9 Strategies for Toddler Discipline

Guest post from Sarah Morgan of Wellbeingkid.com

Discipline seemed like such a strong word for me. I used to associate it with punishment or something that takes away the fun. But I learned that discipline is more of teaching than it is those negative misconceptions. It’s about setting rules and limits to encourage positive behavior and to stop inappropriate, aggressive and possibly dangerous behaviors.


A child is never too young to learn good behavior. In fact, the younger you start to implement rules, the less likely you will find trouble down the road. It’s not easy, but it’s essential. Here are 9 strategies on how to discipline toddlers:

  1. Give clear and positive instructions.

Don’t run! Stop running!” Those are some words of a frustrated parent. However, clear and positive instructions work better with children. Rather than telling them what not to do, you can tell them what you expect them to do. If they can’t run, what are they supposed to do? For example, say “please walk inside the house” or “use your walking feet”. Here are other examples:

  • Hitting, pinching, slapping, punching

You can say, “Use your gentle hands” or “Hands are for hugging and helping.”

  • Shouting and Crying

You can say “use your indoor voice”, “It’s clearer if you don’t shout.”

When you’re using negative statements, it also seems like the fun part is taken out. Depending on their level of understanding, you can explain why these behaviors are preferred.


  1. Let your toddler know the effects of their actions.

Show or tell them how their actions make you or others feel. Be honest about this because it will teach them to empathize. You can say, “I’m upset because I can’t rest if you don’t help me pack away”. If they are hitting their friends, help your kid realize that his or her action hurt them. Toddlers are still learning different emotions at this stage so you can read books that teach feelings. Then you can encourage him to share about what makes him/her happy, sad, angry, excited and so on.

  1. Look into your toddler’s intentions before responding.

Sometimes, the negative behavior could just be a way of getting attention. Scolding or reprimanding is after all, still attention. Look into their motives before sayings anything. This is the same for positive behavior. They could be doing something just to get the “praise” or because they want your attention. That should tell you that you aren’t giving them enough attention.

Knowing your child’s motives will help you be careful with your response. You are being careful not to encourage them to keep on doing an undesirable behavior.

  1. Acknowledge the good things.

Rather than barking negative comments, focus more on your kid’s good behavior. However, positive reinforcement should be than just a “good job” or “good girl”. These praises tend to become overused and may become meaningless. These praises could also turn your kids into praise seeking little humans.

To avoid that, you can describe what the behavior was a good instead. For example, “Wow, you carefully put them back,” as opposed to “Don’t throw them in.”

  1. Setting limits with toddlers: teaches more than just discipline.

Toddlers are natural explorers. Their curious nature gets them to put things in their mouth and to go in places they shouldn’t be in. As parents, we have to provide an environment where they can explore freely, with safety in mind. However, we need to set limits, not just for their safety.

  • Teaches them self-discipline, responsibility and self-control

Setting limits with toddlers has long term desired effects. For example, with a set play time, you are teaching him that there is a time for everything. This is teaching your kid a sense of responsibility. They will learn to do what is right without reminders or prompts.

As they mature, you can adjust their limits accordingly. You can limit TV time or video games, and have them do their homework. That’s promoting self-control as well.

  • Shows them that you care.

They won’t always realize it but eventually, they learn that the limits are for their own good. Sometimes, they find out the hard way when they get hurt or feel the consequence of their rule-breaking actions. But that’s okay too. When you’re setting limits, be honest with your reasons. Go down to their level of understanding.

  • Teaches them that the world is full of yeses and nos.

Parents often withdraw limits because they hate seeing their child frustrated. But it’s healthy for kids to be frustrated sometimes. Preventing them from feeling different emotions could be more of harm than good. Use this opportunity to talk about their feelings. The more they understand, the better they can relate with others.

  1. Practice what you preach.

Children often follow behaviors of adults, especially their parents, so make sure you are a good role model. When you tell them to pack away, you’ll give them a stronger impression when you don’t leave your things everywhere.

  1. Be consistent.

Consistency is very important for young children, especially toddlers. It’s important in routines, and it’s important for discipline. When we tell them to use their gentle hands, we will need to remind them over and over. It’s not okay for them to hit at all; not even if they were hit first. Inconsistency in rules will cause confusion, and you will less likely obtain the behavior that you like.

  1. Give them a break.

With toddlers, you have to avoid this as much as possible. Being sent away is telling them they’ve been bad as opposed to promoting good behavior. Otherwise, keep it short. Always process with them why they had to take a break. You can explain to them that they were getting too rough and that they need to relax a little bit. We have to teach them that their actions have consequences.

  1. Distract and redirect the toddler to something more admirable.

As we mentioned earlier, toddlers are curious beings. They don’t understand why they can’t do something the way that we can. But instead of constantly giving them a no, stop or don’t, take away the temptation. You can also redirect their attention to something more desirable. For example, you can offer a book, a toy, or maybe provide an art activity.

Because each child-parent relationship is unique, there isn’t only one perfect way. We need to understand that not all methods work the same for children. Be mindful of the consequences of your methods because it will affect their growth and development either positively or negatively. For example, too many “don’ts” and “nos” could potentially raise a rebellious kid. Also, make sure you often express your love for your kid.

Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself. Mistakes are inevitable. Talk with other parents, release your frustrations and learn from each other.


Contributed by Sarah Morgan. A sister, a daughter, a wife, but most especially a mother. Being a mother makes me realize that life is a great adventure. No day is always the same, which makes every day so much more exciting.





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