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Discipline & Little Ones: Natural Consequences

by Michele | August 29th, 2022 | Behavior, Infants/Toddlers

Toddler-crying-in-a-highchairAs a parent, I believe that discipline needs to start at an early age. Although naughty behavior may seem cute at the age of one, it’s easier to manage at its onset than to try and correct it when it’s less cute at the age of six or sixteen. Of course, you may be wondering how it might be possible to establish discipline with your little one who may not be verbal or possibly even walking. There are ways, which are quite simple.

First, before we begin to discuss discipline, we need to establish what is misbehavior for an infant or toddler. Crying because her diaper is wet, she’s hungry, or simply because she’s bored are not examples of misbehavior. Those are needs that a parent should address. Offer a bottle, change the diaper, walk and rock your little one in hopes of improving her mood. You might feel like crying also, but you are the adult. Similarly, a toddler who spills her milk or is scared of the dark isn’t being naughty. Help her clean the milk and soothe her fears.

Next, determine what behaviors are unacceptable but not caused by lack of development. For example, a toddler who drops his sippy cup may still be working on motor skills. However, a toddler that throws his sippy cup obviously is testing boundaries. This is where natural consequences come into play.

  • Throw your sippy cup = no sippy cup for toddler

When you take the sippy cup away, your toddler may cry or verbalize that he is thirsty. Do not give the cup back. It is fairly certain that he is not dehydrated. Wait 10-15 minutes, then offer the cup with a statement such as, “If you throw your cup again, I will need to keep it.” Then follow through on your statement.

The idea of natural consequences is that the effect is related to the cause. Throwing a cup means you don’t get to have a cup. There’s no need for a timeout or lecture, simply show that actions have results.

Keep in mind that sometimes natural consequences have adverse effects for the parents, but they do teach lessons well. Here are a few examples of natural consequences:

  • Your toddler is screaming in a restaurant. After offering diversions that don’t work, it’s time to leave the restaurant. If you’re solo with kids, get the food to go and leave.
  • Your toddler keeps trying to take her helmet off while riding her tricycle. Explain that she needs to wear the helmet in order to ride the tricycle. If the behavior continues, the tricycle is put away for a short period of time.
  • Your toddler won’t hold your hand in the mall. Give your toddler the option of holding your hand or riding in his stroller. If he refuses to hold your hand, stroller time it is. Let him know that you can try walking again another day.

Although your child is still quite young, she is old enough to start learning about cause and effect. It may take several lessons, but eventually she will understand that the choices she makes impact the results.

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