” Please get down from there and come wash your hands!”
“Could you please put your toys away and stop kicking your brother.”
Do any of these refrains sound familiar? Nobody told you parenting toddlers was a lot like being a referee, did they?
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are positive and impactful approaches to toddler discipline that could prove helpful in your parenting.
Would you like to find better solutions to improve your toddler’s behavior? Then come along as we delve into how to discipline a toddler.
Human behavior comprises a series of choices. Will you be kind or cruel? Fair or selfish? Will your words heal or wound?
Disciplining your toddler helps them learn how to make the right choices. It is not just about getting them to stop throwing tantrums or kicking their sibling in the moment. Rather, it is their first and most fundamental opportunity to learn the difference between right and wrong.
Parenting three distinctly different children has also taught me that while right and wrong are constant, there is more than one way to discipline a child. Not all circumstances are the same and so it is important to change your approach based on the situation.
Moreover, every child has a unique personality and so what may have worked for one may not necessarily work for the other. You wouldn’t want to be a helicopter parent and keep them on a tight leash on their every single action, yet you also shouldn’t be pampering your kids and leave them unchecked even if they misbehave.
So, with this in mind, let us explore different discipline methods for toddlers that are worth considering based on your situation.
Actions and consequences are perhaps the cornerstones of all disciplinary teachings. This method simply entails helping your child understand that their behavior will have impactful results, making it one of the most effective ways to discipline toddlers.
The first step would be to explain it to them. For example, you could say, “If you keep banging the toy on the wall, I’ll have to take it away.” If the bad behavior persists, follow through with the consequence and take away the toy but first, explain it. Remind the child that you asked them to stop and they chose not to and so now they have to be deprived of the toy.
This conversational approach is essential because it helps them understand what is happening. The next time you issue a warning, they are likely to heed it because they know there will be a consequence. Additionally, ensure to always follow through. Kids get emboldened if your pleas are just that, empty pleas.
Inconsistency confuses children and would not be helpful in training them on how to navigate different situations.
For example, if you scold them when they throw tantrums in public but cajole them when they throw tantrums at home, it is unlikely that they will ever stop. Remaining steadfast on the rules you set lets them know that there is no room for negotiation to do the wrong thing.
Make an effort to also be consistent in terms of scheduling. Toddlers often get cranky and act out if you make sudden changes in their meal or nap schedules. It interferes with their circadian rhythms. Plan your day around their schedules and ask for help if you cannot multitask between them and other engagements.
Try and see things from your child’s point of view. What could be causing them to react in the way that they are? Are they simply being a bad sport or are they just expressing a valid feeling in a bad way?
In doing this, you will have a better understanding of whether the situation requires punishment like a timeout or a conversation on how to do better next time.
When your child does something wrong, sending them on a timeout can be used as a consequence to deter such behavior. However, it may be helpful to first have a conversation. As a rookie parent, my son never really understood what a timeout was and he would simply get cozy and try to nap. Talk about lemons and lemonade.
Talking things over helps them understand that they are being sent away to calm down and not because they are unloved.
Further, consider when it would be most effective to use timeouts. If your tot is refusing to pick up their toys a timeout may not be as effective as taking away toy privileges. Timeouts should also not be too long, 2 to 4 minutes is enough as children get restless quite easily. Setting an alarm clock that they can hear to mark the end of their session is equally ideal.
A rambunctious toddler can be quite a handful. Couple that with the everyday highs and lows of life and you might begin to run short on patience. Take a deep breath, hold it, and exhale. Say the serenity prayer if you must but do not lose your cool.
Yelling and going off on a tirade is unlikely to get you any positive results. Try and analyze the situation then choose an effective way to handle it. Voicing how you feel could equally be helpful and make a teachable moment. Saying, “I’m unhappy that you did that,” teaches your child to express how they feel but also lets them know they did something wrong.
Not everything requires a reaction. After all, even you are not perfect. Your toddler may sometimes slip up, it’s normal. As long as they apologize for it or make amends, it should not have to turn into a grand jury scenario.
On occasion, you may also have to give in to their point of view. Being consistent does not mean absolute rigidity. If your toddler would like a ten-minute extension of their bedtime to wait up for their mom after work, there really is no harm in letting them have it.
It is embarrassing when your kids act out in public or when you have company. Your first instinct may be to stay calm and correct them when you get home or when guests leave. The problem is, you may forget to. Plus, children have short attention spans, if you miss that teachable moment, that ship is sailed. They may also use your embarrassment to keep acting out at such times because they know you are unlikely to act.
Respond to bad behavior in the moment. There is no shame in disciplining a child. In fact, it is letting them run wild that is disconcerting. However, discipline but do not humiliate them; the latter could have far-reaching mental and emotional health consequences. 
