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Proper "Discipline" for 18 Month Old

QUESTION: My husband and I are confused on proper discipline for our 18 month old daughter. Do you have any guidelines that you can give to us. We don't want to be too strict yet she needs some limits.

You are right to be seeking to define "limits" rather than "discipline" at this age. Eighteen months is too young to respond to discipline which implies that a child can internalize control. Setting limits however is a precursor to discipline and involves immediate consequences that in some way removes the child from an ability to pursue an inappropriate activity.

Limits are passively set (without provocation) when you place safety latches on cabinets to protect children from poisons or other dangerous elements around the house. Active limit setting is a response to young toddlers inappropriate and often painful actions, such as hitting others with heavy objects (metal or wooden toys) or throwing objects that may break.

Children of this age often throw objects, laughing at the impact on their "victims" not because they want to hurt but because they are experimenting with their ability to affect their world. It is necessary for parents to take objects away when they are thrown, saying "no" clearly. This is a simple form of limit setting which helps the child to learn by consequence, rather than internal control.

Removing the object will need to be repeated many times. Sometimes the child may seem to have "gotten over" throwing the object only to return to it a couple of weeks later. But sooner or later, the act of setting limits sinks in and young children tend towards cooperating with the rules, whether it be to not throw food during dinner or refrain from pouring the dirt from a houseplant onto the floor.

Follow your instincts in setting safe and healthy limits. It is unlikely that you will be overly strict, since your awareness in asking this question indicates sensitivity and atunement to your child's development. Your toddler is fortunate to have parents like yourself who seek an appropriate balance!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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