Help Your “Little Angel” Behave

My three year old son has a best friend. He talks about him all the time and is always asking if the two can play. The problem for me is that they don’t play nice. Give them ten minutes together and all my son’s good manners go out the window. Soon, I am pulling them apart.

No one wants to be the “little monster’s” mom, especially not me. (No one wants to read parenting advice from someone with ill-behaved kids.) So what do you do when your child has problems getting along on play dates? What are the best ways to discipline a young child?

If your child is hitting, kicking, or biting, remove them immediately from the situation. Take them to the car, to another room or to an isolated corner and stay with them. Be clear on what action was wrong, (“No hitting” not “play nice”) and after a few minutes make your child apologize. If it happens a second time, take your child home. The message is “if you hit, you go home.”

Practice good behavior before you go. Role-play what might happen if another child has a toy your child wants or if someone takes a toy from her. Tell your child she will have to share and take turns when playing with friends.

Give your child warning before its time to leave. “You can go two more times down the slide,” or “When my watch beeps in five minutes we have to leave.”

Be Consistent! When it comes to discipline the number one rule is to be consistent. That’s the also the number two rule. This is also the hardest rule to keep. I have made more empty threats to my three kids than I would care to admit. The problem is, as they have gotten older, they have figured out which threats are empty.

Remember you can’t tell anything to a child once and expect them to remember.

Moms get tired and cranky too. When this happens many of us have the tendency to come down too hard, or to look the other way when our children misbehave. When this happens, both you and your child may need a time out.

Remove yourself, or your child, to another room. Breathe deeply, and think before you act. If you are out and about, take a time-out in the car. There is nothing wrong with leaving a full cart in the store. It will still be there in five minutes when you go back for it, or if you give up altogether, the employees will put the goods away.

Avoiding major meltdowns usually requires simplifying your day. Try to run only one or two errands at a time and offer a reward like stopping at a play area on the way home. If your child doesn’t behave, skip the reward and teach the lesson.

Always try to give yourself and your child plenty of time. If you wait until five minutes before you have to leave to get your toddler dressed, you will both show up late and grouchy.

Choose your battles. Set simple rules, those most important to you at the time, and make it clear that breaking them won’t be tolerated. Post them somewhere in the house. Have your child live with the consequences. If he makes a mess, make him clean it up. After he has made a good attempt on his own, you can step in and help him finish. As your child becomes good at keeping those rules, take one down and add a new one.

Instead of yelling, try close eye contact and a gentle, but serious tone.

When you have to say no, try explaining, simply, why. Some examples are, “It’s not the right time for that. That’s not safe. That’s not good manners. That’s not the right thing to do.”

With all the rules, it’s important to not let discipline take over your life. Even if your discipline is gentle and consistent, it shouldn’t be the main tenor of your day. If you find your interactions with your child are more negative than positive, look for activities you can do together to help you both have some fun.