How To Discipline A Toddler: 10 Tips That Will Work

Ways To Discipline Your Toddler

Image: iStock

What if a firm “No” was all it took to get your toddler obey your instructions? Parenting would have been bliss, and you would have to deal with less drama.

But we all know, that is not how toddlers are in the real world! So what does it take to discipline an excitable toddler? What can you do about the tantrums?

MomJunction tells you how to discipline a toddler in ten steps and discipline techniques.

How To Discipline A Toddler?

Disciplining toddlers is a gradual process and requires constant effort. Here are ten steps to ensure optimum success:

1. Choose the right time to start

  • Select a phase when your toddler is least susceptible to stress and the most receptive to instructions.
  • Avoid initiating a discipline plan when your toddler is sick or likely to feel stressed, like when you are moving to a new place.

Ensuring your toddler is in a comfortable situation minimizes the risk of meltdowns and also the chances of tantrums.

2. Begin with basic instructions in a kind tone

  • The disciplining process should begin by giving your toddler basic instructions.
  • Give instructions that convey the actual reason why he should not do something.

For instance, instead of saying “Speak softly,” say “It is rude to speak loudly. Mama wants you to speak softly.”

  • Use a stern yet a polite tone of voice. Do not yell or sound harsh.
  • Explain. Let your child know when something is wrong, to help him understand why they can or cannot behave in a particular way.
  • Toddlers may not always understand the meaning of words, but they get the intent via your tone. For instance, a toddler may not know what it means to be rude, but the tone of your voice and the word will suggest that he is doing something that is unacceptable.

[ Read: How To Control Anger In Toddlers ]

3. Allow the toddler to face natural consequences

  • Allow the toddler to face the consequences. Let him understand that if he does something wrong, he will have to deal with the outcome.

For example, if the toddler keeps scattering toys all around the home, very soon he may misplace one and not find it. If he throws or breaks the toys, soon, he will not have any toys left to play with.

  • Letting children face natural consequences (as long as it does not put them in danger) will let them know what will happen when they do something they are asked not to.

4. Set rules

Allowing the toddler to face consequences lays the foundation for setting rules.

  • Make logical yet simple rules that your toddler is likely to understand.

For example, if your toddler repeatedly scatters toys around the house, then tell him that he cannot play with toys that don’t go back into the toy box. Stay true to your word and keep away the toy for a couple of days and give it back the third day. This will help your child realize that indiscipline will not be tolerated and he/she has to abide by the rules set by parents.

  • Set rules even for getting new toys or food items.

For instance, the toddler gets a new toy only for special occasions and birthdays. This will reduce the chances of tantrums in the supermarkets or other stores when they eye something they want.

  • Setting rules can create a win-win situation. It helps you pacify the toddler while the kid also realizes that he can have what he wants, although not always but within the limit of the rules.

Always set realistic rules and conditions that are not harsh for the toddler.

[ Read: Signs Of Behavior Problems In Toddlers ]

5. Acknowledge your toddler’s feelings

  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings to let them know you care and are not ignoring them.

For instance, if he displays frustration once a playdate ends, say “mama understands you want to play more, but playtime is over, and you have to eat your meal and go to bed.”

Empathize but do not give in because the child is upset or crying. If you do, they might try to have their way by crying or making a long face every time.

6. Consistency and reinforcement

  • Your rules stay the same whether it is your home, the shopping mall, or the grandparents’ place. Modifying the rules can make the toddler realize that he can disobey rules at specific places.
  • Consistency in rules at all times and in all places teaches the toddler that rules are permanent.
  • A consistent observation of rules eventually leads to successful reinforcement.

7. Reward is important

  • Rewards are vital to reinforce positive behavior. If your toddler behaves properly, then shower him with praise.
  • Catching the toddler doing something good and appreciating them for it is called ‘time-in’. This tells the child that they will get attention and rewards for good behavior (1).
  • Record the toddler’s good behavior with a sticker chart. Every time the kid does something right, you can stick a star on the chart.
  • You can even make rewards intermittent. Instead of praising the child every time, you can offer a reward every two or three times. This way, there will be an element of suspense that encourages the child to continue the good work until he is rewarded.

8. Be an example

Toddlers learn through imitation. Their behavior is based on how the adults, especially their parents, behave around them. So if you expect your toddler to behave well, you have to be the role model for good behavior.

Setting an example is also an excellent way of telling things like “Look how Mama eats without throwing. Copy how Mama eats”.

Do the things you want your child to learn from you, and they’ll take a cue and follow you.

[ Read: Signs Of Stress In Toddlers ]

9. Rework strategy when needed

  • If your toddler does not seem to follow the rules or has found a way to go around them, then it is time to work on a new technique.
  • Keep modifying your approach to keep up with the changes in toddler’s behavior.

For example, when the toddler gets older, he is quite likely to have better communications skills and can understand elaborate explanations. So if you earlier said, “It is rude to speak loudly,” you can now say “Mama and others get disturbed when you yell. We know you are a good boy and can speak softly”.

10. Use the toddler’s actions as an example

  • When your toddler develops healthy habits and is disciplined, use his actions as an example to make him realize that he did something wrong.

For instance, if your toddler repeatedly breaks cookies to bits instead of eating it, you can say “Last time you had the entire cookie without playing with it. Try to eat your cookie just like that even now.”

  • You can also motivate the toddler to improve his behavior by reminding him of the good behavior stickers he earned before.

These techniques work best when both the parents and other caregivers of the child follow the same procedure. But sometimes, you have to deal with stiff resistance from your toddler.

Back to top

How To Handle Toddler Meltdown And Tantrums?

