Pick Your Battles, Win the War (Kate Altman, M.S.)

“Pick your battles.” That’s the best piece of advice I learned from a (very strict, actually) behavioral therapist when I was new in the field.

I glimpsed my future yesterday when I had lunch with a good friend and her two-year-old. Or, I should say I ate my lunch while she chased him around the (kid-friendly restaurant) telling him things like, “Don’t take those toys. They aren’t yours!” and, “Stop playing with that water. That’s for washing your hands…you’re spraying people!” She’d sigh in exasperation as he’d inevitably respond with a resounding, “No!” while continuing to do whatever he was doing. At one point she turned to me with an expression of defeat and said, “The terrible twos. And I hear the threes are worse!” I was exhausted just thinking about it.

Discipline and boundaries are extremely important in raising children. They keep your child safe (“Never run into the street”), help them learn self-regulation, and make them sociable and likable so they can be successful with others.

However, constantly disciplining and going head to head with a child can actually backfire, plus it can lead to exhaustion and demoralization for the parent. Therefore, sometimes you just have to pick your battles; focus on what’s most important and be consistent with warnings and consequences. Parents who take a moderate, authoritative approach often seem to have a great deal of success in disciplining their children. Hopefully I will remember these strategies in a couple of years!