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Discover the secret of childhood from 0-3 year old:

1-2 years old

Toddler Discipline: How Do I Get My Child To Clean Up and Do What I Ask?

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 1:24 am | By Stephanie Woo

One evening, B and M (3 years, 1 month) decided to take everything off their kitchen shelf and put it into their backpacks. Plates, bowls and utensils jangled around loudly in their backpack as they hauled it around the house. When I announced storytime, they dropped everything in the hallway. Daddy stopped them and said, “You guys need to put everything away!” Mackenzie does as she’s told, with some help from me. Brooke, ever the rebellious one, refused. 

Mark is an amazing dad, but – like all of us – sometimes he doesn’t know what to do when the children don’t do what he asks. He asked first in a firm and respectful tone. Then he gave Brooke choices, “Do you want to go by yourself or do you want me to carry you?” She avoids looking at him, so he chooses for her and carries her to the kitchen. They stand in front of the kitchen shelf for a good five minutes where she still refuses to put things away, so he decides to give her ‘time-out’ on the couch. She somehow falls off the couch and starts screaming. 

It was clear this classic power struggle was going nowhere, so Mark handed her off to me (teamwork, people). I first asked where she hurt herself. She pointed to her head, so I sat and held her quietly for a couple minutes till she stopped crying. Even if she fell trying to get out of time-out, she still needed empathy first. (See Connection Before Correction)

Then I looked her in the eyes and told her the facts, “I’m going to read stories now. You can join us after you put away your dishes and utensils.” I added, “You don’t have to put anything away if you don’t want to, but then you won’t be able to read books with us tonight.” I wanted to convey this was her choice. I put her down and went back to the bedroom. I sat down next to M and started reading. B got into bed with us and tried to pull the book toward her so she can see it. I held the book close to my chest and said in a friendly tone, “You can join us for this story after you put away your dishes and utensils.” She doesn’t move. She tried to pull the book toward her a couple more times, but each time, I tell her the same thing. My tone was friendly, but my stance was firm.

Finally, Mark came to ask her again. This time she got up, went to the kitchen and put everything away, with some of his help (see Collaborating With Your Child). When she was done, she ran back to the bedroom and joined us for story time. 

This kind of scenario happens in our house frequently and it illustrates a few key things around disciplining young children:

1. Understand your child’s developmental age

In this post, I talk about Montessori’s Three Stages of Obedience. Up to 3 years old, children are too young to be expected to obey. They have an inner directive that guides them, and their obedience is to that inner voice only. If they obeyed your request, it’s because it coincided with what they wanted to do. When it comes to cleaning up – if they are not readily willing – you can ask them to help, then hold their hand and model doing it with them by your side. 

Recently, my children have transitioned to the 2nd stage of obedience, where they want to obey, but can’t do it consistently. How do I know this? I’ve observed them doing what I ask more frequently, but still inconsistently. If you’ve notice your child being able to obey your requests more frequently, then you can make more requests, while continuing to offer collaboration. It is appropriate at this stage to provide logical consequences if they don’t do as you ask.

2. Provide logical consequences

Here are few things that are NOT logical consequences:

  • Taking away favorite toys that are unrelated to the situation
  • Withholding sweets, trips to the zoo or anything that will happen tomorrow or a later time
  • Time-outs and other arbitrary punishments. What does sitting in the corner have to do with cleaning up? Nothing. 

A logical consequence is something that is directly related to what is happening. For us, we clean up before storytime, so it is sequentially logical: if you don’t clean up, you can’t join story time. If you throw a fork on the floor or leave the table, it means you are done eating. If you don’t get dressed, it means you can’t go out to play. These are logical consequences that make sense in the context of what is happening. 

3. Don’t take it personally

If you understand the 3 Stages of Obedience, you will see that it is not personal. It is developmental. Your child is not being defiant on purpose, trying to make you angry, or being a bad kid. And you are not a bad parent! Their brain just hasn’t developed all the linkages it needs to follow your requests.

Last words of advice: Choose your battles. Don’t insist on everything. When they get to 5, they will obey your requests much more readily. If you don’t get embroiled in power struggles with your toddler, you’ll enjoy the magic of 2s and 3s so much more!

Video: The Best Language Environment for Your Child

Thursday, November 14th, 2013 6:50 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Brooke reciting classical Chinese poetry

Here’s a fact about young children: they LOVE language. It’s an absolute joy for them to learn and recite anything. And they do it effortlessly. They can learn Jack and Jill went up the hill just as easily as a Shakespearean sonnet.

Here are some videos of B and M reciting the Three Word Classic, Confucius’ Great Learning and several Tang poems.  These classical Chinese poems and writings are critical to helping children understand and appreciate Chinese language, culture and history, especially as they get into elementary and middle school. Knowing this, I memorized a couple stanzas of the Great Learnings and brushed up on Tang poems I learned as a child, then recited them to B and M. We sang Itsy Bitsy Spider at the same time we recited Confucius – and they picked it all up. To a 12-year-old, memorization is tedious and painful. But to a 2-year-old, there’s almost no greater joy. 

