Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How to be the Boss of a One Year Old

I'm going to start this by saying that plenty of people do not discipline as early as I do. Which is fine. I am a firm believer in doing what works for your family. I also believe that the level of discipline in your home is up to you and can be changed at any time, by just being clear about your expectations and consistent in your follow-through (and of course, always meaning what you say).

That said. I, personally, do not wish to have to physically restrain my young toddlers in order to be able to get them to, say, not pull everything out of the pantry while I'm cooking, or not run full speed into the parking lot.

Because one year olds are all:
But I'm like:


('cause God says).

But maybe you're all:

That's aDORable (or acceptable, or he'll grow out of it, or whatever) and you'd prefer to put a child safety latch on the pantry and one of those beepy alarm things on the front door and maybe a kid harness on the toddler. And just deal with it at a later date. Totally fine by me. 

I personally know multiple families who pretty much can't take their toddlers out of the house or leave them unsupervised at all because they will full-on run away at the park or climb into the dishwasher, but have absolutely lovely and well behaved school-aged children. It's a parenting choice.


But *I* don't personally want to live in fear of what they might be up to while I'm in the other room or be unable to go to Costco or the playground, let alone Europe, with my toddlers. 


So . . . if you ever wondered if it was possible to get a one year old to do what you say using just your voice (and the force of your will), I'm here to say: yes it is. 


And to tell you how I do it.

My mothering could probably be best described as kangaroo-style. I practice total attachment parenting for about nine months, then they get kicked out of the pouch (nest) and have to start fending for themselves. And I'm only exaggerating a little bit.




There is a point, and if you have multiple kids you probably know what I'm talking about, when babies go from having nothing but needs to all of a sudden also having preferences. The exact time when this happens varies from baby to baby but for most of mine it has been in the six to nine month range.


My babies need food and love and sleep and attention and eye contact and snuggles. So I give those things to them. My babies want to touch the TV and throw sand and take their diapers off. But I don't let them.


And the ways I don't let them are these:


1. I believe that they are capable of learning.


This is probably the biggest hurdle I faced at the beginning of my parenting journey. All I saw when I looked around were people distracting their toddlers ("Okay, give Mommy the Fabergé Egg, look here's some candy!") or lying to them ("No more egg, egg went night-night.") or just giving up on them entirely ("Yeah, he breaks priceless stuff, what're ya gonna do?").


But my eldest was a real stinker in a lot of ways (also wonderful and a gift from God and all that, but a stinker). I knew he was smart and I had the distinct sense that he knew exactly what he was doing. And for goodness sakes, if this guy can get cats and owls and octopi and flies to do what he says then I figured I could leave that egg right where it was and just get my one year old to not touch it.


2. I am consistent and always mean what I say.


I start with "Not For Babies." I say this a lot, and I ALWAYS mean it when I say it. I start saying it before the babies could really be willfully doing anything, but it teaches them what it means. So if baby has the remote or Great Aunt Gertrude's cane, I say "not for babies" and take it away. Every single time. Even if he fusses about it.


I use "Not Food" in the same way. If baby has something she shouldn't in her mouth, I say "not food" and take it away. Every single time. Even if she fusses about it.


In this way, they learn the concept that, despite their whims and desires, there is such a thing as something they may not do.


Then I move on to "No," or more often a weird "ch-ch-ch-chhhh" sound I make, or their name, but in a sharper-than-usual tone.


Here's how it goes at first . . . 

Frankie: about to touch the TV
Me: FRANKIE! No, no don't touch the TV, not for babies.
Frankie: pauses, maybe looks at me over his shoulder, touches the TV

But, eventually, and more quickly with some kids than with others, he will learn that I really do mean it. And if I told him he can't touch it, he really can't. So after that hand-extended pause, he puts his hand down and doesn't touch the TV. Now maybe he turns and flings himself into the couch face-first in despair (we are still getting a good bit of that around here), but very, very often, almost always, he does NOT touch the TV.


Frankie is still less than two, and as much as his behavior and general attitude have kept me on my toes, he mostly doesn't touch the TV. He also doesn't run off at the park or go out the front door without a grownup or big kid with him, or rifle through the pantry. He DOES, however, stab one of his siblings in the arm with his fork at almost every dinner. He's a work in progress.


