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Toddler - Week #76

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Your fourth week with a 17-month-old toddler (Part IV of IV)

By Shelley Feldman, edHelperBaby

Time to Start Laying Down the Law
           Did you know that the word "discipline," means "to teach"?  I was not aware of its true definition myself, and now that I do, I have an entirely new perspective on the word.  Now I am able to look at disciplining my three toddlers, like I am instilling an understanding of right and wrong, helping to improve their self-control, teaching respect for themselves and others, and protecting them from harm.  When the word "discipline" is experienced from this angle, it provides a more positive approach to a concept that can often have such negative connotations.

       Most effective discipline provides a delicate balance between enforcing strict rules and bending others.  At 17 months, your toddler continues to have little or no self-discipline and often becomes scared when he loses control.  Because of this, children need and want limits and boundaries, and by providing him with rules and structure you are creating a safety net that will catch him when he falls.

       At this age it is important that you do not rely on your toddler to be obedient, as he is not old enough to comprehend how to stay out of trouble himself.  He also has a very limited memory so don't expect him to learn lessons the first time around and prepare to be confronted with more defiance at this age as well, so get ready.  Your toddler is in the midst of experimenting and exploring with everything, and there are bound to be a few tests to see what he can get away with.

       Often disobedience becomes confused with distraction at this age, so when you feel ignored, keep in mind that he may be wrapped up and focused on an activity and not giving you the cold shoulder.  When trouble does happen (as it often will) let him know that although you may not like or approve of his behavior, you still love him.  Be prepared to repeat yourself constantly, have your patience stretched to the outer-most limits, and bite your tongue A LOT.

       The limits and rules that you choose to set in place are dependent upon your family's priorities.  Discipline should begin with what you feel adamant about reinforcing in your home, but remember that you have to live with the rules that you set too, so be careful.  Not everything is worth a confrontation so pick and choose your battles wisely.


Tried and True Disciplining Techniques
           You will now begin to notice that your little one loves the challenge of getting you to say "NO!" for the hundredth time, so if "no" just doesn't seem to be working, get up and take control, particularly if she is in harm's way.  Start by firmly, clearly and simply stating "No," and then follow it with a brief summary of her negative behavior, "Don't stick your fingers in the electric outlet," and lastly explain why her behavior must stop, "It is dangerous."  You should then follow up by removing her from the immediate area and be sure that the outlet is out of her line of sight because she will run right back again and again.       

       Try to discipline your little one based upon her actions, rather than upon herself.  For example, "Biting is bad," not, "You're bad."  Also, tell your toddler what she should do as opposed to what she should not do.  For example, "Put the books back on the shelf like I do," instead of, "Don't take all of the books off of the bookshelf!"  Keep in mind that at 17 months it is quite possible that your toddler may only hear the end of your instructions, which in this case would be, "Take all of the books off of the bookshelf!"

       When your toddler does act out (which she will...) be sure to discipline her face to face and down at her level, not from across the room staring down from four feet above.  You can imagine how frightening that tactic may be to a small curious child of 17 months, so it is important to appear less intimidating right now.  Remember that although disciplining may be difficult at this young age, it is important that she learn that there are consequences to bad behavior.  If she bites a playmate, the date should end, and if she throws blocks at her brother, she should no longer play with the blocks.  It is important this month that the consequences of her negative behavior are immediate because if you wait, she will have no recollection of what has happened and therefore no learning will take place.  I promise, no matter how heartbreaking it may be, your little trouble maker will be alright if she is upset for a few minutes, and she may actually (eventually) link the cause and effect of negative behavior in the future before acting out again.

       Remember that it's one thing to talk about setting limits, and another to enforce them.  Consistency is key, and following through with consequences is essential.  If your little one doesn't learn to adhere to a few basic rules now, it will be harder to enforce more serious ones in the future, and this month your job is to begin laying down the groundwork.  Also, while you are giving disciplining your best shot this month, don't forget to catch your little one being good.  Praise her for good behavior when you want to see more, and don't let her think for a second that you only notice when she misbehaves.

