Almost every day, I have parents reaching out to me for help because they are struggling to discipline a toddler.
Most of these parents have read a lot of books, articles and other resources on toddler discipline, but cannot implement what they have read or heard. This is because in real life some of them have to handle a toddler who hits or a toddler who doesn’t care about consequences. And they want to manage these situations without hitting or yelling.
So let’s start here by understanding why toddlers behave the way they do. And then going on to strategize and plan what to do in difficult real-life situations
Why It is Difficult to Discipline a Toddler
- Toddlers are at a stage where they are becoming independent thinkers. It is therefore becoming difficult for them to obey without question or reason.
- Toddlers realize that their arms and legs are strong enough for them to do things without help. And they want to try new things.
- They discover the power of the word “No” but cannot explain why they are saying no because they don’t have a very large vocabulary. This is why they start shouting and hitting out of frustration when we don’t listen to them.
- Toddler brains have not grown enough for them to understand logic or exercise self-control. So it is important not to expect too much from them.
11 Ideas on How to Discipline a Toddler That Really Works
#1. Ensure That Your Child is Physically Comfortable
If you are struggling to discipline a toddler begin with the understanding that discipline is not punishment. The word discipline comes from the word disciple and involves teaching your toddler the ways of the world.
As you teach, your toddler must learn. And learning is not easy. You must ensure that your toddler is in the physical and mental state to learn before you begin to discipline them.
A toddler who is tired, sleepy and hungry cannot be disciplined.
You also cannot hope to discipline a toddler who has filled up on junk food and has had too much sugar and trans fats through the day. A toddler on junk food cannot use their brain and therefore cannot learn or be disciplined.
On the other hand, a well-rested, well-fed child will be naturally well behaved and will also listen to you.
What to do before you begin to discipline a toddler
- Make sure your toddler has had enough sleep and rest before you teach and expect good behaviour.
- Also ensure that your toddler is not hungry and has had nutritious meals on time and is not hungry
#2. Make Sure You Have Age Appropriate Expectations
You will never be able to find a way to discipline a toddler that really works if your expectations are not age appropriate.
You cannot expect a two-year-old to have the patience or understanding of a five-year-old. And if you compare a toddler with an older child you will only feel disappointed and frustrated.
Age makes a lot of difference to a child’s ability to understand instructions, remember them and then exercise the self-control required to follow them. So, avoid comparing your toddler with any other child.
Toddlers cannot be expected to be well behaved for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time. And cannot be expected to feel comfortable in very large crowds among lots of strangers.
If you want to discipline your toddler make sure the conditions are age appropriate otherwise you will end up with a lot of tantrums.
How to Discipline a Toddler Who Hits
A toddler who hits in most cases is hitting because they don’t have enough vocabulary to express themselves. This makes them feel powerless and ignored and they react by hitting.
#3. Never Hit to Discipline a Toddler
When your toddler is hitting you or someone else, your first reaction will be to reach out and hit your toddler to stop them.
Never do that.
Hitting a toddler to make them stop hitting can never work – because this only conveys to your toddler that hitting is acceptable if it is done by the more powerful person.
And this will not help because your toddler will not learn that hitting is not OK.
Additionally – if you hit your toddler, you will frighten your baby and because your baby is so scared, they will not learn what they did wrong and what they should do differently next time.
What to do if you feel like hitting your toddler
- Take a step back. Breathe deeply and calm yourself down
- Remind yourself that you need to teach your toddler why they should not hit
#4. Hold Hug and Remove Your Toddler From The Scene
Toddlers don’t hit because they want to be mean or cruel. They hit because they are emotionally overwhelmed.
The usual reason they are emotionally overwhelmed is that they are unable to think their way out of a certain situation.
They hit because they don’t have the vocabulary to express themselves and this is so frustrating that they need to release their negative energy by hitting.
As soon as they hit however, they start feeling ashamed of themselves. And their shame blocks their thinking their brain further and they continue to hit without being able to stop.
Since they have no control at this point – the best thing to do is to gently control the little hands by grasping them in your own gentle grip.
How to discipline a toddler who is hitting
- Reach out and grab your toddler in a gentle but firm.
- Lift them and carry them away from the place where they were feeling triggered to a place where you can have a conversation without embarrassing your child.
- When your toddler calms down – start talking to them.
Ultimately discipline is about effective communication.
You have to explain why you want your toddler to do something you are asking and not something they want to do.
If your toddler has done something wrong – you have to explain why what they did was wrong. And what they should do differently next time.
Remember that discipline in the end is an effort to build empathy and concern in your child. Not just towards people, but also towards other living beings and the earth in general.
Discipline is about awakening your child’s conscience and teaching your toddler the difference between right and wrong. This is really important because discipline is about being honest and ethical not just when someone is watching but when we are all alone.