But . . . how do we get from the touching the TV to the not touching the TV?


3. I calmly use age-appropriate consequences.


The important thing is to use consequences, and be consistent about them. It is less important which consequences you use, as long as you do use them and you are consistent.


The consequences I have had the most success with for 9 month to 2 year olds are: time outs in a crib or pack n' play and (here's where I make the internet mad again) spankings.


I have not had good luck with "normal" time outs, like sitting in a corner or in a time-out chair (at first). I find that young toddlers don't always stay in them and that the situation can escalate, because now he needs to be reprimanded for the original offense, plus getting out of his time out. They do eventually learn this skill, and it's important that they do, but until they understand the concept of discipline, I use a confined space.


Time outs in a crib or play pen avoid the escalation, plus allow mom a moment to calm down if she happens to be taking it personally that her one and a half year old just stuck his chubby little finger in each new little rectangle of eyeshadow.


Because here's where the calm part comes in: toddlers mostly know that they shouldn't be doing something (you can tell when you walk in on them and they jump or immediately burst into tears), but they really can't tell the difference between something they shouldn't be doing and something they REALLY shouldn't be doing. So it doesn't do much good to get especially upset, even if it was an especially bad thing.


I just gasp loudly (the gasping really seems to get their attention), and do an exaggerated knit-brow frown, act utterly shocked that such a good little boy as him would do such a naughty thing, say "No, no, not for babies. That is Mommy's nice make-up. You mustn't touch it. Not for babies." Then dump him in the crib for a time out. And leave him there until he and I have both settled down, which is usually between five and ten minutes.


But what if we're eating dinner, or at the park, or at a store, or in a parking lot? Time outs are inconvenient and impractical in those circumstances. Punishments that will happen sometime in the future are just not useful for kids less than two. But kids are known to disobey in all sorts of inconvenient places.


So, what I use to discourage bad behavior and disobedience, is spankings. Usually hand spankings, but occasional bottom spankings (at home) combined with a time out for older toddlers for bigger offenses.


I know this doesn't feel right for many mothers, and I'm not telling you you must do this or your kids will never behave, but here's why *I* do it: hand spanking is immediate and effective. I don't have to yell at my child. Or resent him and his behavior. A baby who understands what he is doing, like looking right at me while throwing a handful of sand into the face of another kid at the playground, again, can also understand consequences. Especially if those consequences are immediate and unpleasant.


Physical discomfort is how God chose to discourage certain behaviors. It's bad for me to burn myself or eat a whole pie, so God made it physically uncomfortable for me to do those things. So, I think it's appropriate to use a similar technique for my children who are too young for other punishments to be effective.


I have found that it is much less traumatic to have a quick hand spanking over and done with than to attempt other, more drawn out punishments. Some things get an immediate punishment (like running into the street), but most things get a warning, "If you throw sand again, you'll get a hand spanking." In either case, I give him a hand spanking, and he bursts into tears and raises his hands to me to be picked up and comforted, which I do. I don't have to stand over him glaring in a time out, or just give up and let him make me and other parents and children miserable. 


It's immediate and effective. It's been, in my experience, completely non-traumatic, because it allows me to correct behavior in a non-emotional way and not hold grudges.


But again, that's what works for me, and if something else works for you, you should do it.





I'm just here to say that, if you always had a sneaking feeling that you could get a one year old to do as he's told, almost always, well, you probably can. I do. And I feel like it's made eleven years of constant toddler-parenting a LOT more manageable.




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39 comments:

  1. Given that my 17 month old is driving me absolutely batty, this gives me hope. I JUST YESTERDAY set up the pack in play in the living room for the purpose you described. I do need the reminder to be consistent and to follow through every time - thanks for that.

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  2. When you say "hand-spanking," do you mean slapping their hand or smacking their butt with *your* hand? I'm curious because my little guy seemed to think getting his hand slapped was part of the funny "Mama said no" game.

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    1. Well, I use both, but I mean a spanking on the hand. And used consistently (and with the gasping and frowning), I think it can work even if they SEEM not to be bothered by it. Becuase if you're doing it hard enough that it is actually uncomfortable, then they might ACT like it doesn't bother them (same with times outs etc) but they are scamming you, because NOT getting punished is better than getting punished and eventually, if YOU are stubborn enough they'll change their behavior.

