Quick Tips for Disciplining Toddlers

“My kids are driving me crazy,” a young mother with toddlers said to me. “My discipline methods don’t seem to work. My children are so strong willed. I am frustrated. They are frustrated. Some days I don’t even like my children!”

Honest emotions from a very normal mother! We’ve all felt this way at many different points, particularly in the toddler years. Having raised five strong-willed toddlers to adulthood myself and now watching them raise their kids (as well as spending time with other young mothers), I’ve learned a few things I hope might encourage you.

1.  Husbands and wives need to agree on a discipline philosophy, otherwise you will confuse the child and the child will learn (especially later) how to play one parent against the other.

2.  Discipline must be immediate (particularly with the young), hurt (it has to hurt or it doesn’t mean anything), and then be over (give your child a hug after the punishment is finished and tell the child you love him or her).

3.  It must be consistent. This can be the hardest, but the deeper lesson you are communicating to your child is that you are reliable. They can count on you. You mean what you say. This gives them security. They have to know you are in control and not them.

4.  Don’t over negotiate with small kids. Clearly explain actions and consequences. Then follow through. Do not threaten or say the same thing over and over. They don’t need clarification; they need action, otherwise they are manipulating you. It becomes subconscious: “I can get out of this; she won’t really punish me.” Translated: “I am the boss, not my parent.” This breeds insecurity.

5.  Use the word “obey.” It will help your child to know you mean it. You can say, “If you do not obey now, I will have to punish you.” And then if he or she doesn’t do what you are asking, follow through immediately with punishment. Remember, your child is learning you are reliable. With small children, you can try diversion to avoid conflict as much as possible, but there comes a time when diversion will not work and the child has to obey immediately just because you say so. (There is no time for diversion when your child heads toward the street. They have to have learned to obey immediately you when you say “stop.”)

6. Determine specific consequences for disobedience. Explain the plan to the child as best you can. Follow through. Any time you institute a new plan, expect it to take at least three times of enforcement before your child will believe what you say and realize that you will follow through with punishment. Make sure all caregivers are on the same page with the plan.

7. Take action when your child misbehaves in public. Kids are smart. They learn they can get away with bad behavior in public, at the grocery store, etc. If they disobey, immediately go some place and discipline them in private. The principle you are teaching is “right behavior is the same no matter where I am or who I am with.”

8. Distinguish between whines and intentional disobedience. Whereas disobedience requires immediate consequence, whining kids are usually exhausted and need to go to their room to play quietly. Usually they fall asleep or just need some solitude. It’s not punishment; it’s alone time. As moms, we’d love to be sent to our rooms!

9. Keep in mind the goal of discipline. We want to teach our kids to obey us … their earthly parents whose voices they hear say, “I love you,” and whose arms they feel hug them. Teach them to obey because as they grow up, they’ll be weaned from us, their earthly parents who they can hear and feel, and they’ll need to obey a heavenly Father whose voice they might not audibly hear and whose arms they will feel mainly through the body of Christ. But remember that this Father loves them even more than we do. How can we expect them to want to obey Him if they have not been taught to obey us?

10. Keep a long-range perspective!

Feelings of failure and frustration are normal. No mom feels like she’s got the discipline thing down pat. As soon as she does, a child will throw a kink into her plans!

We expect our kids to “get it” after a few days, weeks, months — years? Yes, years. That’s why training is exhausting! But it is also why God gives us more time! Remember you are building for the future, and God is patient.

 

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8 thoughts on “Quick Tips for Disciplining Toddlers

  1. Susan, What if I didn't do these things when he was a toddler. He's 4 now. Can I start now or is it too late?

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    • Good question Katie! It's never to late to do what's right. Agree (with your husband) on the top 1 change you want to make and how you will make it. Then sit your son down and explain to him what the NEW policy is going to be and how it will be enforced. Then do it. It will take at least 3 times of consistency before he "gets" thnigs are changed. Once he begins to "get" the first change move on to the second in the same manner. You will have to continue to repeat over and over again so don't get discouraged! Change is slow:)

      I have some more tips in my book, And Then I Had Kids, for this age. (See www. yatesbooks.com)

      Blessings! Susan

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  2. My daughter,6, is one who loves to talk and speak her mind about anything to anyone. She has great leadership potential but comes out speaking very demanding, bossy, and disrespectful to both friends and adults including me. Do you have any suggestions on how much is to much and what are some ways to discipline her or some consequences for speaking in such a manner? I want her to feel comfortable talking to me and continue to build her leadership capabilities but it' getting out of hand.

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    • Thanks for your question Amy!

      Here's something you might try. The next time she speaks to you in a demanding, bossy or disrespectful way stop her and say, "Sweetie, you are not saying this in a kind manner and you have to learn to do this in a better way. How do you think you cuold have said the same thing in a better way?" You may have to role play with her how to say what she did in a better way. It will take doing this over and over many times. If she is "in your face disrespectful" she needs to be told she will be punished because verbal abuse is not acceptable. And you will have to follow through with a punishment. You'll have to discern the difference bewteen out right verbal abuse and being demanding. Punish immediately for the first and train in bettere ways to communicate with the second.

      Bless you!

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  3. Susan,

    Thanks for the helpful guidlines, my daughter is 22 months and we are knee deep in refining our discipline. I'm beginning to see that there are some things that might be cute now but won't be cute later. I also just realized that you are the author of the book that we are currently doing for our mom's Bible study, "And Then I Had Kids"! We are only in chapter two of the book but so far it has really been encouraging. I think what has really hit home for me is where you wrote about our families (husband and children) teaching us servanthood. Thanks for sharing some good wisdom that God has gave you.

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    • Heather,

      Thank you for taking the time to write! It always means a lot for us to hear from readers! I love your line "cute now but not later." Bless you with your Mom's Bible study. Let me know how it goes:)

      Susan

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  4. Great advice! I am now diving into books to really work on becoming a mother after God's own heart. I want my kids to know how much I love them, but also that my God given responsibility is not to make them happy. I want to help them become the person God intends them to be. What a responsibility! Thatnks for the great article.

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  5. This is an interesting and informative post. My grandson is 2 1/2. My daughter doesn't believe in spanking him at all. She believes in "redirecting". She "redirects" about the same things constantly. All day. Every day. She also puts him in time out and takes toys away. My question relates to #2. Can you define "hurt"? Do you advocate spanking?

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