       Just a side note, parent to parent, if you become angry when your toddler misbehaves, do your best to collect yourself and calm down before you approach her.  Hitting and physically punishing your little one will not teach good things.  In fact, these types of punishments only teach aggressiveness and bring about unhealthy fears in your child.  Try your best to remember that it is your job as a parent to teach your child how to behave appropriately, and yelling and hitting send the wrong messages.  While you cannot always be the "perfect" teacher, keep in mind that in your child's eyes you are her hero and protector, and it is your job to make sure it stays that way.


Your Emotional Little One
           You may be surprised at the recent increase in the intensity of your toddler's emotions, and have begun to watch him flip-flopping around with different emotions until he can figure out which one is the best fit for the current predicament he has found himself in.

       Now is the time when you can actually begin to help him get a better grip on this new onslaught of feelings, and teach him the names of the emotions that he is experiencing.  By assisting your toddler to understand these new words, you are providing him with the tools he needs to express himself, and can understand more clearly what is going on in his little mind.  Helping your toddler through this emotional roller coaster is all in your best interest (especially as a parent coming dangerously close to the "terrible twos") because if he is able to understand his emotions, and can begin to tell you what he is feeling, he feels more in control which in turn will mean less melt-downs.  If he does get upset because a toy isn't working the way that it should, or if someone else has something that he wants, it is your opportunity to step in and teach him how to appropriately handle the situation.  Show him that there are alternatives, and that the world is not going to end because his brother took the big yellow bus and won't share it.  He needs to start understanding now that you care about how he feels, that you understand the "tragic" experience he had by the toy box, and you will help him to get through it.


Dealing With Unsolicited Feedback
           Every parent (myself included) believes that they know what is best for their child, particularly regarding discipline, and how to handle "acting out."  Unfortunately, you are now likely to come into contact with some individuals who also believe that they know what is also best for your child during these circumstances as well (and it normally occurs in the midst of a melt-down in a check-out line that hasn't moved for ten minutes in 95 degree weather when the air conditioning is broken).

       In order to deal with this type of parent, grandparent or whomever else decides to bless you with their opinions, there are a few simple statements which I have found extremely helpful (and non-confrontational) yet, allow you to maintain your dignity.

       By letting them know that you accept what they are saying, but don't necessarily agree with them, you are very politely telling them to back off, but in a friendly and politically correct way.  For starters you could try, "I'll think about what you said...," or "I can understand why you may feel that way...," and then walk away.  These are just two examples of how to avoid an argument while allowing you to regain control of a very uncomfortable few minutes of intrusiveness, while your toddler flails about on the floor.  Good Luck.


           Puzzle Time!       

       Besides being perfectly simple toys, puzzles also serve an educational purpose.  They are wonderful tools that help to sharpen your toddler's fine motor skills, introduce matching, and provide practice with eye/hand coordination.  Puzzles are also great for teaching problem solving skills, as he will quickly learn that if a piece doesn't work one way, it will fit somewhere else if he keeps trying.  As your toddler tries to fit a puzzle piece into place, he is learning to be patient, persistent, and to look at things from various angles, all valuable and basic lessons that last a lifetime.

       Large-piece puzzles with jumbo-knobs work extremely well for young toddlers.  The large sturdy knobs make it easier to lift the puzzle pieces out and put them back again.  Most jumbo-knob puzzles also have a matching full-color picture hidden underneath each removable puzzle piece, making the challenge of locating where it belongs a little easier for young children.

       In order to introduce puzzles to your 17-month-old, I recommend sitting next to him on the floor, ideally in a room with little or no distraction.  First, show him what he is going to be doing by completing the puzzle yourself, and then show him hand-over-hand.  Take as many trial runs as you need along with him, and when you believe that your toddler has the gist of it, let him try alone.  You may be amazed at how quickly he is able to take the puzzle apart and put it back together again by himself, particularly if you have one of the large 3-piece wooden puzzles with jumbo-knobs like I have described.