      My oldest was totally like that with most punishments.

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  3. Yes, 100%! I only have 2 so far (3 years and 7 months), but I instinctively did all of this with my son and I've heard so many mystified compliments about how good and obedient he is, as though it was just some piece of luck or his innately obedient personality (umm, not that one!), while their kids run wild with no correction. I always want to say that, no, it's just consistency, consequences, and expecting the best of him (which isn't always so fun and is hard work), but with only one toddler I've never felt quite qualified to explain my techniques. It's good to hear that this method does work for multiple kids, across personality types. My 7-month-old daughter is the complete opposite of her brother (so she's been an extremely easy baby), so I'm very interested to see what she's like when her will begins to emerge in a couple of months.
    I've been reading your blog for a few months, and I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything you do (and I'm also an INTJ, for whatever that's worth). I feel that I'm getting wisdom from a more-experienced version of myself, if that doesn't sound too weird. I try to be very intentional with my mothering, and it's great to see someone else doing that in the same (uncommon, nowadays) way and getting good results.
    My question is: as much as I agree with spanking, and do use it as you describe with my own kids, aren't you ever nervous about other people finding out that you spank? It's not that I'm uncomfortable or secretive about it, but I know that many people equate all spanking with abuse, and I really don't want to have a run-in with the child welfare folks because someone heard that I spank my kids (in a calm, restrained, intentional, not-actually-painful-at-all way). Even though I'm sure they would realize upon a minimal investigation that we are not abusers, any contact with "the system" scares the daylights out of me. (And my husband and I are lawyers, so we are probably more equipped to deal with it than most people.) We live in the midwest (central Illinois), so I would think that we are in a more traditionally-minded area of the country than you are, meaning that we would likely get more leeway from friends and neighbors.
    Anyway, thanks so much for your blog, and keep it up! It's a breath of fresh air.

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    1. Well, I just wrote about it on my blog, so the cat's out of the bag! :) Part of what I'm trying to do on this blog is shine a light on things that feel right to me and to other good moms I know, but seem to be the subject of a public shaming campaign.

      As far as what I personally do in public, I do try to be discreet. To keep busybodies away, but also because I don't wish to shame my kids publicly. Discipline is a family thing. In any case, it is my understanding that no state prohibits spanking by law. As California law now defines it: "Child abuse is a physical injury which is inflicted by other than accidental means on a child by another person. ... It does not include spanking that is reasonable and age appropriate and does not expose the child to risk of serious injury."

      So, I certainly hope to never need to defend myself against any allegations like that, I think the law is on my side.

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  4. We tried hand spankings, but eventually our toddler would hold out his hand and say, " smack it?" Needless to say we switched tactics. Thanks for the "crying babies go to bed" advice. It has sunk it for sure. He even tells the actual baby " Don't cry Gigi, cryin babies go to bed!"

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  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you! My little girl turned 1 last week and for the past few months I've noticed that she KNOWS when she's doing something she's not supposed to, but my dear hubby is a softy and thought she was just being a baby. I finally put my foot down, started making her look me in the eyes, telling her no, putting her in her crib and if necessary, hand spanking. Within 3 days, all I had to do was say No, Stella, Don't touch, and she would shake her head no and back away. Clearly, it's going to get more challenging, but whew! What a relief! Our second is due in 4 1/2 months and I need to be able to have some control.
    I also greatly appreciate your blog. When I first started reading I thought, "Yes, this is how I saw myself as a Mom." Keep up the great posts!
    Erin

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  6. This is pretty much what I do also - great way of explaining. And I LOVE the analogy about the hand-spank and the physical discomfort. I'm totally stealing that next time a young parent asks me about spanking.

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  7. What's your advice on dealing with kids hitting each other? I have held off on applying this hand spanking because I don't know how to explain to the kids.. its okay for mommy to spank you but not for *you* to spank your brother doesn't seem to make sense... I'm sincerely asking for advice because I *really* want to have a solid plan ready for when my 10 month old gets to this stage!

