Do you know that little children do not understand things the way you do? Your child may know that she will get an angry reaction from you when she does something, but do you know that she is yet to fully grasp the concept of yes/no?

Children under the age of three do not understand “no” in the way most parents think they do. This is because they are in a stage of growth where they have a natural need to explore their world and push boundaries.

The positive discipline tool we will be discussing today is called the “Do vs Don’t.

According to Anna Nelsen, children enter the “me do it” stage around the age of one. This is when they develop a sense of autonomy vs. doubt and shame.

Two through six heralds the development of a sense of initiative vs. guilt. At this stage, it is their developmental job to explore and experiment. That is why it confuses them when they are punished for exploring.

At this stage, it is the job of parents to teach and guide their children without being disrespectful by screaming, yelling, or lecturing them.

Instead of saying, ‘no,’ redirect your child.

You might repeatedly tell a toddler “No!” or “Don’t!” But she might see this as a game or have a need to explore. For instance, she will think “Daddy says, ‘No,’ and I do it and he says, ‘No,’ again, I will do it again because I am having fun with Daddy”.

Redirect by showing them what they can do rather than what they can’t do Focusing on solutions as opposed to punishment is a key tool in positive discipline.

What works at these stages of development is kindness and being firm. Do not punish a child for what he does not understand yet. This does not mean that children should be allowed to do anything they want. Meet misbehaviour with empathy, not anger or an irritated lecture.

For example, when your toddler throws something, rather than raising your voice, say something like, “Uh-oh! That’s sad that you threw your toy. Looks like you don’t want to play with it so we will have to put it back”.

Here are some tips to help your child develop a sense of purpose at this stage of development.

  1. Stop screaming, yelling, or lecturing. Doing this will not help a child because it is disrespectful and it encourages doubt, shame, and guilt in the future because your child is still discovering himself and what he can or cannot do.
  2. Don’t tell, show. Find ways to involve your child in what you’re doing.Ask for their opinion so that they can think and offer solutions.
  3. Instead of a command like, ‘Go brush your teeth,’ which invites resistance, you can ask, ‘What do you need to do so your teeth will be strong and healthy?’ In turn, your child feels respected, and that respect makes them feel like cooperating,” says Dr Jane Nelson.
  4. Even if you don’t think a younger child understands completely what you are saying, you are training yourself to be respectful to the child by giving choices instead of commands. Another possibility is to give him/her some warning. “We need to leave in a minute. What is the last thing you want to do at the playground?”

Sometimes, children throw tantrums out of frustration with their inability to do certain things or communicate their needs. Be empathetic when your child when this happens. It is all about the stage of their development. Try to find out what he wants from you. Empathy does not mean rescuing. It does mean understanding. Remember to connect before correcting.

All other tools of Positive Discipline learned will help at this stage. Remember to listen, connect before correcting, spend special time and take time to train.

Saying no and telling children what they can’t do does not yield any effective result. Try suggesting what they can do instead. For instance, say “walk please” instead of don’t run” or instead of “ stop writing on the wall, say scribble on the paper”.

Bear in mind that safety should be top at this stage. Let them learn and explore within safety limits. Teach them to understand what is dangerous and what can happen when they go beyond certain limits.

So what does this mean? As parents, you need to understand that you may need to teach your child many things over and over before he/she is developmentally ready to understand.

Patience is key at this stage. Minimise your words and maximize your actions. Don’t take your child’s behavior personally and think your child is mad at you or bad or defiant. Remain the adult in the situation and do what needs to be done without guilt and shame. Minimise your use of “no” and “don’t”. Understand that your attitude determines whether or not you will create a battleground or a kind and firm atmosphere for your child to explore and develop within appropriate boundaries.

I hope you have learnt something. If yes, would you like to join me in the Parenting for Jannah Academy? You should join the waitlist HERE to be notified when next we are open.