Meltdowns and noisy tantrums are what you are left with when your toddler is not in a mood to be disciplined. Here is how you can handle them (2):

1. Use distractions

  • Distractions work for younger toddlers who are still curious about several things around them.
  • Whenever you anticipate a meltdown, turn your toddler’s attention to something that catches his curiosity. For example, you can say “Look what the dog is doing?” “Oh, what is that shiny thing in the sky?” or “Did you hear that? Where did that noise come from?”

[ Read: How To Deal With Toddler Whining ]

2. Ignore

  • Often, meltdowns and tantrums are for attention. The best thing to do in such situations is to ignore the drama, provided the child is not in harm’s way.
  • Tell the child that you will listen to him only when he stops crying, screaming or yelling to get attention. Ignoring is one of the best tools to calm an overly fussy toddler (3).
  • Do note that ignoring is not reacting to the toddler’s tantrum. But, never leave the toddler alone all by himself just because you are ignoring him.

3. Timeouts

  • A timeout is when the toddler sits quietly in a corner, without any distractions. Note that a timeout is not a punishment, but only some time and space given to the child, to cool down.
  • Set the number of negative actions that would trigger a timeout. For instance, if the toddler behaves unruly twice, then he gets a timeout.
  • Choose a spot, such as the corner of a room where the toddler can sit on a chair within your line of sight. Bathrooms and attics are not the ideal since they isolate the child and elicit a sense of punishment.
  • Before implementing it, give the toddler a sign that any more unruly behavior would result in a timeout. If the toddler doesn’t modify his behavior, implement it.
  • Ask the child to sit in the designated place. If he resists, then gently pick him up, place him in the corner, firmly stand behind him, and politely say that you are doing it because he needs a timeout. Do not respond to pleas, questions, and outbursts.
  • Set a time-limit for the timeout. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the minutes of timeout correspond to the toddler’s age (4). So, a two-year-old toddler gets two minutes of timeout and three-year-old, three minutes.
  • After the timeout, behave as usual. Let the toddler get back to play. You can discuss the behavior with the child if you think he’s up to it, but not immediately.

4. Offer simple choices

  • Sometimes giving basic choices is the best way to avoid unnecessary tantrums and outbursts.

For example, instead of asking the child to pick a toy from a list of ten, ask him to pick between two: blocks or a toy train. At breakfast, ask if he wants cereal with milk or puree.

  • Simple choices provide basic control over some decisions in life. It helps the preschooler understand that it is not always his parent’s way and that his opinion also matters.
  • In the long run, your child will learn that simple choices can help defuse even the most difficult matters quickly.

5. Keep temptations away

  • If a treat or a toy that the child likes is causing the drama, removing it from the picture can eliminate the tantrum too.

For example, if the toddler wants to play at a time when he should be sleeping, then store away his toys just before bedtime. If your toddler demands something that he should not have, like a soda, then make sure you do not get it into the house again.

[ Read: What Causes Aggressive Behavior In Toddlers ]

6. Be watchful of aggression

  • Tantrums may slowly transform into aggression, leading to a furious exchange of words.
  • If the toddler repeatedly tends to get aggressive, then politely ask him what is making him so frustrated, to try and eliminate the cause.
  • When the toddler is aggressive, implement a timeout and stay with the child through the timeout. Just stand quietly by his side but before the timeout, let him know that you will be with him while he sits quietly in his corner. The presence of the parent during a stressful moment can pacify the toddler.
  • If the aggression goes to the point where it can be harmful to the toddler or someone around, like a sibling, then do not hesitate to seek professional help (5). You can visit a pediatrician for consultation on the matter and get referred to a child psychologist or behavioral therapist.

Disciplining a toddler and managing a tantrum often take a toll on your patience. And when you lose your cool, you are likely to do something you should not.

Back to top

What Not To Do To Discipline A Toddler?

No matter how frustrating the situation gets, remember the following points of self-control:

  1. Never strike or spank the toddler: Striking and spanking your toddler will be of no help and makes matters worse. It sends the message to the toddler that it is okay to strike someone you love to make them do something. If you are angry or if you think you’ll have an outburst, ask your partner or a family member to take over and handle the toddler, so that you can take a break.

Calm down, take deep breaths, and remind yourself that your child is only a toddler and will act out sometimes. You are the adult in the relationship and must patiently guide the toddler, while also being an example for him.

Spanking is terrible and shunned by the pediatric experts (6). Spanking can leave psychological scars, and research has shown that toddlers who get spanked regularly have mental health issues, including susceptibility to violent behavior and substance abuse (7).

  1. Do not resort to harsh words or language: Even if the toddler gets on your nerves, avoid using harsh words and language. Toddlers learn from parents, and you do not want him to think that it is okay to be harsh.
  1. Never withdraw essential requirements: While you can take away a toy or give the child a timeout, never deprive him of a meal or sleep. Toddlers are still growing, and food and rest are vital for their development. Depriving food, sleep or even playtime can be detrimental to a toddler’s health and is perhaps the worst way to teach positive discipline to a preschooler.

Back to top

[ Read: How To Stop Toddler Biting ]

The bottom line is: never strike the child or even be harsh. But if there comes a moment when you lose your patience and strike the toddler, apologize soon and never hit your toddler again. Experts state that it is okay to apologize, forgive yourself, and start all over again on a clean slate (8). But repetitive striking and apologizing won’t work.

Toddlers are still learning how to behave and can be unruly in an attempt to know their limits. But patience and consistency can make disciplining your toddler a possibility.

What’s your idea of disciplining toddlers? Let us know in the comments section below.

Recommended Articles:

Was this information helpful?

Comments are moderated by MomJunction editorial team to remove any personal, abusive, promotional, provocative or irrelevant observations. We may also remove the hyperlinks within comments.