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    1. Honestly, I never seriously entertained the idea that they could be confused. Grown ups have different rules. If my kids were to hit each other, they would be reprimanded. I usually send my older boys to run laps, that usually gets it out of their systems.

      If one of my kids were to bring that up as a contradiction, which, again, hasn't ever happened in my memory, I'd just say "Spankings are for mommy and daddy to do only. You're not in charge of discipline. Don't hit your brother."

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    2. I would also explain the difference between hitting and spanking. Spanking as a form of discipline isn't hitting. A child or adult who hits another out of anger is hitting, if that makes sense.

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  8. I wrote a post in response. Figured you'd appreciate me not slamming a lot of comments into your combox.

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  9. Thank you for such helpful, practical blog posts like this one! I just started following your blog and I love it. Thank you!

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  10. I do a similar method with my 2-year-old, but lately I've had a problem with him being a pain in the neck when I put him in the crib-- jumping, pounding his feet on the crib rails, etc. This earns a warning, and then a spank (on the bum) if it continues, but he just does not seem to be getting it and it occurs every single time he is in the crib for time out. Has this ever happened to you? Any advice?

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    1. Our rule is that you stay in time out until you've settled down, so if mine were pitching a fit like that I think my first step would be to calmly remind him that he's just making his time out last longer.

      As long as he wasn't hurting himself or damaging anything, I might try just being nonplussed about it. If it doesn't bother you, and it makes his punishment last longer, he just might stop doing it.

      Or, it just might be something you have to deal with for a while. But no stage actually ends up lasting all that long with toddlers, so if you can wait him out, he'll probably come around on it eventually.

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  11. "Then I move on to "No," or more often a weird "ch-ch-ch-chhhh" sound I make..." Oh Kendra, this line cracked me up. haha! Sometimes I think about what I sound like to my children or others as a parent, and it's either really funny, or it's so bad it sends me straight to confession!

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  12. And of course i forgot to link it....too distracted easily today http://deltaflute.blogspot.ca/2013/09/how-im-not-boss-of-my-one-year-old.html?m=0

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  13. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote here. Except I feel that 9 months is too young at least for my children to get the concept of time outs. I use redirection and speak in firm tones until 18 months of age or so. I guess spanking or punishment in another form before this age seems futile and maybe a little counter productive. Does a baby really understand why they shouldn't play with an expensive porcelain egg when it's left within their reach? Mine certainly would not. I think I would get frustrated with my child eventually and I could just put fragile things out of reach until they're older.

    Time outs? Yes. Absolutely. Spanking? Maybe. But not so young. Also I have a special needs child who does not understand right and wrong and she is nonverbal and low functioning autistic so spanking her would be cruel. What works for one child does not necessarily work for another.

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  14. I definitely agree with the time-outs and I'm totally on board with spanking too, but I think I would be too scared to do it in public. My siblings and I were all spanked as children and we turned out pretty well, I think! But when my youngest brother was three, he was being rude to another kid at the park and so my mom gave him a little spanking. Another mom called CPS and then my mom had to be investigated and us kids were all interviewed about her parenting. Even though my mom didn't do anything wrong, it was still a really scary experience to go through as a family!

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    1. I do worry about it. No, I shouldn't say that. I do realize it is a possibility. I have heard other stories like your mom's but I honestly believe that the facts and the results and the law are on my side (see my reply above) so I don't want to make decisions based on fear that I don't think are best for my family.

      But it would be really awesome if I never had to go through that! God bless your poor mom!

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  15. Thank you for this and all your practical, how-to-do-such-and-such-with-kids posts, Kendra. I don't have children yet myself, but my husband and I are open to it, waiting to accept God's will whatever it may be. I haven't always been so open to the idea of being a parent, in large part, I'm sad to say, because I let all of my peers, who let their toddlers rule their homes, schedules, menus, emotions, everything, scare the living daylights out of me. Watching that model of parenting -- the only one I've really been around since I'm an adult -- well, it's more than off-putting; it's horrifying.
    But you remind me so much of my mom and how my siblings and I were raised -- and you're showing me it can still be done that way. I'm always asking my mom and my grandmother, "Yes, but HOW do you get a toddler to do what you say?" and their responses are "Be consistent. Have consequences. Mean what you say. Every single time." But I haven't understood, until reading your detailed posts, what that actually sounds like (in words spoken to a child) or what it looks like in action (physically taking the toddler to his crib). It's not as rocket-science as it seems once you lay it all out there (though I realize it does take militant self-discipline to be so consistent!), and I'm not so scared of becoming a parent anymore. Thank you.

