An angel at school and not so much at home. How do we achieve consistency?


Can you provide some guidance and/or share some resources to help create a discipline plan that is easy for toddlers to understand and allows parents and caregivers to be consistent?

Our 3.8-year-old is an angel at her Montessori school, but is frequently disobedient with Mom & Dad; sometimes she even appears to derive pleasure from disobeying her parents. We seem to be are stuck in the pattern of what you describe in your YouTube video “Bribes, Rewards, Threats, and Parenting.” So, how do we get out?


This is less about discipline and more about managing her routine, her need to connect to you, her caregivers, and her need for exploration and attainment of her goals. Children in this age group begin to develop what is known as "theory of mind." When this is developed, it gives us the ability to imagine and think about what another person may be feeling or thinking. Prior to this moment in development, most children assume that you are thinking exactly what they are; this is why they usually don't lie since they just assume you know what they did wrong. This separation between thoughts and goals are the culprits of what you refer to as "disobedience." I challenge you to stop seeing it as disobedient and more as her need to achieve her goal, even if the goal is attaining a cookie before dinner. In this age group it is important to address her goal. For example - "Yes, I know you want a cookie before dinner, but that will ruin your appetite and we don't eat cookies before dinner." respond with clarity and consistency. If you give a cookie before dinner once in a while then that is the rule for a 3.8 year old, and she is just playing the odds when she continues to ask for the cookie. Also when she breaks down in tears about the cookie, it's okay. You are helping her build, practice, and attain delay of gratification. #embracethetantrum I know that her tantrums can be rougher due to her sensory integration so make sure to be near by when she asks for the hug to be soothed from her tantrum. Repeat and Remind this process for any and all boundaries that you will be setting for her.

Why she is "an angel" at her Montessori is because they are explicit and consistent about the routine of the day. She can predict what happens next and that creates a sense of autonomy and safety. Please take a look at your family routine and wonder how predictable and consistent is it for her. For families unlike schools, it is harder to maintain routine. It is best in this age group that her morning and nighttime routine be consistent. Also get into the habit of telling her the sequence of how things will work out, You can say something like, "1st we are going to the grocery store, 2nd we are getting some gasoline for the car, and 3rd we will play at the park" repeat and remind. She will begin to ask you what is happening, if she hasn't already, and always respond with the sequence. Have her repeat it back to you as well.

Finally, when parents of children under five tell me that their children are enjoying being disobedient this is usually a sign that they are using breaking the rules to finish circles of connection with their parents. Children want to connect with their parents and look for these circles of love repeatedly (this is throughout their time with you until about 10). They try many ways and usually get to one that is effective. It sounds like she is getting your undivided attention when she challenges the rules. Notice it. Be mindful of how she asks to be seen and witnessed and wonder if you are responding to her or not responding to her. You can respond -either with a "give me a minute and I will listen to you" or a "yes, honey I see you jumping on the couch but remember, couches are for sitting." She probably has formed a habit with the two of you. To decrease it, touch her often when you walk by her or you are near her (touch), when you see her playing you are near by narrate like a sportscaster what she is doing (voice), and finally give her hugs often for no apparent reason (hold). In taking these actions you are preempting her need to connect prior to her going for it. The way to connect with children is VOICE-TOUCH-HOLD. Keep those three words in mind and when you see her and choose one to connect.