Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Discipline for toddler calls for a time-in

Living with a feisty, active, curious 17-month-old, we're always walking the line between nurturing her personality and nudging her back within the boundaries of good behavior.

When she wriggles out of our arms to walk from day care to the parking lot, we don't mind. We just hold her hand tightly and teach her about watching for cars.

And when she talks or sings loudly at church, we don't want to discourage her from participating. Instead, we try to quiet her by making a game out of whispering or saying, "Shhh."

But Mihret has also developed some willful behaviors we don't want to indulge. They include swatting at people, screaming when she's not hurt, sick or scared, and repeatedly touching things she shouldn't, like DVDs or the contents of our wastebaskets.

Sometimes she'll stop herself, and we'll praise her. Recently, she put a DVD back immediately after picking it up and told herself, 'No, no, no.'"

When she gets a certain gleam in her eye, pauses, and then lets out another shriek or lunges to hit, she's having too much fun testing us to move on without encouragement.

We started time-ins after Mihret turned 1, because we can reasonably expect her to sit in a lap for about one minute. We hold her close and tell her why her behavior wasn't acceptable, and what we'd like to see instead: "Hitting Daddy hurts. We use gentle touches." Then, we take her to a toy or book that usually refocuses her energy and attention.

The message we hope she's getting at a young age is, "We love you, but we don't like wrong behavior. Let's work together so you can learn what's right."

And also: "No matter what you do, we will always hold you close."

Kara Patterson: Post-Crescent staff writer

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