I have written a post about why parents should try to greenlight desired behaviors in their kids.
That is the best way. Hands down. Greenlighting will promote positive relationships between your child and you. You won’t yell as much. Your child will have more confidence. And you will have an overall happier home.
However, bad behaviors in your toddlers will arise from time to time. First, I want to say that that’s natural and not a reflection of what kind of parent you are.
These bad behaviors might look like excessive whining, throwing, kicking, hitting, or breaking a coveted family rule.
Dr. Harvey Karp calls these unwanted behaviors yellow and red light behaviors.
And while we wanted to handle bad behavior generously and without hitting in order to avoid excessive yelling and power struggles, there is a time and place where we need to break out consequences and not allow the tantrum to ride its course (Think - hitting, biting, kicking, throwing).
That time and place is usually yellow and red light behavior.
Lauren Barrett Writes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about these links in my disclosure policy.
10 Proven Ways to Discipline Your Toddler's Bad Behavior Without Spanking
In today’s blog post, I have 10 proven ways for parents to discipline their toddlers in an efficient way and by breaking generational cycles of spanking.
What Are Yellow Light Behaviors?
Yellow light behaviors are those unwanted behaviors our kids display that aren’t dangerous or putting anyone in harm’s way but, for lack of a better word, are annoying.
They pop up during unwelcomed times like during a trip to the store, the middle of church, a work call, or a conversation with another adult.
They happen when you are tired or stressed.
They are annoying and require some type of response.
Yellow light behaviors can include
How to Respond to Yellow Light Behaviors?
#1 Use Toddler-Ese
Toddler-ese is the language of your toddlers. It’s short, repetitive phrases with a little bit of mirroring to match your toddler’s emotions.
Dr. Karp says, “You will be able to prevent up to 90% of tantrums before they even happen and you’ll settle more than 50% of the meltdowns that do occur…in seconds!”
Dr. Karp has a great blog on how to use toddler-ese.
As parents, when we get angry, we tend to use long, complicated sentences in a deep, authoritative voice.
But to your toddler, that is like speaking a foreign language which causes them to get even more upset because they don’t understand you.
But when you use toddler-ese to curb unwanted behaviors, you are connecting with respect, validating the feelings, and speaking in a way that your toddlers will know you want them to stop.
#2 Offer a win-win compromise
The goal of curbing the undesired yellow light behavior is to leave the situation with love and respect.
No yelling or power struggles.
When your child is whining, pouting, and trying to negotiate, use the win-win compromise approach.
The idea of it is to give your child a win that you don’t mind compromising on.
For example, your son is pouting about eating the food in front of him. He wants something else.
Usually this will work, but if it doesn’t, allow your son to leave the table but without the wanted food. Still a win-win.
Let me offer another example. You are trying to get work done, but your daughter is begging you to play with her. Try this….
If you have no time to play at all, over a win-win by penciling in or scheduling in a timer when you can play on your phone or calendar. Color code it green, so she knows that she has the go-ahead to play with you.
Using a win-win compromise is a proven response to work when dealing with unwanted behaviors.
Sometimes, your kid’s unwanted behavior needs to be stopped immediately. For example, you’re having an important conversation with an adult, but your kid is pulling on your pants whining.
Enter in the clap-growl. Another Dr. Karp technique.
To get their immediate attention, clap loudly two-three times while growling and saying “Stop. Now.”
I like to add in the sign language for Knock It Off.
In times of frustration and distress, kids respond better to nonverbal cues rather than words.
Therefore, the clap-growl works.
#4 Kindly ignore
Sometimes, your kid’s incessant annoying behavior needs to be kindly ignored.
*Don’t use this if your child is scared, very sad, or hurt.*
When you use kindly ignoring, first acknowledge your kid’s feelings and broadcast back his emotions.
If the fussing or whining continues, reassure that you love your child, but you are busy and will be right back.
Walk away and preoccupy yourself while kindly ignoring your child.
If the whining stops, return, echo his feelings, and provide some sort of positive feedback like a hug or praise or time-in.
If the whining persists, return and repeat the first steps. Then, walk away for a longer time period.
If it still persists, you have now entered a red-light misbehavior which you’ll learn about later on in this blog.