Children will imitate the language they hear in their environment. Therefore when it comes to language in general, I recommend speaking the most beautiful, difficult and sophisticated version of your language to them. Use hard vocabulary words. Enunciate. Be very specific in your word choices – instead of ‘look at that butterfly,” say, “look at that yellow and black Monarch butterfly.” And if you’re an English speaker, incorporate Shakespeare. It’s not too early. You’re doing them a favor by exposing them to it now!

Your Brain, Your Child’s Brain and What To Do About It

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 5:50 pm | By Stephanie Woo

B rinsing a scrub brush with a garden hose

The young child has a brain different from ours – like, totally different. And yes, it’s scientifically-proven. 

Here’s an example: if given the right environment, children can learn 4 languages simultaneously, and understand all of them by the time he’s 3.  

Because we have different brains, we learn differently. Children absorb everything in their environment – effortlessly, easily, unconsciously. We, unfortunately, don’t learn that way.

One brain is not better than the other. But, as you can see, we are totally different. Here’s another example:

Children are sensorial learners. That means they learn through their senses. A child who rips a book is fascinated by the feeling of paper ripping and crumbling in his hands. A child puts his fingers in his drinking cup and swirls it around because he’s experimenting with water. A child making a mess at meals is because he’s learning how to eat. 

Now, from our point of view, as the parent who has to tape up the book, wipe up the water and clean up the mess (along with the six zillion other things we have to do as a parent), it could look like he’s screwing around, doing it on purpose, or maybe, he’s spoiled and ‘bad.‘ With our logical, rational adult minds, we make these kinds of assumptions. 

So there’s the child’s brain – and then there’s the adult brain. Two totally different brains, trying to co-exist.

Because the adult is bigger, Mom and Dad can dominate the child and physically remove him from anything they don’t want him doing. But the child! The child is driven to learn. In fact, that internal force is so strong, deep and instinctual, his whole existence depends on it. Therefore, just so you know, the next chance he gets, he’ll probably do it again. 

So we essentially have two choices. We can overpower the nature of the child (and watch those wrinkles and gray hair proliferate) OR we can align ourselves with it. 

Here’s what happened to me a while back. So it’s bathtime. B and M are playing in the tub with their various water containers, pouring water from one container to another. Well, someone came up with the bright idea of pouring water outside of the bathtub and onto the floor. The first time this happened, my husband came in yelling, “No water outside the bathtub!” then grabbed both of them out of the bath and ‘made them’ clean it up (except with two-year-olds, they love to clean and eagerly fetched the towels to clean – so it wasn’t the punishment Mark had in mind). Of course that didn’t stop them the next day (and the next), when we again, promptly took them out of the bath, shook our fingers at them and raised our voices to teach them a lesson. 

Until I realized this: they love water. They love pouring water. Trying to stop them is like trying to stop a seed from growing or the sun from coming out in the morning. 

So I decided to align myself with Nature instead. 

The next day, while the girls were in the bath, I took out a large empty garbage can and put it next to the bathtub. I told them, “If you want to pour water, you can pour it into the garbage can. See if you can do it without spilling any on the floor!” 

It worked. They immediately filled up that big garbage can with cups of bath water. Carefully, too. I then dumped out the water in the toilet. And then they proceeded to fill it up again. Before they were halfway through the second round, they had already lost interest and started playing with their sea animals.  

Children will want to play with water all the time. They will drip, dribble, grab and smear while eating. They will want to touch everything. They will run around and climb on everything. They will sing and talk loudly, even when it’s inappropriate. That is their Nature. You can come down on them, punish them, manipulate them, distract them (and I’ll admit, there are a few moments when you might need to do these things). But consider working with Nature, at least most of the time. Find creative ways for them to get their needs met. They are going to follow their nature, whether you like it or not. So find a way so they CAN do the things they want to do: let them walk around freely in a new environment and touch things (they are capable of learning how to stay away from danger and handle fragile things), give them something they can climb on in the house, give them stacks of paper to rip, let them play with water that extra 20 minutes at the sprinklers/sink/bathtub, etc. 

When you hear yourself saying, “No!” or “Don’t do that!” mostly, I suspect, it’s because you’re not aligned with the Nature of the child. So whatever you’ve got to do, figure out a way to align yourselves, my friends. It’s your path to peace and sanity.

**To read a free excerpt of my new book, Raising Your Twins: Real Life Tips to Parenting with Ease (Without Kicking Your Spouse to the Curb), click here and download it to your Kindle or to your computer. Look for the “Try It Free” box!