Helping Toddlers Learn Rules
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By the time your child is a year old, she understands some words and is probably able
to say a few. But, your child cant think ahead about what might happen and she can
only decide between the most basic choices.
How can you help your child learn rules so he can eventually learn to manage his own
behavior? Here are a few suggestions:
- First, be brief. Use short, simple phrases and repeat when necessary.
- Second, be clear. Your toddler can understand the difference between splashing and not
splashing in the bath---but cannot understand that splashing is ok if you dont get
water on the floor.
- Third, be specific. Tell your child what he can and cannot do. If your child is throwing
blocks, tell him "Blocks are not for throwing" "Here, stack the blocks like
this". Or, you could redirect and substitute by saying "Blocks
are not for throwing----Here is a sponge ball that you can throw".
- Fourth, be consistent. A child can adjust to small differences in rules, such as minor
differences between parents rules and the child care providers rules. However,
dont forbid an activity---like jumping on the bed one day and then allow it the
next. Although we do need to be flexible, its generally best for young children to
be consistent in the rules we set.
- Finally, remember that feelings are okay. Children will do things that make parents and
caregivers angry. When you feel angry, admit it---but dont make your child feel like
a bad person because she behaved in a bad way. Admit your own anger without yelling,
calling names or hitting. You will then be teaching your child to express angry feelings
without hurting others.
6119 "Positive Discipline and Child Guidance" University of Missouri
Diana Milne, MilneD@missouri.edu
Regional Specialist, Human Development
Clay County, Missouri
University of Missouri Extension