10 Ways to Discipline Toddlers

Behavior Management for 2 and 3 Year Olds

Toddlers need gentle but effective discipline.
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Toddlers love to begin asserting their independence. They often use their new speech abilities to say, “No!” and use their improving motor skills to defy your directions. Although toddlers can be a lot of work, watching them grow and develop can be fascinating.

Toddlers have specific discipline needs. They require discipline that helps foster their independence while still teaching socially appropriate behavior.

1. Modify the Environment

Toddlers can be curious little creatures who want to touch, throw, and bang on everything. It isn’t reasonable to expect them to keep their hands to themselves. Modify the environment so your child can safely play and explore.

Use outlet covers, provide padding on sharp corners, and remove breakable objects. You’ll spend a lot less time disciplining your toddler when he can safely explore the room.

2. Establish a Routine

Establish a schedule to help provide structure to your toddler’s day. Try to keep nap time, snack time, playtime, and bedtime and consistent. Your child’s body will grow used to the schedule when he knows when to expect his daily activities. 

Help your toddler transition from one activity to the next by giving warnings. Telling your toddler, “In a few minutes it will be time to get ready for your bath,” can help reduce behavior problems when you move from one activity to the next.

3. Plan Outings Accordingly

Plan your outings in the community carefully. Your trips to the store will be much more successful if your child is well-fed and well-rested. Whenever possible, try to take your toddler into the community when he’s likely to be at his best.

4. Redirect Misbehavior

Use your toddler’s short attention span to your advantage. If your toddler is doing something you don’t want him to do, refocus his attention on something else. Show him an object or point to something else in the room and it’s likely that he’ll drop what he’s doing.

5. Create Rules and Show Your Toddler How to Follow Them

Establish a few simple household rules and enforce them consistently. For example, if you have a toddler who doesn’t understand how to pet the cat gently, say, “Gentle touches,” and show him how to softly pet the cat.

Toddlers need frequent reminders and have to practice things over and over again. Use the same language each time to help reinforce to your toddler how to follow the rules.

6. Provide Quick Explanations

Give your toddler brief explanations only. Toddlers don’t have a long enough attention span to listen to long explanations about why they shouldn’t do something.

Provide short sentences, such as, “No hitting. That hurts me.” As your child’s language develops, you can begin to use more detailed explanations.

7. Ignore Mild Misbehavior

Toddlers often exhibit attention-seeking behavior. Temper tantrums, whining, and screaming can often get worse if you pay a lot of attention to them. Sometimes attention provides positive reinforcement that encourages these behaviors to continue.

Most toddlers can’t handle sitting in a chair for time out successfully. Instead of using an official time out, active ignoring can be an effective way to stop the behavior.

8. Model Appropriate Behavior

Toddlers learn how to behave by watching the people around them. Model the behavior you want to see from your toddler and it can be the fastest way to teach him new skills.

For example, rather than repeating over and over again to your child that he should say, “please,” and “thank you,” show your child how to use these manners by modeling it. Be aware that your child can also pick up bad habits if he sees you doing them.

9. Remove Your Child from the Situation

Sometimes it is best to remove your child from the situation. If your toddler isn’t able to maintain appropriate behavior in the grocery store, you may have to end your shopping trip early.

Toddlers can become easily overstimulated and sometimes have difficulty regaining their composure. Sometimes, a quick break from a stimulating environment can help them calm down. At other times, you may have to try again another day.

10. Praise Good Behavior

Toddlers are very receptive to praise. Praise good behavior and you’ll encourage your child to repeat those behaviors. Praise your child’s ability to play quietly, his willingness to pick up his toys, and his desire to do things all by himself.