Take for instance, that your toddler keeps jumping up and down on their bed. Chances are, they could eventually fall and hurt themselves but they find it entertaining. Handing them a toy or book to sit with on the bed, might take their minds off the jumping, and voila, crisis averted.
However, this doesn’t apply to cell phones – offering them a lot of screentime isn’t exactly a good solution as you could be leading them onto being digitally obsessed at a young age.
If all your toddlers hear from you is how bad they are, they will likely begin to feel picked on, unloved, or unworthy. As a result, they may also start to act up even more. A better approach would be to keep things balanced by applauding the things that they get right.
For example, if you remind them that playtime ends in five minutes and they put their stuff away, a “good job” affirmation would be nice.
My first rule of thumb on communication is that I always come down to my toddler’s level when speaking to them. Eye contact as opposed to towering over them establishes a better connection for effective communication.
Additionally, make a point to choose your words carefully. Simple words in a kind but authoritative tone ensure that your instructions are understood and taken seriously.
Endeavor to also hear your kids out. Even if you may not give in to what they are saying, making them feel heard is important. Besides, it is not a confrontation, the goal is to correct them.
Say for instance, that your child asks for a soda but you are opposed to it due to health reasons. As you say no, explain this to them so that they understand why it is not viable. It should, nevertheless, not become a negotiation to arm-twist you into agreeing with them or bribing them to do the right thing.
Conflict is unsettling. When a child is punished, they may feel sad and sulk. Stay the course in disciplining them but remind them that you love them thereafter. Bedtime may be a good time to talk it through and let them know that you are not angry, all is forgiven, and you love them.
Common Questions That Parents Grapple With When Disciplining Toddlers
As we have established, toddler discipline requires some flexibility and there are some gray areas. You may, therefore, find yourself struggling with questions such as:
Should I use the same discipline approaches for toddlers of different ages?
No. Older toddlers have a better understanding of situations than younger ones. As such, when choosing how to discipline a 3-year old, options such as a time-out on a step or taking away privileges may be viable. In contrast, a younger toddler that’s about 18 months old may be better suited by distraction and reprimands because their comprehension may not be so advanced.
How do I discipline a toddler who does not listen?
Do not give up. Every time your child misbehaves, follow through with appropriate disciplinary action. Later, when they are calm, engage them in conversation about their behavior.
Express that you would like to understand what leads them to keep doing the same thing despite being corrected. This can often unearth significant underlying issues.  However, if all your efforts bear no fruit, consider seeking professional help.
Is spanking bad?
What would be your reaction if your boss slapped you in the face every time you did something wrong? Would it influence you to be better? Probably not.
Children are not adults but they too suffer emotional and physical hurt. Pediatric research shows that spanking your child stokes anger, aggression, and inflicts trauma on them.  It does nothing to correct their behavior but makes children subservient out of extreme fear.
In a nutshell? Spanking is not an option when considering how to punish a child for bad behavior.
If you step into any room full of parents, you will likely find doctors, farmers, teachers, IT experts, or pilots. The odds of you finding anyone with a parenting degree are as high as the tooth fairy being real.
None of us has a blueprint for this gig, we are all just doing the best we can and learning on the job. To that end, here are some resources that could help you enrich your discipline techniques for toddlers.
- Judy Banfield’s Podcast- Judy is a certified life coach and has a Master’s in Early Child Development but that isn’t even what stood out for me. It is her wholesome approach to parenting and disciplining children that I find most nourishing. She offers many gems of wisdom on how to discipline a child fairly and in a way that builds a bond between you. You can listen and learn more from her here.
- Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn’t Work… and What Will by Dr. Shefali Tsabary – this book gives great insight on why bonding is a fundamental aspect of disciplining children. Contrary to the controversial title, it does not advocate for children not to be disciplined but rather for a disciplinary approach based on strong parent-child relationships. I would recommend it for parents whose kids are almost out of their toddler years. You can get a copy here.
- Parenting With Love and Logic by Jim Fay- my favorite part about this book is that all the tips on how to train a child and alternative punishments for kids are indexed. It makes it very easy to refer to on the days when you are having a tough parenting day. The content is rich and current as it addresses modern issues like screen time. Check it out here.
Through my parenting journey, I have found that how you discipline your child is greatly influenced by how you view your role as a parent. Understanding that you are here to help prepare them for the world and become the best version of themselves could go a long way in helping you choose the right discipline techniques for toddlers.
I would love to hear what you are learning on your parenting and disciplining journey. What has worked, what hasn’t, and more importantly, how are you coping? Do chime in.
As always, I’m rooting for you. Keep giving it your all.