It has become a cliché that babies should come with an instruction manual.  As experienced educators, my wife and I felt like we had a plan for how to handle the little bundle of joy that tumbled into our lives over two years ago.  We’ve taught and disciplined hundreds upon hundreds of kids between the two of us.  Surely we could handle one very small one?

Alas, the nature of parenting is to second-guess every decision you make, pretty much every step of the way.  We wanted to do what was best for our son–all the time, every day.  But how did we know what was best?  How could we be sure.  So we turned to the experts.

In the last two and a half years, suffice to say, I’ve read a lot of books on parenting and discipline.  Warnings and snarky memes from parents of older children had me terrified of what would happen when my infant became a toddler, so I felt like I needed to build my knowledge base.  But our son isn’t a terror, not even close.  He’s two, and he’s independent and stubborn and feisty and sometimes moody, but he’s a great, well-developed, smart, strong kid.  And often my wife and I look at each other and say, “How did we do this?”


Then I read Positive Discipline: The First Three Years by Jane Nelson, Ed.D.  If I had to recommend one book on toddler parenting and discipline to other parents, this would be it.  As an educator myself, I found that it confirmed all the things my wife and were instinctively doing.   Some tips (and some of the things we do daily with little man) include:

  1. Offer acceptable choices.  Toddlers want to feel a sense of power and independence (like the middle schoolers I teach) so choices work great to achieve this and still get them to do what you want.  The trick is to ensure that you are offering choices you can live with.  Don’t say, “Do you want to go to bed now?” because the answer is probably no, and then you’re in for a fight.  Instead try, “It’s time to go to bed.  Do you want to walk upstairs yourself or do you want a piggyback ride?”  See the difference?  I don’t care which one he chooses…both get him upstairs for bedtime.
  2. Talk to your child. This may seem like a no-brainer, but bear with me.  My little boy is not quite two and a half, and even before he hit the two-year mark nearly everyone we met was marveling at his skill with spoken language.  He speaks very, very well for his age.  Embarrassed by the compliments, my wife and I usually just say, “We talk to him a lot.”  But it’s true.  We talk to him all the time.  We read books together.  We discuss what we see going on around us with him–and encourage him to talk back.  Even when he watches TV, we ask him to tell us what’s happening in the show–we watch with him and talk about it.  I was thrilled to see this exact approach to language development recommended in Positive Discipline.
  3. Showing what to do.  It’s a hard habit to break, to automatically say, “No hitting!” or “Don’t throw things!” when your toddler does something you don’t want them doing.  But when I forced myself to fall back on my knowledge of good teaching–giving kids positive examples of what mastery looks like–I realized, as this book points out, that showing a child (and not just telling him) what TO do is way more effective than telling what NOT to do.  So now, when little man tries to run out into the street, I grab his hand and explain, “We walk on the sidewalk.  Or you hold my hand if you want to cross the street.”  When he hits the dog instead of petting her, “Pet her gently, like this.  Nicely.  Good job!”  As the authors of Positive Discipline point out, “Not only can you teach a toddler, you must.

These are just a few nuggets of wisdom from the book that resonated with me as both a mom and an educator.  There is SO much more, and I’m really looking forward to employing some of the other advice for stages we haven’t quite gotten to yet (there’s a whole chapter on potty training!)  For me this is the essential guide to nurturing your child with love and structure as he or she grows.  I highly recommend it to everyone, and will be giving it as a baby gift to new parents from here on out!

I received a complimentary copy of Positive Discipline: The First Three Years from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.  However, my opinions as stated above are my own.