Disciplining toddlers: Two sides of the coin


As much as try, I have to admit, to stay away from heated discussions with parents who are slightly too passionate about their views, every day that passes seems to be more about discussing disciplining toddlers, or lack of it.

Issues like whether or not parents should set boundaries and how to react when their child throws tantrums or has interests that they can’t currently meet, are often in confrontation.

While parents tend to agree (mostly) on the care of babies up to, let’s say, 11 months, the time when a child starts to walk, never seems to get tired and all the wrong things spark their interest, is the time when parents sometimes divide into two groups-1. Those who believe that their child should be the center of their life, and everything should be allowed to and adjusted to the toddler and 2. Parents who opt in for mild forms of discipline, boundaries, and rules, hence thinking that the time to start raising and educating the child has come. And, while I don’t necessary think that either of these is right or wrong in general, I think that clashing of two different perspectives can make parents feel insecure and judged, and have some undesirable effects to the child.

Mainstream parenting VS Real Life

Something I hear a lot and read about is the contradiction between a desirable model of parenting presented by the media and experts and the results that people claim they are getting with their children. This is not only accurate and normal, but it’s also one of the “laws” of parenting. There are no two of the same families, parents or children. Since every single person involved in this system is unique, so are the effects that you will be getting when you introduce a particular influence on the child.

Pedocentric parenting

Ok, so where is the difference? I am noticing that both media and a portion of scientists and experts push a what is called “pedocentric” view on the parenting. If you’ve met the term for the first time, “pedo”- child and “centric”- centered, means exactly what it sounds like. A child is placed in the center of the pedagogical process (raising and education), which should provide him with best conditions and support to grow and develop. That sounds amazing. So, what’s the problem here? Well, the concept is based on the progressivism of John Dewey,but, moved on to become a radical version of it. What was wrong with this concept in raising children is the lack of social learning and discipline, which resulted in bad effects in children. Eventually, Dewy himself spoke against these views. So, think of this concept as the one side of the coin. Where we have individual, we need social to create a unity.

I am not exactly sure how these radical views found their way back into parenting mainstream, but they sure provoke heated discussions between parents. A typical, if it is at all fair to call a parent typical, pedocentric, will believe that their child should be the center of their universe, with no boundaries set to his curiosity and exploration. While there is nothing wrong with this picture, problems can occur if or when child’s behavior becomes a problem in public, like throwing tantrums, lack of boundaries towards other people (eg. Asking for other people’s belongings and raging if she doesn’t get them), as well as constant attention seeking. This is the part where a parent might start feeling and acting defensive and/or preachy. What is adorable to them, to the environment is annoying. And to see people reacting negatively to a such a small child is, indeed, heartbreaking. I believe that these parents feel judged by the environment. They feel attacked, and in my experience, have a wrong perception of children’s emotions. They believe that they are hurting the child in the cruelest way if they don’t let him do everything he wants. I am not judgemental to these parents, nor I wish to say that this kind of raising will necessarily have bad consequences. However, I do believe that it is just delaying the inevitable. By default, children raised in this manner tend to be thrown back with a negative response of other children and adults to their behavior, and this, not discipline, is what I truly believe is traumatizing to the child. There is nothing worse to them than feeling rejected without being able to understand why.

I remember talking to a mom who said: “ I feel so bad for her. She is very intrusive with other children, she has no boundaries, so other kids reject her. In the end, she is playing by herself, and I feel so bad for her that I spend the entire time we’re visiting our friends playing with her”.

Progressive Parenting

On the other side of the spectrum are parents who, more or less successfully, try to introduce mild forms of raising and educating their child as soon as it begins to crawl. And I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this, either. Whichever effort you put into teaching your child can’t be bad, it can only be premature, or late, which will make it ineffective. This is why some parents make mistakes of sending their, still toddlers, to time-outs, or expecting that the toddler will learn a rule of behavior permanently after a certain amount of repetition, for example, touching and grabbing items on shelves. While I don’t see anything wrong with teaching the toddler some boundaries, I think it’s unrealistic to expect that the child will remember it permanently. To be honest, I’m happy if N. simply stops doing what I told her not to do and moves on to something else, at least for 10-15 minutes.

Individual VS Social: Do you have to choose between toddler freedom and toddler discipline?

I think it’s clear where these types of parental style clash: freedom VS boundaries, a child in center versus aiming to help the child to accommodate to the world. And as you read through this text, maybe you can predict what my main point is: these are all dimensions that should be included in the parenting style, they are not mutually exclusive. Finally, the reason that you will find both good and bad stories of both parenting styles is the failure to acknowledge the uniqueness of the parent-child system. This is why is important not to base you parenting on media and other people’s advice. Although education in parenting is always a good idea, implementing, or forcing what we learn into our families without acknowledging its individual characteristics, can be counterproductive and possibly harmful.

I find myself not having to forbid N. from doing things very often, simply because she is a child of mild temper and, whatever she does, she is tender about it. She also happens to react well when something is taken from her or simply whenever she doesn’t get what she wants. But, this doesn’t mean I don’t believe in boundaries and discipline. I am simply acknowledging my daughter’s unique characteristics and considering them in my parenting. I guess, the main point of this post would be: it’s good to know the rules and effects of your parenting choices, as long as you base your parenting on real needs of the child, and his or hers individual nature.


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