Think. Learn. Act. Remind.
Toddlers are a HUGE challenge, to say the least. My patience is tested constantly and very often I begin to wonder if I am doing a good job with my kids. Nevertheless, here are some (disciplining/dealing) techniques that have worked for me:
1. Distraction, distraction, distraction!: This is my ultimate go-to idea! E.g. When my son is insisting I let him use the computer or asking me why he can’t get what he wants, and I have already tried explaining to him why, I try to focus his attention on something he CAN have or reminding him about something interesting coming up that he is looking forward to (e.g. a visit to his cousins’ house). Or I ask him to tell me about something that I knew he had felt happy about. I keep showing interest by asking questions until he’s forgotten what he was throwing a tantrum over.
2. Telling him “No” differently: E.g. if he’s asking for ice cream or chocolates and I don’t want him to have them just then, I tell him he can have them another day. He likes the hope in this answer and doesn’t mind that I have in essence said No!
3. Consistency: reprimanding only when the child misbehaves and praising and encouraging him for good behavior means that we must avoid treating him according to our mood. E.g. if he makes a small mistake and we scold him harshly because we are in a bad mood or ignore really bad behavior just because we are in a good mood, makes the child confused about how he needs to behave.
4. Not lying: This way the child learns that when mom/dad say something, they mean it whether they are talking about a reward or a punishment. Even the times we end up saying No to our child differently (see point 2 above), we should ensure that we are not lying in doing so.
5. Keeping cool while disciplining: This is easier said than done, of course! If we get angry, we are setting a bad example for him and we may end up being unfair to him. Reminding oneself to always respond in a calm, cool, low voice is important – it shows the child that we are control of the situation and he respects that. Children seem to expect adults to behave like adults and are disappointed when they don’t.
6. Setting a good example: How many times have you had to tell your child not to shout at his little sister or show respect to his elders or even brush his teeth and he hasn’t listened? Why doesn’t he listen, we may ask ourselves! The answer may lie no further than our own attitude and actions. E.g. no amount of convincing my son to brush his teeth will work but if he sees ME brush every morning and evening, he will do the same (or at least will realize that I am asking him to do something I believe in and am not trying to set two different sets of rules: one for him, and one for me). Similarly, if we are good to our parents and elders, the child will automatically follow suit. He learns through our actions, not so much through our words.
7. When he is in a good mood, talk to him about how a certain good behavior (that you desire him to develop) will please Allah (SWT), how the Prophet (SAW) used to behave and/or do certain things and how children who listen to Allah and His Messenger and to their mom and dad will be rewarded with Jannah (explaining to him that Jannah is a place where he can have anything he wants!). My son is really excited about going to Jannah and it serves as a strong motivator.
8. Looking out for good behavior, acknowledging it with hugs and kisses and reporting the good behavior to Dad when he comes home. Noticing the good in the child and acknowledging it is as important in disciplining him as is reprimanding him for bad behavior.
9. Not just scolding him for doing something wrong but telling him how he SHOULD have behaved. A child doesn’t know everything; he could have done things the wrong way because he didn’t know what the right way was.
10. Telling him that good is good and bad is bad no matter who does it and ensuring that each child is reprimanded for bad behavior not just the one who is usually the most disruptive.
11. Always verifying facts and attempting to understand why a certain behavior took place before judging. This is especially important when more than one child is involved to ensure that we are not judging unfairly. Our unfair treatment can cause our child to lose respect for us and become under-confident about himself. And if the child admits to a bad behavior (e.g. pushing his little sister) then due consideration should be given to the fact that he told the truth so that he is encouraged to tell the truth in future even if it is likely to get him into trouble. And when the child tells the truth even though it goes against him, we should tell him that we are happy he was truthful and then reduce his punishment accordingly.
12. Constantly reminding ourselves that our children do not belong to us; rather they are a trust from Allah. There is nothing more important than this constant reminder to ourselves. Even our own lives are not ours really; they too are a trust from Allah. And at the end of the day, we are answerable to Allah for how we used our own lives and how we contributed to the development of the lives entrusted to us (i.e. our children).
I haven’t perfected the use of these techniques but I remind myself often to correct myself.
May Allah make it easy for all of us.