Challenges Using Positive Discipline With A Toddler

As W approaches 10 months of age, I increasingly find myself needing to set limits. I try to explain these to her, but know that (at least for now), she largely doesn’t understand me when I say things like:

-“Please don’t pinch mama while you nurse; mama likes gentle touches.”
-“Uh oh! Light sockets are dangerous, and mama wants you to be safe!”

-“I know you enjoy dropping your food off your tray, but mama will only pick things up for you one time. After that, they’re gone.”

I love the idea of natural consequences, and some situations lend themselves to such consequences beautifully. Others, however, do not. What’s the natural consequence for crawling away from me while I am changing her diaper? Not getting a diaper? Score! She’d be thrilled. Having to stay in a dirty diaper? She wouldn’t care, but she would get diaper rash. The more she matures, the more she’ll be able to learn from delayed consequences, but she’s too young right now to understand that her bum itches because she refused to let mama change her diaper and she’s been sitting in poop for an hour.

I want to keep things positive, I want to keep things playful, but I want to set limits and allow her to learn from her mistakes as much as possible now, and increasingly as she moves into toddlerhood and the preschool years. With a preverbal child who isn’t capable of understanding delayed consequences, though, I’m sometimes at a loss.


How have you set limits and defined expectations for your almost-toddler or toddler?




5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katy Crookston
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 18:24:56

    Diapering is a huge challenge with my third child. He fights it. I sing to him, pin him lightly with my toes, and then diaper him as he is crawling away.

    As far as setting limits I rely mostly on redirecting and repetition. Oh, and talking about things. From my experience, this all does sink in.


  2. Alice Callahan (@scienceofmom)
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 04:50:09

    I struggle with this, too. Diaper changes are a big challenge for us now, as is washing off face and hands after eating. I agree that there isn’t really any way to use natural consequences to help set limits when it comes to necessary chores like this. My only answer so far has just been to always warn BabyC of what I’m about to do and talk her through it. I let her know that I know she doesn’t enjoy it, but that it is something that has to be done. I make it as fun as possible with songs and toys that are reserved just for diaper changes. I try to involve her in the diaper change by letting her choose one of two colors for the new diaper (until my stash gets low and I get down to just white and white, oops). But it is still a struggle. We always celebrate when it is over, and I always thank her enthusiastically if she was cooperative. I will say that I think talking them through things helps a lot at this age. They might not understand all of the words, but I have been surprised by how much BabyC does understand – she has been able to show comprehension more now that she is starting to sign. And they most definitely understand tone, which can convey a lot.


  3. Tara
    Dec 13, 2011 @ 13:44:06

    When I had squirmy babies trying to get them changed WAS a huge deal. As this is the only post of yours I read (got here through a detour I took this morning on the web) I cannot fully judge your parenting philosophy though I can gather that it is more child centered than my own. At 10 months of age they can certainly be squirmy little buggers! I used to give a firm instruction to “put your legs down” and then put his legs down for him. Honestly, at this age they do learn quickly what a verbal command is and can be taught to follow simple instructions (like “put your legs down”) if you repeat it enough. Sometimes I would also pull off their pants and plop them on the baby’s chest and ask him to hold them for me (or do this with the diaper).

    All that said, sometimes it is easiest to just become a world champion speed diaper changer!


  4. Ariane
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 15:59:37

    Removing temptation! Keeps both of us happier 🙂


  5. Liz
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 20:16:50

    This is terribly delayed, but something I have found that works well (but is no miracle cure) for my alost 2 y-o son is “when x then y”. This can be used to tell him that the icky thing will soon be over (e.g. when Mummy has changed your nappy then we can read your book) or as a means of teaching him the consequences of his behavior (when you draw on the couch then your crayons go away) and to help him delay gratification (when mummy is dressed then we can go to the park)
    My experience is that having a formula that can be used in many situations provides a useful scaffold – I have found a number of times he will give me a confused look and get me to repeat myself 5 or 6 times til he gets it.
    We are really struggling with nappies at the moment, but i find if I warn him that it needs to be done, then gently refuse to start a new activity with him, without forcing him to stop anything he initiates himself, he will within 5 minutes relent and climb up for me to do it. Of course this doesn’t work when we are trying to rush out the door but it makes some much less painful


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