First. -- To so arrange his life that there shall be few needs to issue commands.A child's natural desire is to behave well; when he does not, there is usually some reason for the misbehavior. He is over-stressed, or there is something in his environment that is desirable but not allowed for him. He is inexperienced, and does not understand that what he wants to do hurts himself or others around him. Just telling a small child that something is not allowed is not usually enough for him to really "know" the truth, because small children are concrete and usually need repetition to understand how things work. It takes several years before they can actually pause before they act and think about what it might mean to themselves or to others.
Sure, children have fallen human natures like everyone else but young children, before school age, are not at the age of reason, which is a prerequisite for true sin. Their "naughtiness" may be a symptom of imperfection but it is not culpable in the way similar behavior would be for a given adult (and don't most adults have their moments of acting just like little kids? I know I do).
So one way to minimize naughtiness is by arranging the child's life to keep "near occasions" to a minimum. This is a reward in itself and also leads to better things. For example, a child who is playing well is furthering his own development, while a child locked in a power struggle is exhausting himself and the people around him. Aquinas says that emotion affects learning. Positive emotion enhances it, while strong negative emotion leaches it away. There are storms in a child's life that no one could possibly predict or forestall, unless the parents were superhuman. It's not our task to take these all away. But certainly parents can work towards avoiding the unnecessary, unavoidable ones that cause bad behavior.
For instance, Mrs Fisher says, it is possible to avoid a lot of "naughtiness" simple by avoiding occasions where the child is forced outside himself, outside his normal comfort zone. For example, some of the things that make it difficult for a child to behave well are: being shown off to other adults (forced to entertain at a party, for example), being dragged to activities which don't have much in them suitable to the child's nature.... that are oriented towards older children or adults, or too chaotic to handle. In other words, it's best to make sure as far as possible that the child's small strength of will isn't tested. Hunger and tiredness are two other things I can think of that make it hard for a child to behave well. And I have noticed particularly with my extroverted child that he really needs intervals of stable, reassuring "mom time" between periods of play with siblings or friends. Quiet time talking or playing little games or reading a book together restore his will and emotional equilibrium. If I don't come in and out of his daily life a bit, his behavior tends to disintegrate.
When there is no choice but to make difficulties for a child (say, if he is in church and simply needs to be reasonably quiet) then she recommends realizing the difficulty he is in and treating the problem simply and calmly. Enforce obedience, yes, but strive to avoid the emotional overtones (this is VERY difficult for me because I get humiliated by disruptions in public places). I think there is no worse way to aggravate a small child who instinctively KNOWS he is being asked for a lot, to be treated like he is a disappointment or a "bad child" just for acting within his nature.
Plus, as Charlotte Mason says, small children have a very active sense of sin. Some children put up barriers when they know their behavior is not pleasant in the eyes of their loved ones. They seem indifferent, but I don't think they generally are. So helping them be pleasant is a worthwhile occupation. Children who have "difficult" personalities often get less positive feedback from those they love. This can become a factor in discouragement and resentment which makes the child less likely to try in future. To me this seems like a reason to quickly isolate unpleasantness. ... to deal with the behavior quickly and decisively and in whatever style comes naturally to the parent, but to keep it as concrete and geared to the immediate occasion as possible. A bit of sympathy along with the firmness can be helpful. After all, being good in times of trial is a heroic achievement and even if the young child doesn't quite succeed, any effort is a positive sign.
- avoid when possible occasions where the child is stretched beyond endurance. This will differ somewhat from child to child, so studying your child is important, but generally hunger, tiredness, over-stimulation, boredom, or lots of temptations in the environment (say a place where normal child activity can't be allowed) are triggers for misbehavior.
- Look for a "problem spot" in your child's life.... some area where he has a pattern of misbehaving. Then try to figure out how to proactively avoid the problem (this is mostly talking about children below the age of reason, as you've noticed).
In my 6 year old's life, one trouble spot is that he gets wrapped up in playing and then doesn't notice his hunger signals until he is VERY hungry. Then he either lashes out at his playmate, or runs to me and imperatively, sometimes in tears, demands food right NOW. This recurrent habit could possibly be minimized if I paid attention to the time and had his snack ready to eat already, or if I set the kitchen up so he could fix a snack for himself and then reminded him at the proper time. So I'll give that a try and see if it helps.
Remember that there are some things that are just going to be tough no matter what. For example, I used to have to take all three of my small children -- ages 4, 2, and 1 -- grocery shopping. It's unlikely that this will become an altogether pleasant, serene experience for most people no matter what. Dorothy Canfield Fisher would say that this is just the sort of situation to try to avoid if possible.
If you can't avoid it, you can generate strategies to make it a bit easier depending on what the "triggers" are. I used to shop with a friend who didn't have children. She didn't mind helping me out in dealing with restlessness, cravings and that sort of thing. Other strategies were: keeping it short, keeping snacks in my purse for the baby and toddler, getting my older child involved in the shopping procedure, and making distinctions between "normal" child rowdiness vs real problem behavior that involved defiance.
The task with these activities is to
(1) review principles of good behavior ahead of time
(2) recognize that this is very hard for the children
(3) make it as easy as possible for them to be obedient
(4) try to stay engaged and positive
(5) and try to get over it as fast as possible, if it was bad... spend some time reconnecting later (kids are good at doing this themselves, but some moms have a hard time forgiving and letting go -- I am a melancholic myself so I have to consciously remind myself to move on.)