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  16. I always love hearing wisdom from mammas who have more kids than me. Thank you for sharing. Going to process, tailor and implement now!

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  17. Great post...as usual. We parent differently (maybe I'll get around to writing a post on it one of these days), but I do respect the differences (and think you are "brave" for admitting to spanking). We don't spank or use time-outs with toddlers (well, we don't spank anyone) and I'm definitely not as "strict" as you, but I feel like our toddlers are still pleasant or easy to be around. We still take them all sorts of places, they don't "rule" the house, I don't have to supervise them every single second. We do lots of baby-proofing, re-direction, setting up routines, modeling good behavior, and lots of pro-active parenting and I feel that helps. My 12-month old does have one behavior I find intolerable (screeching when she wants something), but we're working on baby signs to help with that, as I don't feel comfortable with really doing time-outs for something like that because she really is just a baby and can't communicate with words.

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  18. I really appreciate your honest posts about your parenting style. It is really good for parents of littles who are learning. I hate that you have to defend any of your parenting techniques, it is ridiculous.

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  19. I'm with Liz above, it's like I'm reading an older-wiser version of myself most of the time when I read your posts, lol!

    It was nice to read an affirmation of what we tend to do. We're currently doing foster care so we're encouraged not to spank our bio kids just because it can drum up bad memories for abused kids but honestly when our foster daughter is at school I've got no problem giving my 2 year old a swat though thankfully he's almost out of that stage and into the time-out-in-the-corner or take-away-a-toy stage. I avoided spanking with my first son at first and honestly there were tons of stupid battles of will over the darn time-out and I was often extremely flustered trying to discipline him and lost my temper too often. With my second I started young just like my firstborn but was totally fine giving a little hand swat and oh it was so much easier! He's a much more difficult child (we called him Gizmo as a baby....after the gremlin) but I've been able to keep my cool much better than with my first and now that he's almost 3 he's really grown into a pleasant, sweet little boy. I find I don't even need to use spanking at all after 3 years old and even when I do between 1-3 years old it's pretty rare.

    I start with "that's a no" at about 6 months and I've noticed right around 9 months my babies start actually responding to it and will look at me and sometimes stop what they're doing. So that's when I begin some light consequences. My 10 month old has just gotten to this phase and it's interesting to see the understanding in her face when I saw "that's a no" now. I do like the "not for babies" idea too, I might use that for off-limit items like the remote. Somehow that darn remote is a temptation for all my babies, lol, but we manage to get them trained out of touching it long before they turn 2.

    Also, I think being willing to give a firm consequence can be helpful in other areas too. My first son bit me while nursing and so i would take him off the breast, say "no", etc. but nothing worked. I ended up weaning at 9 months him partially because I lived in fear of getting bit every time we nursed. My daughter (#3) tried that at 9 months too and I said "no no!" very firmly and flicked her cheek. She cried half a minute, I hugged her, and we went back to nursing happily with only two other minor biting incidents which were dealt with similarly and since then we've been back to our fantastic nursing relationship and I hope to nurse her to my goal of 18 months.

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  20. So...I'm just crazy enough to write my own post on this topic. Here's how we do one-year olds

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    1. Amelia, thank you for writing your own post, this is a lot more in line with how I deal with a one year old. Thanks for sharing :-)

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  21. Fun!! Personally I try and stray from the "no-no" because there's nothing worse than a little kid going around saying that! So we say "don't touch" to my 9 month old. He gets it. He's a little rebel though. I tried the gasping and looking sad, he thought it was hilarious. Lol. To each his own I suppose!

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    1. We try to avoid "no" for that same reason. Back in the day I babysat a little boy whose only words were "me" and "no," and he would shout them. Not the best. So we use "not for you" and "not for your mouth," both of which my kids have responded well to.

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  22. I'm coming back to this post because I desperately needed a refresher! Whew! This nine month old little boy is wearing me out! A question if you don't mind: HOW ON EARTH DO YOU GET HIM TO STAY STILL FOR A DIAPER CHANGE?????!!

