Discipline is all about rules and consequences, right? It’s serious stuff.
Not always! When it comes to teaching your little one how you expect him to behave, tossing in silliness can work wonders. Not every case of misbehavior calls for humor, of course, but used judiciously it can be an effective way to do the following:
Distraction is a key disciplinary tool for babies and toddlers, when “misbehavior” is often just curiosity about their environment.
Example: Your 10 month-old crawler is headed for something enthralling but potentially dangerous. A surefire way to stop him in his tracks is to call his name and bust out in an exaggerated, wacky dance while singing his favorite song in a super-silly voice. Then you can redirect him to something equally fun but safe. The best part? No tears.
Prevent a Meltdown
If you recognize the signs of an impending meltdown and get your little one laughing instead, you can potentially dodge the dreaded tantrum.
Example: It’s time to leave the park and you hear the tell-tale protest grunts of a fit in the making. Instead of picking up your toddler and carrying him kicking and screaming to the car, enthusiastically suggest a race to the parking lot and start silly-running. Toddlers love physical humor, so maybe throw in a fake fall. Chances are he’ll follow you, just for the show.
Toddlers are like miniature activists, protesting the injustice of diaper changes, getting dressed, and not getting what they want when they want it. Protests are so common, in fact, that we have a few examples of how humor can help:
Example: Your toddler is kicking and screaming as you try to put a diaper on him. Instead of wrestling him to get the job done, stop abruptly and put the diaper on your head. This may be enough to surprise him into calming down, but if not, keep it going: “Oh, it goes here (on his teddy bear).” The goal is to suggest crazy places for the diaper until he points to himself, but he may just giggle and comply.
Example: Similarly, your toddler is writhing in his carseat so you can’t buckle the safety straps. Say, “Uh-oh, I forgot how to do this. Does the buckle go here (in your ear)? Oh, I think it goes here (in his ear).” Beg him to help you figure out where it goes.
Example: Your toddler refuses to hold your hand while walking in a parking lot. Cover your eyes with one hand and exclaim: “I can’t see! I need to you help me!” Wave your other hand for him to grab. While peeking through your fingers, allow him to “guide” you.
Put simply, humor can make boring things fun.
Example: You can teach your 16 month-old to help you pick up toys, but that doesn’t mean he’ll want to, especially if it means he has to stop playing. Turn it into a silly game by making a different funny noise every time you put a toy where it belongs. Invite him to put a toy away, and make an even funnier noise when he does it.
We know from research on authoritative parenting that effective discipline relies on a strong parent-child relationship. Humor, as described in all of the examples above, is an excellent way to connect with your little one while teaching him behavioral expectations.
For tips about the serious side of discipline, be sure to head over to our articles about strategies for months 0-18 and months 18-24.