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Main > Parenting Tips > Toddler > Disciplining your Toddler

Disciplining Your Toddler

Related Articles
• Discipline Guide
• Biting
• Parenting Styles
• Encouraging Good Behavior
• Effective Discipline
• Discipline Techniques

Internet Links
• Discipline
• AAP Guide to Discipline for Young Children

At this age children may begin to misbehave intentionally (as they are testing your limits), and they can still do things that are dangerous or disruptive. The best way to deal with these behaviors is to try and distract them with a different, safer activity. You should also provide them with a safe environment, so that they are able to explore without any dangers or risks of getting in trouble. As they are getting older you will also need to set limits and discipline them at times and keep them on a daily routine. It is probably better to try and reward and praise good behavior to reinforce it, rather then having to change bad behaviors.

Toddlers should begin to learn to follow simple rules, respond to your commands, have the self control to wait for things that he wants and deal with any frustrations that he may develop from not getting his own way. These tasks should become more commonplace as your child becomes a preschooler.

Children misbehave for many reasons, and it is important to try and find the reason for your child's behavior problems. Most toddlers misbehave as they are trying learn what their limits are and what they can get away with. Other reasons can include jealousy, feeling that they aren't getting enough positive attention, being frustrated, and during times of stress. Remember that when your child misbehaves, he will usually get a lot of attention. Even though this attention is negative, it can sometimes reinforce the problem behaviors if this is the only type of attention that he is getting. This is why time out and extinction and many other discipline techniques work.
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Avoid yelling or hitting or getting too worked up during episodes when your child misbehaves. This just increases the negative attention that your child receives and reinforces that it is alright to get out of control and be aggressive. Remain calm while administering punishment. You should walk away if you feel that you may physically hurt your child.

It is probably better to try and reward and praise good behavior to reinforce it, rather then having to change bad behaviors. To promote good behavior and prevent behavior, you should spend special time with your child as often as possible, so that he is getting all of the attention that he needs. You should also be very clear about your expectations for your child, state rules in clear and simple terms, apply consequences for misbehavior as soon as possible after the incident, make punishments brief, be consistent with your rules and punishments and learn to ignore minor or unimportant behaviors.

Some tips for effectively disciplining your child include trying to avoid power struggles, offer simple choices as often as possible, make a game out of good behavior (have a race to put toys away, etc.), plan ahead (if he always gets in trouble at the grocery store have a plan setup before you go), and learn to pay positive attention to your child by ‘catching' them being good. Let them know when you are happy that they are being good or when they have accomplished a positive achievement.

Some strategies that can work to improve your child's behavior include allowing your child to see the natural consequences of his actions (if he throws and breaks a toy, then he can't play with it), logical consequences (if he doesn't put his toys away, then you will put them away and he can't play with them all day), withholding privileges (find things that your child enjoys, for example, playing Nintendo, renting movies, etc. and take them away for a few days when he misbehaves) and time out. Reward or token systems can also be effective in changing bad behaviors.

Extinction is another discipline technique that may work in your school age child. With this technique, when your child misbehaves or is diruptive, you stop paying attention to your child. This approach is best for temper tantrums and frequent whining, or other disruptive type behaviors.

Always remember to be firm, consistent, calm and loving in whatever discipline methods you choose. You can have a discussion about the misbehavior at a later time when you have both calmed down druing which you can try and suggest a more appropriate alternative behavior. Also, reassure your child that it is just the behavior that your don't like.

Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are a way for your child to express feelings of anger or frustration. While they are a normal part of the development of toddlers, they should be occurring less frequently after his second birthday. They usually increase when children are hungry, tired or ill and you should try to help them cope with these situations.

You should try to ignore attention-seeking or demanding tantrums and avoid situations that you know will lead to a tantrum (including changes in their regular daily schedule). If you can see that your child is getting overly frustrated and that a tantrum is coming, you can try to distract him and shift his attention to something else.

Help your child to realize that temper tantrums don't work are not going to help them get out of doing things that they need to do. For tantrums that are disruptive, you should give your child a time out. Remember to praise your child when he controls his temper and cooperates with what you want him to do and set a good example for your child by remaining calm and not getting fired-up or out of control.

Time Out

Time out is a very effective discipline technique and will work with children as young as 18-24 months old. By using this method of discipline you are giving your child time out from positive or negative reinforcement (which includes any parental reaction such as yelling or hitting) after he misbehaves. Prepare a time out chair, which can be a chair in any room of the house, a space on the floor, the child's bed, etc. or any place where he is isolated from interaction with others. Use a kitchen timer to count down your child's punishment time, which is usually one minute per year of age.

Unlike the way it is used for older kids, time out for toddlers is more so that you can give your child time to regroup and calm down. A toddler will likely not sit still in a time out chair, even for a minute or two.

At this age, you really want to spend most of your time on discipline and not so much on punishment. Stay calm and help your child learn what his limits are.


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Important disclaimer: The information on is for educational purposes only and should not be considered to be medical advice. It is not meant to replace the advice of the physician who cares for your child. All medical advice and information should be considered to be incomplete without a physical exam, which is not possible without a visit to your doctor.