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  23. I love you. So much. I mean your parenting style! This is exactly what I do, innately, because I was raised by common sense Irish parents in Ireland. Parenting wasn't over-analyzed. It was just done. And being done meant kids being obedient the quickest, fairest way, mom's way, so life could go on. My friends think I'm too hard, my inlaws too- but I think I'm soft! My eldest needs a firm style to keep himself in check. The second has learned quicker. Thanks for all you wrote!

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  24. What can I say? You are wonderful. This is exactly what I needed to read tonight. To make things easy on me since the twins (now 13 months) became mobile (around 6 months old), I generally keep them in one huge baby safe sun room that contains a half wall for great visibility & a wide gate so they are secured inside. I give them plenty of both mommy free time to just play together in there as well as time that either their big brother joins in on the fun or time when all of us are in there reading and singing and such. And of course time to roam outside. However, they're toddlers now and I think they need more time around the house both exploring and learning what is okay and not okay to play with. I've been putting it off because of baby-proofing for 2 toddler boys makes my skin crawl and because I know.....LOTS more discipline! But I think they need it and I think it's a foundation that is important to start. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your insight. I'm going to give them a little bit more freedom and little more healthy discipline in the near future! Thank you so much for being a mentor to so many of us young mommas!

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  25. Thanks for sharing! The more kids we have, the more I am finding that discipline is a must, and the earlier the better. I have had quite a few 2 and 3-year-olds who were absolute terrors, and with my current 1-year-old who is cute but also very strong willed, I'd rather start earlier than later when everybody's miserable.

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  26. Hi Kendra! I love all your parenting advice. You don't know how many times I've reread your Parenting with Authority post! I have been utilizing all your advice with my older son. Now that my younger one is 9 months it's time to lay down the law especially since he puts everything and anything in his mouth! I love this post! My question for you is how you dealt with teething toys. Because he has always put things in his mouth I bought things that were specifically for that purpose, especially during Mass! At this point should I stop using them or just be firm on things he can and can't put in his mouth? Or is that just confusing? I really want to stop this habit sooner rather than later! Your advice is very welcome!! Thanks!

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    1. Hey Katie, I think it's fine. Mostly, at this young age, I'm not as much asking them to follow a set of rules, as I am asking them to follow my instructions. So even though I SAY "not food" I'm not really expecting that he will never put anything that isn't food into his mouth, just that if I do say "not food" he'll stop eating whatever it was. So if it's okay to put something in his mouth, I just don't say anything. It seems to work out just fine.

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  27. This is great, especially the level of detail! We don't spank, but I think the method of discipline is by far secondary to the consistency. For me, "scary Mama face", repetition, and time outs/removal were enough at the younger ages. (We'll see when #2 arrives, #1 was also a relatively "easy" child and a very late walker, which REALLY REALLY helps, because by the time he could get into really bad trouble, he was also much more reasonable!)

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  28. Hi Kendra. I realize this post is from awhile ago but I do have a question for you. How do you go about actively making a toddler do something they should, such as (specifically) eating their dinner. My doctor and husband seem to think that a toddler knows best when and how much to eat, but my opinion is that he is largely refusing food because he is being preferential about what is being served and/or would like to turn meal time into play time. Any ideas? Thanks in advance.

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    1. I have a couple posts on this exact topic, here's one: Strategies for Mealtime Battles With Toddlers But trdr version is: I really try not to make food into a battle. Ever. I offer healthy foods at mealtimes and limit snacking. If they're not hungry, they don't have to eat. They just don't get anything else. :)

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  29. Hi Kendra, I know I'm commenting on this post years later but as I have a 13mo strong willed boy, it's a life saver at the moment. I just was wondering how you go about hand spanking in public? I took my son to a busy bookshop recently where he wanted to throw all the books off the shelves. I firmly said no and picked him up, but he would scream and try to get out of my arms. At home a use hand spankings and time outs in the crib just like you do, but I can't imagine how I would discretely spank his hand in public, especially since he would most likely scream, be comforted by me, and then do the exact same thing again a minute later. He is a very stubborn boy like his mummy. Thanks in advance!

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