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The Distraction Method of Toddler Discipline

Updated on February 26, 2013

Taming a toddler can be tricky. During the toddler years, you can't really reason with your child. One discipline technique which you can use is distraction.

Discipline for Toddlers

Between the ages of one and three, children are becoming their own people. They aren't babies any more. They are learning to explore the world around them. They are learning about their environment. They are getting better at walking, running, climbing. They are learning to talk. They are also beginning to develop their own ideas about what they want and don't want.

Toddlers won't always hold your hand. They will often refuse to come to you when you call. They will sometimes respond to your requests with a firm and defiant, 'No'. Toddlers want to do things their way and unfortunately sometimes that means tantrums. Here are a few tips:

  • Create a safe environment for your toddler. Allow your little one the space to explore their environment in your home, but make sure that there is no chance of any danger. Child proof your home, so as to avoid any accidents.
  • Don't take them out if they are tired. You can reduce the risk of tantrums by not taking your child somewhere when he is hungry or tired. Tiredness and hunger are
  • Be patient with your toddler. Don't try to make your little one do something until they are ready to do it. Toddlers become adept at skills like toilet training and eating with forks in their own time. Don't push and rush them to do things. You'll only get frustrated when they don't.
  • Don't expect your toddler to do everything you ask. 'No' is is a response you'll often get from your little one. In some situations, just accept that.

The Distraction Technique for Toddlers

When your child won't do something you want them to do, trying to reason with them probably isn't the best option. That's when the distraction technique is useful.

If a child refuses to do something, don't waste your energy by trying to force them to do it. Let's say, your child is refusing to put on their coat, before you head out for the day. Instead of trying to insist that they put on their coat, direct their attention to something out of the window. After that go back to the putting on the coat. Chances are, after the distraction, they will return to putting on the coat and it will go much more smoothly.

Maybe your child has started flinging toys around in a room which you want to keep tidy. You could say, 'no' or 'stop' but the chances are that's not going to work. Instead, you could give them something else to do instead. You want to take your toddler's mind and energy way from the thing you don't want them doing. That's the distraction technique.

Toddlers have short attention spans, so distraction can be an effective technique in getting them to stop doing something or getting them to do something you want. When they are at that age you can't really reason with them, explains Dr Tanya Byron, author of Your Toddler: Month by Month. If your little one doesn't do what you want them, sometimes you will need to physically move them somewhere else and give them something different to do, she explains.

Some people argue that distraction is a flawed technique. They say that by using distraction you are wasting opportunities to enable your child to learn from the conflict. Your child is not learning anything about why what they did was wrong. They are not seeing that they are angry with them for what they have done. In some ways, you are being dishonest with them.

Dr Christopher Green, author of New Toddler Taming: A Parents' Guide to the First Four Years, responds to critics of the technique by pointing out that it works. One of the toddler trademarks is a short attention span, he explains. The technique of distraction has been "effective for centuries. It prevents fights and helps families live in peace." For the times when you want your child to stop doing something naughty and you don't have the time or energy to stop it, distraction is a speedy and effective way to deal with the situation. There might be times when you want to work through a tantrum, so that your child will learn that whatever it is that they are doing is not acceptable. But in many cases, the distraction technique can be an effective parenting tool.

Raising a Toddler

The toddler years are great because your child is learning and developing so much, but they can be difficult times. Dealing with tantrums can be stressful and unpleasant. As well as distraction there are other techniques which you can use, such as simply ignoring, when you think that attention to unwanted behaviour will make it worse, or time out, if your child has done something unacceptable, such as hitting a sibling.

Nobody said that bringing up a toddler would be easy. There are no simple solutions that fit every situation. But next time your little one doesn't behave as you would like them to do, distraction might be an option.


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