Always remember when you discipline a toddler – that this is not a momentary conversation you are having. In this conversation you are teaching your child about life and instilling a work ethic that they will need forever.
How to communicate when you want to discipline a toddler
- Calm your toddler down with hugs and kisses
- Take them to a place where no one else is there to watch and judge them
- Begin your conversation by explaining that you understand why your toddler was hitting
- If they have something to add – listen to them.
- Then explain why hitting is not alright. Since toddlers cannot think beyond themselves, circle back to them when you explain. An explanation that says “You know how much it hurts when someone hits you right? You are such a nice kid – you don’t want to hurt anyone like that – so you mustn’t hit.
- Bring in the emotions and feelings of everyone involved and help your toddler to see the situation from all angles
- Then brainstorm for ideas as to what could be done differently
- Ask your toddler for ideas and listen carefully even if you think they are just saying a bunch of disconnected words
- Wind up the conversation by stating in very simple words what should be done next time a situation like this arises.
- Also explain what your toddler can do when they feel like hitting someone. Give them options like – “If you want something – use words and ask.” “If someone is hitting you move away from there and come and tell me” “If you are feeling like hitting and can’t stop yourself – go and punch a pillow”
- Finish with a – “everything is forgiven and we are back to normal” hug.
- If your toddler is prone to hitting – before you step out of the house for a playdate or to go the park next – repeat all the rules around hitting and all the available options if they feel like hitting
#6. Make Sure You Do not Expose Your Toddler to Violence
Most toddlers learn that it is OK to hit and get their way because that is what they see when they watch cartoons or play video games.
In cartoons and video games they see that hitting and injuring badly have no consequences. And this makes them think that they can hit and get away with it. They begin to believe that hitting does not hurt because cartoon characters jump up and laugh after they have been hit.
What to do to ensure your toddler is not exposed to violence
- Minimize the use of TV and devices
- Do not fight with your spouse at home
- If you see someone falling or getting hurt teach your child to empathize and help the person instead of laughing
- Never laugh at your child if they are crying because they have got hurt
How to Discipline a Toddler Without Hitting and Yelling
When a toddler misbehaves – our immediate spontaneous reaction is to start yelling and if that does not work, to move in and hit our child.
Of course neither of these are the best ways to discipline toddlers – and all of us want to instil discipline without hitting and yelling. And yet we yell and hit.
So first of all let us understand our own response to toddler indiscipline
When toddlers misbehave most parents are acutely embarrassed and feel like their toddler’s misbehaviour is a blot on their parenting. The misbehaviour or disobedience feels like a loss of control or authority and we hit and yell to get back control of the situation.
By hitting and yelling we want to show children that we are the more powerful ones in the relationship and that we have to be obeyed. We also want to prove to ourselves that we are in control
#7. Respond But Don’t React
Why do we yell at our toddler?
We yell because we are scared ourselves and because we want our toddler’s undivided attention immediately.
Why do we hit?
We hit because we are terrified that we have lost control of the situation and because we rapidly want to re-establish to ourselves and others that we are powerful and in control.
Both yelling and hitting are emergency reactions to situations that have gone out of hand.
But you can choose to respond instead of reacting.
Your toddler will learn to behave the way they see you behaving. If you shout and hit – your toddler will shout and hit too.
If you are calm and proactive in stressful situations – your toddler will learn the same
What to do if you want to discipline your toddler without hitting or yelling
- Get up and take action. There is no point in yelling at your toddler if they have picked up a glass vase that they are about to drop it. Get up and take it out of their hand
- Keep your house free of breakable and dangerous things so that you don’t have to keep shouting warnings all the time.
- Get rid of your fear of injuries and infection. You have to allow your child to explore even if they fall sick or get hurt sometimes
- Don’t overschedule your toddler. Toddlers need to do things slowly and get carried away with whatever they do. If you have too many things scheduled you will definitely not be able to get your toddler to move fast enough and you will end up yelling and hitting
Most of us get angry enough to start hitting and yelling to discipline our toddlers when our toddlers repeat the same mistake.We feel that our toddlers are disobeying us and challenging our authority.
What we forget is that toddlers have tiny little brains.
They do not have the ability to remember what we say for very long.
And that is why it is important to repeat.
How to repeat instructions if you are trying to discipline a toddler
- If you are going to a place where a bunch of rules and regulations need to be followed – sit your toddler down before you leave and explain – what to expect there and what to do in various situations.
- Periodically repeat your instructions – every hour or so
- Give clear instructions using words that your toddler understands
- Focus as much on what to do as much as you focus on what not to do.
- If your toddler asks questions- answer them.
- Stay connected with your toddler after you have given the instructions through smiles and glances – so that your toddler remembers to follow your instructions
# 9. Be Consistent
This is the most important thing to remember if you want to discipline a toddler.
