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Separating Shame From Discipline

When it comes to parenting books, it is easy to get lost in the myriad of opinions and research. Allow me to provide e you with the leg work of sorting through this vast sea of information. As a therapist and new mother, I find myself pulling from my old resources and school based knowledge of child development and psychology as I parent my toddler. At the same time, I am seeking out the latest research and relevant information that pertains to me as a mother who is actually putting this stuff into practice and not talking about it theoretically! Even as a research lover, I am easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume. So, where to start? One of the first books I read about parenting – No Bad Kids: Toddler discipline without shame by Janet Lansbury--is a great touchstone as you navigate the neverending parenting advice library. Consider what follows the “cliff notes” of Lansbury’s book, with a little added insight from a therapist mama.


Take away #1 :

Respecting our babies and toddlers as human beings means being honest with them! It means letting them in on why we are doing what we are doing and honoring their feelings and emotions from day 1. Simply put…handle, treat, and talk to your baby as though they are a whole person (because they are!).

Begin to view your toddler’s acting out as a way of asking for assistance from you. From this place of understanding, you can respond calmly, and therefore respectfully.

Speak to your child in first person because it is clearer. “I don’t want you to hit” versus “let’s not hit”. See? In the words of Brene Brown: CLEAR IS KIND


Takeaway #2:

When you notice your toddler starting to act out… check-in with them. Remember, this is not a personal attack on your sanity. Is she hungry or tired? I get grouchy when I’m hungry or tired too. Am I being direct? If I’m feeling sad or frustrated that day, I share this with my toddler instead of trying to fake it. Look for ways she might be feeling stress too… off schedule that day, visitors in town, teething, etc…

Toddlers look for a confident leader. I like the airplane metaphor. We want to feel like our pilot is in control while we are helplessly flying through the air. Our toddlers want to feel and know that we are in control. Ironically, knowing they don’t have the control gives them the freedom to test out their independence and autonomy because they feel safe to do so.


Takeaway #3:

Do away with baby talk. Remember that babies/toddlers are whole people; intuitive, communicative, and able to understand language. This doesn’t mean you can’t talk sweetly to them; simply communicate as though they can make sense of what you are saying.


Here it is again, clear is kind. Tell your baby what you expect of them instead of telling them what they can’t do. Because they are little humans, if you tell them that they can’t do something, they are going to want to push that limit. But, if you tell them what is expected of them, they are more likely to comply. “I want you to sit in your chair” gives them something TO do while “Don’t stand up on your chair” gives them a boundary to push.


Give choices where appropriate. While babies and toddlers don’t want all the control, they are autonomous beings who like to have some say in their lives (don’t we all?!). Present them with safe and attainable choices as often as possible.

When choices are not an option, such as where safety is concerned, acknowledge their feelings of frustration, anger, etc… “I understand you do not want to sit in your carseat right now. This is how I keep you safe while we are driving. I can see this upsets you… I want to keep you safe.” – Clear, kind communication.

*With an infant who cannot yet communicate their choices, be clear with them about what to expect. “I am going to put you in your bath now…I’m going to wash your belly with a warm cloth…now I am going to pick you up and wrap you in a towel”


Takeaway #4

Take your needs into account. The goal isn’t to make sure our babies/toddlers are happy 100% of the time. Through direct, honest conversation, they will learn self-discipline, respect, and confidence.


Takeaway #5:

The clearer the boundary, the less it is pushed. If the boundary continues to be pushed, ask yourself how you might communicate more effectively. Try to remember that power struggles are a natural part of a toddler’s need to express autonomy.

When your toddler is testing limits, be mindful of your reaction. If they see they can get a rise out of you, they may continue to do this behavior as a way of playing with this sense of control.


Remember the 3 C’s when responding to your toddlers limit testing behavior:

Be clear 2) Keep your composure 3) Respond with conviction


Well, that gets us through the first quarter of Lansbury’s book. Stay tuned for the next post where we dig in a little deeper. Hope this gets your parenting week started off a little simpler, with a lot more of a clue of how to handle it all.

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