       This is a great activity that can keep your toddler occupied for quite a while.  So go ahead and stock up!


  Andrew and Devin's Opinion
           Puzzles are the best.  My oldest son still plays with the puzzles that he was introduced to 3 years ago, and they can still do the trick of occupying him for quite a while.  I was excited to give this new activity a whirl with my 17-month-old twin boys, although I admit, I was a little hesitant about willingly providing them with weapons to throw at one another.  Nonetheless, now that my little angels have successfully managed to have their first puzzle experience without injury, I am pleased to have tempted fate in this instance.

       I had previously purchased two, very simple, large-knob wooden puzzles that had only 3 pieces each, and thought they would be perfect for our initial puzzle experiment. After scouring the house for a quiet, distraction-free zone, and settling on the living room, I brought Andrew and Devin to our secret location and sat them on the floor next to the puzzles.  I then sat in front of the boys, and one-by-one took the three pieces out of each of their puzzles, and laid them on the ground.  As I removed each piece, I pretended to be surprised when I found the matching picture underneath the puzzle-piece that had been removed (oh, the excitement of motherhood...).  The boys caught on quickly to my game, as they were soon squealing with delight, shouting hurray along with me.  I then took their little hands one-by-one and removed the pieces with them, again shouting with "joy" as we discovered the hidden treasures beneath.

       We continued to do the puzzles together two more times before I left them to their own devices, and was so pleased to finally watch them succeed on their own after struggling for just a few moments.  Andrew initially found the shapes of the pieces with the knobs quite funny, and was convinced that they were hats, however, after a good giggle he was able to figure out their true purpose.  Devin, who is quite a serious boy at 17 months, focused directly on the task at hand, and would not let his brother's antics interfere with his duty, despite Andrew's greatest efforts to place the puzzle piece on his head while he worked.  Never a dull moment.

       It is amazing to me how quickly children learn at this age, and how funny they can be.  They are like little sponges soaking up everything that they observe and becoming more and more independent every day...it is so bittersweet.  As a mother, it is so rewarding to watch my boys grow and develop new skills, especially when they appear to be having so much fun in the process (and I do too).


  Have you begun to wonder...
           When is my toddler going to lose her blankie and stop sucking her thumb?       

       As emotions begin to bud, and separation anxiety begins to wane, your toddler wants to feel as in control as possible.  During this tumultuous time in your child's life, it is very normal that you see your toddler latch onto her "comfort objects" tighter than ever.  Although many children do develop an attachment to a "blankie" or other "lovey" around the age of 1, it is not until around the17th month that they develop a true dependency upon it.  Because your little one is exploring so much right now, she may feel more comfortable and less fearful about her experimentation when she does not have to go about it alone and can bring her trusty "friend" along.  Her "transitional object" provides reassurance, and the moral support to tackle new fears which may also be emerging around this time.  For those of you who have a child that has found the comforts of his or her thumb, the same rules apply, however, it can be much more difficult to separate from this object for the obvious reason that it comes along with the package.  The sense of security which is created by having an attachment to a comfort object, allows her to explore the unknown while she struggles between independence and dependence, it also comes in handy when she is tired, upset, or just bored.

       .  Try not to pressure your little one to leave her "lovey" behind too early, as you may quickly discover that your pressures to stop may actually intensify her connection.  For now you can trust that she will know when it's time to let go, and it's usually somewhere between ages 2 and 5.  Even if your toddler does decide to leave "blankie" behind sooner than later, don't be surprised to see it again during emotional times throughout the years (in fact, I think we all have a friend who brought her "lovey" to college and hid it in a secret drawer that she thought no one knew about).  It is very normal to have comfort objects, so don't push your little one to give up the extra love he needs right now before he's ready.  It's a scary world out there, but it isn't as bad when you're not alone.


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