Toddlers have very small brains and if there are different rules for different places and different situations – they are not going to be able to remember anything. Then they will do what their instincts prompt them to do and will be called disobedient.
If you want to discipline a toddler decide what rules are important for you and stick to them no matter what.
Also keep your behaviour consistent. If you always shout and scream at home when you want your toddler to listen, you cannot hope to be obeyed when you speak in soft voice at a friend’s house.
How to be consistent when you discipline a toddler
- Have the same rules everywhere
- Explain the rules clearly
- Repeat the rules often
- Always speak in a calm voice.
#10. Empathize But Be Firm
Toddlers start misbehaving and throwing tantrums when they can’t manage their emotions.
When they are sad or scared or anxious they feel smothered by the feelings inside them because they cannot express themselves in words because of their poor vocabulary.
They also get scared easily because they are completely dependent on adults for their safety and other needs.
This feeling of being helpless and not having the words to ask for help is what leads to tantrums and bad behaviour.
The only way to help here is to empathize and communicate.
If you want to discipline a toddler don’t start shouting and tell them to keep quiet. You must always behave appropriately during your toddler’s tantrums and avoid the wrong behaviours if you want your toddler to behave properly.
Convey that you understand that they are unhappy or angry or scared.
And then go on to explain in very simple words why things are the way they are. And try to find a solution.
So – you could say – I know you are sad that we need to go home from the park so soon, but as you can see it is getting dark and mosquitoes are biting us. Let us go home now. Tomorrow we will come early so that we have more time to play.
How to empathize when you are trying to discipline a toddler
- Get down to your child’s level
- Look into their eyes
- Convey that you understand your toddler’s feelings
- State your case and explain why things can’t be different
- Brainstorm for a solution to the problem in future
How to Discipline a Toddler Who Doesn’t Care About Consequences
Parents often come to me and complain that their toddler doesn’t care about consequences. They think that not caring about consequences means that their toddler is defiant, headstrong or rebellious. But a toddler who doesn’t care about consequences is none of those.
Most toddlers who don’t care about consequences don’t understand the consequences at all. This is because their brains are so small and underdeveloped that they are not able to connect the present with the future. They just cannot understand whttps://whatparentsask.com/8-reactions-to-avoid-when-your-toddler-is-throwing-a-tantrum/hy – what they do now can influence what happens in the future. And that is why they don’t respond to consequences
When toddlers grow up they start understanding consequences, but the consequences make them feel threatened and frightened. When toddlers understand consequences, they realize that someone has the power to take away something that they value and this makes them panic. Their focus shifts from what their mistake is – to what they are about to lose and it becomes a power struggle between you and your toddler.
Because of this they don’t learn anything from their mistakes. And repeat the same mistake over and over again.
What to do if your toddler does not care about consequences
# 11. Make Sure You are not Using Consequences as Punishment
A lot of parents confuse consequences with punishment.
A consequence is something that naturally follows an action.
When you have to arrange for the consequence – it becomes a punishment.
When toddlers encounter natural consequences – they self-learn the rules of the world.
For example a toddler who throws their favourite toy on the floor repeatedly – can be told that the toy will break and there will be nothing to play with after that. This is a consequence and it is alright to say this to the toddler because you have no role in this.
You are merely stating what will happen in a while. And if the toddler persists with the throwing – they will soon discover that you were right. This will prompt the toddler to be more careful next time unless you intervene and immediately take them shopping for a new toy.
On the other hand telling a toddler that you will not allow them to go down to play if they jump on the sofa, is a punishment. Going down to play is in no way connected with jumping on the sofa. And you are able to impose this consequence because you are in a position of power. And this consequence therefore is not a consequence but a punishment.
This consequence would not have happened without your intervention, unlike the toy breaking which was sure to happen naturally.
As small as your toddler may be, they will realize that by handing out this consequence – you are abusing your position of power. This will create resentment and eventually rebellion in the form of a don’t care attitude.
What you should know when you discipline a toddler who does not care about consequences
- Allow natural consequences. Don’t jump in to save your toddler from them.
- Do not create consequences
- Even if the consequences are logical consequences – they will not work for a toddler because toddler brains are still not grown enough to be able to handle logic.
- Never misuse the power you have over your toddler. Think of it as the trust that is placed in you and respect it. Always be fair and follow the authoritative way of parenting based on trust and communication.
- Never get into a power struggle with your toddler. It is a struggle you will never win.
When you discipline a toddler – you must ensure that you are not using fear as a tool. Your toddler must not behave a certain way because they are afraid of you or anyone else.
The only effective tool that you can use to discipline your toddler, is communication.
And the goal of communication must be to teach safety, empathy and concern. Your toddler must develop an inner compass that guides them so that you need not yell and shout to ensure discipline.