A mistake that parents often make is that they think they need to be louder than their child to calm loud behavior, but the opposite actually works.
When we whisper, your child starts to pay attention and think that what you are about to say is very important. They are more likely to listen.
When my son is engaging in yellow-light behavior, I get down on his level and call him over in a whisper voice.
I then proceed to dramatically and calmly whisper.
“Hey, guess what. I have something to tell you. You are mad, mad, mad. You want to play outside. But I have to get dinner ready first. Do you think you can play inside with your toys while I do this? I think you can. That’s why I’m whispering because I think you are the only one who can.”
Whispering works well to curb yellow-light behavior.
What Are Red Light Behaviors?
Red light behaviors go beyond those annoying behaviors that drive us crazy. And while I believe that there are no bad kids - being a toddler is tough - red light behaviors are bad and need to be stopped immediately!
Red light behaviors can include
How to Respond to Red Light Behaviors?
# 6 Time out
Time-outs can get a bad rep, but we are probably imagining the punitive way of time-outs of the past.
I.e. Locking our kids in their rooms for long periods of time or making them sit in the corner with their noses to the wall.
But when done right, in the positive parenting sense, they can be quite effective according to research.
Steps to giving a time-out:
#7 Give a fine
What happens when you speed repeatedly? You get a fine from the police.
The same thing can happen to your toddler when he repeatedly does a bad behavior that you told them to stop. He’ll get a fine.
But in the toddler sense, instead of asking them to pay money, we are going to take away something they like.
I use giving a fine when my toddler throws or hits. I’ll take away the toy he threw and essentially put it in time-out until he has settled down and is ready to play nicely again.
Dr. Aliza of Raising Good Humans does caution in her podcast to NOT take away something that isn’t connected to the throwing. For example, if your toddler threw his toy car, don’t take away his favorite stuffed animal.
A key takeaway to remember is that the fine should connect the punishment to the bad behavior.
If your toddler hits you, remove yourself from playing with him for a bit. That’s a fine.
If your toddler throws a toy, remove that toy. That’s a fine.
If your toddler sneaks TV time without your permission, take away TV time. That’s a fine.
Once the toy or object is removed, validate to your toddler their feelings. “I know, You want the toy. You want it bad. Bad. Bad. But I said No, No, No throwing. And you didn’t listen. So bye-bye toy.”
When your toddler starts to listen, praise him for listening and reinforce with greenlight strategies.
#8 Get down on their level
When we discipline our toddler’s bad behavior, it’s easy to want to hover them and present ourselves as big and scary.
And to our toddler that is exactly what they say - big and scary Mommy and Daddy.
But that further dysregulates their already emotional brain.
So a proven way to discipline their red light behavior is to get down on their level and gently tell them that they need to stop right now.
If the bad behavior consists, move on to a time-out or give a fine.
#9 Speak in a deep voice
Dealing with a red light behavior that needs to stop now? Maybe you already gave a warning to your daughter for her to stop throwing her toys? But she isn’t listening.
Use a deep voice to get the bad behavior to end immediately.
Then, get down on your toddler’s level to explain why they can’t throw, validate their feelings, and use toddler-ese.
The unwanted behavior still persisting? Move on to a time-out or give a fine.
#10 Guide their hands
When our toddlers are having trouble with hitting, throwing, and other acts of aggression sometimes they need help with what to do with their hands instead of those violent actions.
In one of my favorite ways to calm a tantrum, I like to guide my son’s hands with magic breaths.
In child psychologists Cara Goodwin’s book, What To Do When You Feel Like Hitting, she goes over strategies on ways toddlers can use their hands in a more productive way when they feel like hitting.
She suggests hugging yourself, squeezing your fists into balls, using sign language to express feelings, or maybe pounding a ball of playdoh.
Sometimes guiding your toddlers hands is all it takes to help them release anger in positive ways.
With these proven ways to discipline your toddler’s bad behavior there is no need to ever spank your child.
These 10 ways will help you discipline your kids in a positive way that builds mindful relationships and fosters love between parents and children.
Check out my parenting guide, Now What?, on different strategies to do during life’s hard moments with your kids.
Interested in my parenting checklists for life’s hard moments? Snag yours below.