A toddler being disciplined.
Communication is one of the key factors for disciplining toddlers.

How to Discipline a Toddler

The first year of a child’s life is a time filled with a great deal of excitement and joy. As the child moves away from being a baby to being a toddler, the roles and responsibilities of parenthood change. This includes how to discipline a toddler.

During the first year of parenthood, the emphasis is on feedings, changing diapers and establishing a good bedtime routine. During the toddler years, the emphasis is on teaching right from wrong and establishing a solid foundation of judgment and manners.

If you think of a toddler as an unworked chunk of clay, it is the task of the parent to mold and shape the material into the desired outcome: a happy, well-adjusted child. Effective parenting skills and discipline are the tools needed to move towards the goal, but when used inappropriately, discipline can create a number of problems and unwanted consequences. Here’s how to discipline a toddler.

Communicate Clearly and Concisely

Disciplining a toddler is not about yelling and spanking. Disciplining a toddler is really about creating a situation where the child is set up for success, so that you do not need to yell and punish.

The first step of this process is completed with communication. Remember, your child is an unworked piece of clay, which means everything they learn comes from you. Much of what your child learns will come from the verbal communication you have with them. You should give your child simple instructions that are clear and to the point. Most adults cannot remember a long, complicated speech, so do not expect your child to do so.

Communicate on your child’s level with the type of language they can understand. Let them know what you expect and the type of behaviors you are seeking. During this time, be sure to move to your child’s eye level, so they can watch you as you communicate.

Too many parents try to save time and energy by using “no” as their primary communication. Of course, people need to say “no” sometimes, but it is not as effective as people would like to believe. Saying “no” only teaches the child what not to do, instead of what to do.

Putting forth the extra effort with your parenting and your communication style will result with more wanted behaviors. Further, it will strengthen the relationship with your child, which is a happy bonus.

Build Structure, Routines and Rules

Many children engage in undesirable behaviors when they are bored. Without direction, children will naturally explore and experiment with their boundaries and test their limits.

To avoid this, build structure and routine into your day. Scheduling time for educational shows and apps, books, free time, snacks, floor time, meals, bath and bed, allows your toddler to know what is coming in the future. It also guides you towards doing what is best for you and your child, rather than what feels good at that moment.

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Children really do value structure, routine and stability. Without these in place to guide their day, they can feel confused and detached from their world. As you establish the routines, set ground rules for each situation. Surely some things are acceptable during free time that are not during meals. Having rules that vary slightly, depending on the environment, show your toddler that different situations call for a different level of behavior. This understanding sets them up to transition well between settings like home, school, family and friends.

Use Rewards and Punishments as Needed

If you are looking to revamp your discipline routine for your toddler, avoid punishments and start with rewards. Rewards are so much more appealing for parents and their children because:

  • Rewards strengthen the relationship between parent and child while punishments can damage the relationship
  • Rewards can make the child feel proud of their behaviors, which improves self-esteem
  • Rewards teach the toddler what to do instead of what not to do

Remember, with the proper, motivation and rewards, you can train your subject to repeat any behavior you want. Sadly, there is a downside to rewards. They take far more effort and energy from the parent to be successful. With punishments, a parent can be gazing at their phone for hours, spank their child for throwing a toy and return to the phone, but rewarding desired behaviors takes attention and time. The added time and attention spent with your child as you watch and wait for them to engage in the desired behavior is a bonding experience for each of you.

Pick a simple behavior like eating their veggies at dinner and offer an immediate reward like a special dessert, a hug, or genuine verbal praise for their behaviors. By giving these rewards, you are increasing the odds of the behavior happening again.

With the right combination of rewards, clear communication and routine, you will increase the happiness in your household and reduce the need for other forms of discipline.