Ticket Method for Toddlers?

Q: For misbehavior, we’re keen on the ‘tickets’ strategy for major offenses. However my twins are under 3 (almost 31 months). Is it possible to use Tickets for children under the age of 3? I think they’re smarter than we adults think, and I believe they understand consequence, but again, not sure if tickets would work. For example, sometimes they will not do as I ask, and may flat out say ‘no’ or will do it in an exaggeratedly slow manner, all the while grinning impishly at me…like going up the step to wash their hands one inch at a time. I don’t intend to repeat myself, and a stern look from me will often do the trick. But I get stuck there sometimes. I don’t know how to win the power struggle when they’re in this toddler phase and don’t have language based memory or foresight of consequences (maybe?) at this age. Thanks for your thoughts.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: What you’re describing—obeying one moment, asserting their independence the next—is typical toddler behavior. They will obey, but on their terms (slow walking to wash their hands or get their shoes on). That’s just part of the package that is a toddler. And as you’ve discovered, a stern look will usually get your twins moving. But not always, because, well, they are human beings, and not an animal.

So you don’t get into the power struggle with them. How? By figuring out what makes sense to be strict on and what doesn’t. Here’s an example: I had two rules when it came to getting dressed—the clothes must be clean (no digging in the dirty clothes basket!) and the child must dress himself. Other than that, I gave them a lot of leeway, and it showed with what adults would deem mismatched clothing, etc. It wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight because I had other priorities.

Think about what bothers you the most, and use that as your benchmark for strictness. If it’s matching clothes, then you can insist on that. If it’s a particular way to put away laundry, then focus on that. It’s up to you but only pick your top ones, and let the kids do the rest their own way.

Translate that into tasks that need to be done before something else can happen, such as washing hands before dinnertime. If you know your twins like to dawdle at this task, then call them to do the task extra early before it’s time to eat. That way, they can inch up the stool and you’re not waiting on them.

For tasks that need to be done quicker, set a timer. Toddlers love to race a clock, and this can help them. Turn things into a game when possible too (not a competition, with a winner/loser, but a together game).

If one child is consistently slower, see if something else is going on—Is she tired, growing, fighting a cold? Sometimes physical ailments can translate into misbehavior, and while it’s not an excuse, if a parent treats the ailment (putting the child to bed earlier, for example, to help with tiredness), then the misbehavior will likely lessen or go away.

If there’s nothing obvious (don’t spend a lot of time trying to find out—just a quick run-through in your mind about what might be going on will suffice), then you calmly step in to get the child moving when necessary.

As for your question about tickets and toddlers: The answer is that they are not ready for tickets, especially given that they are displaying age-appropriate misbehaviors that are better tackled by following some of the methods outlined in my answer. Don’t worry—you’ll have plenty of time to implement tickets into your household as your children grow up some more.

For how Tickets and other discipline methods work, visit the Discipline Methods section of this website.

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