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Disciplining Your Toddler (aka the path of least resistance)

By Stephanie Olsen

The screams woke me up. I had nodded off briefly while nursing our infant and had to fight a surprisingly strong urge to pull the blanket over my head, stuff my ears with cotton, and let my husband continue another losing battle of wills with our three year old. Reluctantly responsible, I did get up and move towards the growing crescendo knowing to the letter and each nuance exactly what I would hear from each of them:

Husband/daddy: "It's chilly outside! She wants to go to the park and - "

Queen Em (daughter): "I'm sweating like a pig!" (she got that from me) "It's not cold out and I don't want a" -

Husband: "I did what YOU said!" (accusatory glare shot my way) "I told her to choose. Sweater or park - it's that simple!"

Queen Em: "aaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Well, it's true I told him to do choices. But only when it MATTERS. You know, life and death situations. Otherwise, give in! My husband would argue that our precious daughter might catch her death of cold sans sweater on a cool day, but I'm more of the sniffles-won't-kill-ya-but-a-bus-will school. I say OK to the kid in the house to get her out the door then, when she's distracted at the park (and if it really IS cold enough to warrant it) the sweater goes on.

Preventive discipline is lovely. Remember, the more you say "no", the less they'll listen when you say "no"! So I safety electrical outlets, put away breakables and heirlooms, bolt standing furniture to the walls, gate tops of stairways and bathroom entrances, and child-proof-lock bottom cupboards and drawers (still can't open those.).

I give as much safe freedom for exploration and play as possible and let the kids go. They know they can color and/or paint on one special wooden bookshelf and all over their outside play structure, but not on the living room walls. (That's called a "rule".) We let them romp through the entire house, with toy strollers and cars rumbling down the halls, but keep all balls in the yard. (Too bad about that antique lamp.)

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There are some rules that I've had to fight for - with my husband and mother-in-law who muttered something about "over-kill". For instance, my children may have peanuts, but only if mom chews them first. Hard candies are forbidden, of course, and when some well-meaning idiot gives Queen Em a candy over my protests, I will, if unable to wrest it away, sit with her, watch her hold the sticky potentially life-threatening choker in her sweaty little hand, and see that she licks it like an ice-cream cone, right to the bitter end.

Discipline's a breeze. Say "yes" to everything unless it's a threat to health or safety. Slavishly heed that age-old mantra developed by some exhausted parent: "Follow the path of least resistance". And if you have to take your little boy to the office in his (sister's) tutu, then you know you're doing a great job.

© Stephanie Olsen
Stephanie Olsen is a published writer, homeschooling mother of two and ESL teacher currently residing in Europe, is also owner of the expatriate site Family Life Abroad: the expatriate place,, where you will find informative articles by experienced expatriates on all aspects of living abroad.


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