is hope at the end of the tunnel as long as you do what you’re doing!! Lol.

  • Not a perfect parent

    I used to think those flailing, tampering toddlers were due to bad parenting. Wow, was I wrong. My 5 yr old was not a tantruming toddler, and naive as I was, thought this was due to my exceptional abilities as a mother, but our newest addition, now 13 months, has proven that personality starts at birth. There is no “look” in my arsenal strong enough to overcome this with her . She most certainly is a screamer, cryer, flailer, etc. and has been since birth. I wish I knew how to discipline this out of her. I’m just as lost as you. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mom too

      I could have written this myself. And I don’t know my fate at this point. I just figure I have to ride the storm out and be lucky she’s not meek and intimidated easily? Like maybe it will pay off in the long run that she is so strong-willed/defiant? Hope. And wine.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/Y43G2GBLYWFPOIKU76DGRXPOSQ Parvati Lynn

      I had the same issue. My oldest was really well behaved, and I was unprepared for the child that I affectionately call “the hurricane”. She is almost 4 now, and is *finally* calming down and controlling herself most days.

  • Venessa

    I am on the same boat! Well..maybe on a slightly worse boat. Until my son turned 3 I was so proud of having a kid who threw very few tantrums, who did not break or touch too many of our decorative stuff (we still have everything up on stands and tables!), who would eat well and behave at restaurants, who made minimum fuss at shops..and then I realized it was the silence before the storm.
    Now we have a kid who throws tantrums every time we go out and who is put into time outs almost every single day. Just as you said, he listens to my husband and not me! I don’t know what I am doing wrong. The only thing that works (and that too about 40% of the time) is the 1,2,3 count and a threat to take away his favorite toy. It leads to more tantrums once his toy goes away, but once he subsides he realizes that I am serious and listens to me.

    Long story short.. we have the terrible threes!

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  • Amanda Low

    Great piece! I am so terrified to go through this with my baby…she seems so good, at only one year old, but I know things will take a turn for the worse soon…yikes. Here’s something to consider…your son will outgrow the tantrum thing, but, having been a bartender too, I know you’ll always have tantrum prone customers! Haha.

  • LiteBrite

    One of my co-workers said “It’s the terrible twos and the trying threes….because you’re trying to get to 4 without having a breakdown.” I tend to agree. For me, the “terrible twos” weren’t so terrible; it was 3-4 that almost drove me off the brink. My son will be five very soon, and it’s better in terms of tantrums but now there are other problems. (His increasing sassiness being the main one.) I have to constantly remind myself that this is normal; he’s testing his limits and developing his own personality and independence, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but at the same time remembering that **I’m** in charge, not him.

    I know “the look” well. My mother was a master at it. Hell, I’m 43 and all she needs to do is give me “the look” and I’m like “Yes Ma’am!!!” However, I have about a 50/50 success ratio with it on my own child. I guess my mother is just scarier than I am. I’ve also noticed my son listens better to my husband. It’s partially the height and partially the deeper voice (A stern “Son!” sounds very different coming from my husband than it does from me), but I also think it’s the fact that my son just looks up to his father and therefore is more sensitive to criticism coming from Daddy than me. The other day I told my son to stop doing something. He didn’t, and my husband came in and said, “What did your mom just tell you to do?” That kid stopped immediately.

    Sigh. I guess I have some work to do.

  • Tewsa

    My 11.5 month old throws fullon on fits already with ear piercing screams arched back and arms in the air. He’s done it since he was about 7 months. I was just telling my Husband on the way home tonight that I don’t know what to do about it because I don’t want to give him what he’s screaming for but I also feel embarrassed and just want the screaming to stop.

    • http://www.facebook.com/RetiredSceneQueen Emmali Lucia

      If it’s in a store leave your items by a cash register and just carry him out, put him in his car seat, and then let him stop on his own.. If you give him things it will only encourage the behaviour.

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