Infants and toddlers will misbehave.

Infants and toddlers will misbehave.


When that happens, Barbara Claassen of the McPherson Family Life Center believes reacting with positive discipline can help promote proper brain development and emotional regulation in children. The family therapist spoke to parents and caregivers at the Infant Toddler Center Thursday about ways to implement this practice.

When thinking about young children, Claassen noted discipline could be defined as teaching.

“You’re your child’s first and ongoing teacher,” she said. “We have to keep that in mind. What am I teaching them through my interactions with them?”

Two points are key to positive discipline — encouraging wanted behavior and recognizing emotions.

These should be used within age expectations.

An example of encouraging wanted behavior would be to say, “keep your hands down” instead of “don’t touch,” or “use a calm voice” rather than “stop whining.” This should also be modeled by the adult to demonstrate what is desired.

Obedience should then be praised.

It also can be helpful to give children two choices that have the same desired result. For example, “Would you like to crawl like an alligator to the tub or walk like a dog?”

“What you’re doing when you constantly stress them by using those words, is you’re teaching their little alarm system to be on alert more,” Claassen said. “Our brain stems our automatic responses, and if we’re (not using positive discipline), we’re giving them anxiety they don’t necessarily need to have.

They learn to always be looking for that “no,” rather than if we can be calm and give them choices.

We’re helping them with their own emotional regulation.”

Although infants and toddlers might not understand how to talk about their emotions, Claassen said it is important to let them know how to do it correctly. This shows empathy and understanding.

For example, one might say, “I can see you are angry because your blocks were knocked over.” Adults can also model how they work through their own feelings, such as, “I just spilled my cup. I am feeling frustrated. I think I will close my eyes and count to five before I clean up.”

“When you give them their feelings and let them know you understand they don’t like something, sometimes that’s half the battle,” Claassen said.

The other half of the battle comes from the adult. Misbehavior can look different depending on perspective and stress levels.

“Everybody has to figure it out themselves,” she said. “Not everybody has the same level of tolerance.

We can put so many expectations on ourselves, but there are times when you have to decide for yourself, what is good enough for me?”

Marg Piper, grandmother of a 1-year-old, found it comforting to discuss common situations with other parents and caregivers.

“What’s good is to hear you all have these things and it’s normal and it’s OK,” she said.

Claassen cited several books and resources during her presentation. For more information or resources, contact the McPherson Family Life Center at 620-241-6603.

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel