Whole Parenting Family

Big Boy Battles: Loving Discipline for Your Preschooler


Who me? I’m never not a good listener, good napper, good eater, and good older brother! Don’t listen to the complaints of my parents.

Yes, SuperBoy is a total sweetheart, a great older brother, and a complete love. But he’s also human, meaning that from time to time we have outbursts of a two year, seven month old little boy. Whew, he is normal. I’ve got a whole section on toddler behavior chronicling our journey with him, figuring out how to help him help himself to cope with emotions, hormones, and the unpleasantness of not getting his way.

Now that he’s a little beyond basic toddler behavior, we’ve had to approach discipline differently. There’s actually some verbal negotiations, some concessions on both sides, and a really strong sense of action —> consequence built into his brain. Because we tried to be firm and consistent with things that were and were not allowed (i.e., can’t respond to us with a “no!”; can’t throw food or other things that aren’t balls; angry fits will be treated calmly and with the threat of isolation if continued; and other general guiding principles), his outbursts of long long LOOOOOOONG tantrums have been mitigated to a degree.

Here are our preschooler behavioral guidelines (to keep me sane, and him sane, and SweetPea alive):

1) Politeness.

He is expected to respond “yes, please” or “no, thank you” when offered something.

He always has to try one bite of a new food.

He cannot shout NO at us. He can say “no, thank you” but somethings aren’t an option (bath time, nap time, trying on the toilet).

I respect his personhood and rarely wrestle clothing onto or off of him anymore. If he choses not to listen, then there’s a consequence, but I’m not going to physically force him to do things.

I reinforce our belief that he IS a good boy. That’s the baseline. From there, we strive to “act” like a good boy and “listen” like a good boy. I never tell him he’s a bad boy. I do say he’s acting badly or acting like a bad listener, but that he is not inherently bad.

He is expected to look adults in the eye when they greet him, and to greet them politely. He doesn’t have to carry on a conversation with them if he doesn’t want to, but he has to greet them and be deferential to his elders.

2) Toilet.

He’s been potty trained since age 2. But this means reminders to “try” to go pretty regularly. He has only had a handful of accidents, all of which were more my fault than his. Sometimes he REALLY DOESN’T WANT TO GO TO THE BATHROOOOOOOOOM. Too bad. I try not to actually say things like “I don’t care” or “too bad” because I know he’ll say them back to me later after hearing me use them. I prefer to say “regardless.” Our big rule: you have to try. This often means I tell stories while he’s trying, and I save those stories for just toilet time. They’re primarily about two sailboats named Chipper and Moe, or two trees named Simon and Peter. Let your imagination take it from there.

3) Whining.

He is a whiner. Why? Because he’s a little kid. For all the child-free, or baby-only, people out there, you’re thinking, Wow, if I had kids (or when my kids get bigger), they’re never going to whine. It’s so obnoxious. Clearly all those parents just don’t know how to handle their kid. I got news for you: whining happens. Best parents in the world? Yeah, they had whiners too. The focus for me is less about the fact that he’s whining and more about how I’m going to react.

When he starts whining, I downplay it and say, “We don’t like to whine. So let’s do X instead.” If it continues, I touch his arm or shoulder while looking in his eyes, say his name, and then repeat, “Please do not whine. I don’t like it and it’s not going to get you what you want.” Strike three? He is separated from us and has to either be in his bedroom or on the stairs, unable to play with SweetPea and Mama. This usually results in a scream fit. (see part 4 below on tantrums.) I try to head it off at the pass, not by ignoring it because that doesn’t work for him, but by explaining that it’s really better for him in the long run to stay with the group and not persist in undesirable behavior.

4) Tantrums.

He can tantrum with the best of them. It may start with one thing, and then spread like an airborne virus to whatever other idea/object/thought he has. It goes from “I want that toy” to suddenly “I don’t want you to sit on that chair!!!!!!” Lately this has died down because if he revs up for it, I give him one warning and then a serious look. Then it’s time for his bedroom. And he has to stay in there for 10 minutes or so. He doesn’t like this. He wants to stay with us and keep playing.

I try to differentiate between tantrums that merit coddling and those that merit isolation. If he woke up early and he’s acting out of sorts and he’s whining and he’s hungry and he’s having a sniffly nose, then I coddle him a little more and don’t come down hard on it. If he’s not wanting his sister to share his toys, or being rude to me, or just spiraling out of control, I either hug him and try to help calm him down or put him in his room alone to calm himself down if/when my presence seems to fuel the fire.

5) Rewards.

He gets lots and lots of praise when he’s behaving as he should. He gets his sugar-free whole wheat cookies (recipe forthcoming!). He gets incentives about how when he’s a good listener he gets to hang out with Baba (my dad) in his “man cave”–SuperBoy’s description of Dad’s house. Or he gets to go to the train store. We’re more approval based on our rewards rather than bribery, but never underestimate the power of bribery–and the double-edged nature of it. There’s a fine line between incentives and a kid who’s a brat and demands his reward (bribe) before doing the preferred behavior!

This is a special time in life where both kids are happy for the most part, bad days are few and far between, and I’m not nauseated by pregnancy. I’m practicing appreciation every day for our blessings. And utilizing my mother’s help as much as a I can on the awful terrible days!

Nunu and the gang



  1. Amanda on February 25, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    As a momma of a baby, I really appreciate these posts! It helps me begin thinking about how we will guide our little one when he starts to assert his independence. I am making a mental note to go back to these suggestions as baby boy gets older!

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 27, 2013 at 7:30 am

      You’ve got a while, but it never hurts to think ahead! Parenting is all about planning, and then chucking the plans out the window when the situation warrants it!

  2. Vivi's mama on February 26, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Great post! You are incredibly patient and loving!

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 27, 2013 at 7:30 am

      It’s humbling to be a mother of a preschooler. My imperfections are manifest EVERY day!

  3. […] Steps to Taming Your Tantruming Toddler}, {Two and a Half Year Old Terror, That’s My Kid}, {Big Boy Battles, Loving Discipline for Your Preschooler}, {Parenting 101: Don’t Borrow Trouble or Ask Leading Questions}, and a whole section on […]