Toddlers: Training vs. Discipline

It seems as though parents talk about the toddler years with great exasperation. It is pegged as years of mere survival with a baby proofed house instead of a house you live in with a baby. Part of toddlerhood gets labeled as “the terrible twos.” But it doesn't have to be labeled so "terrible." Trying yes, but terrible? No.
We have been working on paying attention to training, before the need to discipline arises, and we have found that they are helping to solve many of our son's toddler behavior issues. No, it doesn't make things perfect by any stretch. If you know us, you would know this! But we are seeing fruit of the day in and day out time spent teaching, training, and guiding our little guy. 
So what is the difference between training and discipline? Training is teaching a child what they are supposed to do, how they are to act, etc. well before the situations present themselves. Most parents have good expectations for their children, but fail to properly train them in those expectations. They often come out tired and aggravated at the behavior and/or environment that surrounds their day.
Set out and make a list of the things you want to teach your toddler and ways you expect them to behave. Don’t underestimate their abilities.
Mekonen coloring in his Cars book while I made dinner. He always wants to be in whatever room I am. 
Some examples:
1. Mom wants her toddlers to come, right away, when they are called.
2. Mom wants her children to walk near her in the store and not run away, play in clothes racks, etc.
3. Mom wants her children to honor the boundaries of a room or specific area of play, being able to say, “You need to stay here, in this area, to play.”
4. Mom wants her toddler to be able to sit in her lap content and not squirming to get down in places such as a doctor’s waiting room, and anywhere you don’t want to chase them.
Don’t try to teach your toddler these things “in the moment” (like trying to get them to sit still on your lap while at the doctor’s office), and then employ a consequence right then when they don’t obey. Teach them before! They may not fully understand what you are asking them to do because they have not practiced it and don’t know your expectation.  This is where training comes into play.
Set up training times with your toddler, a little bit every day. Many training scenarios can be fun like playing “how to act in the store” or “staying close to Mommy.” Practice consistently until you know your toddler understands your command. The discipline comes when you trained and know they understand but they fail to obey. Then you employ a consequence and it must be each and every time. If you are not consistent with consequences, your toddler will gamble for the one time you don’t discipline and you will have very inconsistent obedience and a frazzled, tired mom and dad.
Daddy and Mekonen on our little "family date" to his favorite restaurant: McDonalds. 
Example: Play Boundaries
1. Point to the floor area (like a seam in the floor between two rooms and tell your child in a normal tone, “Don’t touch here (while pointing to the floor in the next room)." Walk away out of their designated play area. As soon as they cross the boundary line, take them back to the designated area and say in a normal tone. “No, no. You play here. Mommy said no touch (while pointing to the floor where they cannot go)." Keep doing this, until your child complies with your direction and stays in the room.
2. They might not even end up playing, but just standing there crying, because they are not able to do what they want. If they are crying, but staying in the area, count it a success. Cheer for them and their obedience. Work on this every day, increasing the amount of time you want them to play in a designated area. This is the training aspect. Once you know your toddler understands what you mean give a consequence every single time they don’t obey. So you train first, before you discipline.
3. You can also do this play-time with very young toddlers on a blanket. Train the same way but use the blanket as the boundary. Touch the floor around the blanket and say “No touch.” This works great when you can’t drag around a pack n’ play to contain them. Instead throw down a blanket and with proper training your toddler will play with great contentment while you cook dinner, meet with friends where it is not a kid friendly play place, etc. We did this with our son when he was about 10 months old. We had great success with it, although it took a lot of daily training/practice. But once he got it, and knew we would always outlast him, it was wonderful and we didn’t need to keep doing training sessions. He would sit and happily play with his toys on a blanket for up to an hour! We used it at wedding receptions, class reunions, baseball games on the grass, friends’ houses where we want to chat but don’t want to keep chasing after our crawling toddler, etc.
4. Mekonen is two years old now, and out of the blanket playing stage. From there, it was very easy to transition into play boundaries, like a room. We could place him in a room and touch the floor of the adjoining room we did not want him in and say “no touch.” He was used to this, knew what it meant, and played where he was asked to play.
So those are some things we are doing in the Oren household. If you have any ideas, please comment! I'd love to hear them! :) 


Annie said...
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Amber said...

That is very intelligent. And, simple... I think you are so on with this one. Training is important and it makes my life so much easier and I don't feel like I have to scream and yell at my kids to get them to listen. Better for everyone. Thank you for the reminder :)

Sandra said...

Wow!!! Nice post. This is really a pretty good idea. I liked it. Thanks for sharing.

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Anonymous said...

I think it is dependent on the child you have. Yes, your methods are reasonable. But some children will follow much easier than others. My sister has 3 boys under 6 and while the first would easily follow directions, the next was much "wilder" or less concerned about obeying. It didn't matter what she did. He is an incredibly willful, adorable, trying child. At three he's finally growing out of it. Personalities vary so very much.

nala said...

i am continually inspired by you guys! thanks for sharing-so good. my only addition would be to talk in adult language with your child (no matter how young). Instead of "No touch" I say "Don't touch" etc. Someone encouraged me to talk in adult/normal language with our kids instead of "baby language" --they can learn/understand the proper way to speak just as easily.

thanks again!