Friday, November 23, 2018

Discipline for toddlers

When I first started parenting I was baffled by discipline. I remember acutely the loss of control and the inflammatory anger I felt at my son's tantrums. His whining and disobedience threw me into total confusion. I simply had no idea how to redirect him and facilitate order and correct his wrong behavior.

Now I am a seasoned mother of two. I still am learning, of course, and hardly an expect. But time and prayer have turned my feelings of helplessness into a semblance of order. Over the years God has taught my willful, sinful heart a lot about raising my own willful, sin-filled children.

This is a blog post about how I discipline. 


Before setting down my points, I want to make the reader aware that discipline (to me at least) is situational. My son may jump on the couch one day and receive one type of punishment, but jumping on the couch the next day may warrant a completely different type of correction. That is because discipline is mainly about the heart. It is not about behavior. Understanding this is of utmost importance because it sets the foundation on how I approach my son with loving correction. So, before I discipline I must attempt to know the intent behind the actions. Only then can I guide my child.

I employ five types of discipline in my parenting. I will call them the five Rs: Redirection, Removal, Recitation, Rest and Redemption. I use one or more of the five Rs each time I discipline and disciple my children. For the rest of this post I will seek to explain each R and give an example of using it in daily life.

You have probably heard of redirection. Many parents confuse redirection with distraction. I do not like distraction as a principle of discipline. Distraction is all very well when your child is 8 months old and wants something they can't have, but a strong-willed three year old can not be distracted from the object of their focus. They will just scream louder. Even if you have the most complicit sanguine toddler on the planet, I still think they ought not be distracted. Their emotions and the intent behind them matter and need to be addressed. Children need to learn how to grapple with wanting something they can't have, and not just by moving their focus to the next thing.


Thus instead of distracting Reuben with a flashy new toy or diverting his attention to a new game or activity, I redirect my son emotionally. Emotions are the reason behind his behavior, bubbling up from the fount of his heart. I can change the behavior all I want with distraction, but only redirection can approach the wrong lodged in his sinful heart. Redirection seeks to help him understand the emotion he is having and channel it appropriately.

Now don't read more into what I say than what I have said. I don't belittle his emotions. I don't ignore them. I don't make fun of him. I simply redirect his anger or his confusion or frustration in a multitude of ways. One way I might do this is by fixing the source of his frustration.

Example: Reuben (3.5) and Rebekah (10m) are playing on the floor in the living room. Rebekah suddenly wants to explore the duplo blocks Reuben is playing with, causing Reuben to start screaming hysterically. “She's breaking it! She's touching it! No Becky, no no no!!” Now, instead of distracting Becky with a new toy, or moving Reuben's attention to another toy, (which would fix the screaming) I instead redirect his emotions.

“Remember the rules, Reuben. If Becky is touching a toy you are playing with, you can go to your room and close the door or take it to the kitchen table. Becky is little and does not understand she can't touch what you are playing with.”

This acknowledges his feelings of frustration over Becky and gives him a safe place to play without her. It says “you are frustrated, lets do something about your frustration”.

Another example is needed to help illustrate. Reuben and Rebekah are once again playing on the floor, but this time Reuben wants whatever toy Becky has.

“It's mine! I need it. I want it!”

Now again I could distract Reuben and/or Rebekah with a new toy, but that method would do nothing to solve the heart problem behind Reuben's tantrum. While it may temporarily solve the issue, age and sin will only exasperate it.

“Reuben, you know you can't snatch what your sister is playing with. That isn't fair or nice. You don't like it when she snatches toys from you! You can find something else to play with or wait until she is done.”


When I say this he either (1) cries louder, (2) snatches the toy, or does what I suggest and finds something else to play with. If he does 1 or 2, I move on to removal and rest, usually with recitation added in there to beggar my point.

Redirection funnels his emotions into their proper place and supplies him with practical steps to to deal with the problem himself by reminding him of boundaries or rules. These boundaries and rules either are ones I have set in place (play at the table or your room) or God-ordained (it's wrong to covet your sister's toys). My job isn't to placate him or make him stop crying—it is to teach him to control himself and submit to God.

The second tool in my arsenal that I use when disciplining my son is removal. A lot of people will remove their kids from the situation, placing the kid in time out or sending him out of the room to his or her own bedroom. I don't do this, simply because it does not work. Every kid is different, and secluding your child to his/her room might work for you, but not for us. I have found removal best works when I remove the object that is causing my son stress. This works for my 10 month old daughter as well!

Removing is plain to explain. I give my son one warning. “I see you swinging your pocket watch over your head. We can't do that near Rebekah because you tend to let go and it flies across the room and might hit her. You need to go swing your pocket watch in your room (redirect).”

//Reuben continues to swing his pocket watch in the living room near his sister.

“I see you are not obeying. Sadly, your pocket watch needs to go into time out for 10/20 minutes (or however long) because you are not listening to your mother and obeying the rules. You are putting your sister in danger and I can't allow that. ”

//I take the watch and place it up high where he can see it.


Often he understands, but sometimes he will start crying, screaming, and demanding the toy that I have jailed. At this point I move on to Recitation or Rest. Recitation means making him think about what he has done that was wrong, and reciting to me in his own words what that is. It also involves apologizing to the person or persons he has wronged. I will make him sit down on the couch or the floor next to me (rest) or recline in my arms. I will rock him and talk to him as he calms down and then I will ask him to explain what he did and tell me why he got into trouble. If he does not know, I will repeat it until he understands and can say it back to me, and then I will make him apologize to his sister, to me, and even to God.

With the apology he has to say what he did wrong. He can't just say “I'm sorry,” he must say “I am sorry I threw the ball at your face, mommy. That was wrong and I hurt you.” I think it's very important that he both apologize and frankly state his sin and acknowledge the fault.

I could give a lot of examples, but this post is long enough already and I still have one more point to make!

Redemption is my last R. Redemption is the means behind discipline. The redemptive blood of Christ covers his sheep. Doing the will of God and giving him glory is the reason for our existence. Pointing my children to Christ and reminding them of God is the goal of parenting. Therefore I try to make God the foundation of my discipline. Everything rests on the redemptive, saving blood of Jesus and thus every moment I disciple my children should point to God. It's not about my rules. It's not about changing or modifying their behavior. Discipline is about shaping and pulling little hearts to God and teaching and modeling God's ways.

I teach my kids about God by reading my own bible in their presence, discussing God, listening to sermons with them, singing hymns, praying with them, admitting my own need for Christ and in many, many other ways. Thus as I discipline, I hope my children come to revere and love God and need him as much as I do.

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