Skip to Content

How to discipline a toddler

How to discipline a toddler

Sharing is caring!

Every parent deals with the challenge of how to discipline a toddler at one point. They are impossible. They misbehave. But at the same time it is useless to try to communicate.


How to discipline a toddler - read this practical guide for effective discipline for toddlers. Teach them to be self-disciplined and gain yourself some sanity!


This is a “mom to mom” post. I am not an expert. I did, however, verify these simple methods with a child psychologist that I know, just to make sure that it’s not “bad advice.”


How NOT to discipline a toddler:


Children learn by copying behaviors.

When you hit a toddler, you teach him to resolve problems by hitting (even if you do it gently).

When you say “no” to a toddler you teach her the word “no”. Case in point, we decided to use “uh oh” instead of no. Now every time M throws something, he says “uh oh!” He still throws it…

When you give your toddler “time out” all he knows is that Mommy is far away, and does not want to be with him right now.


Toddlers don’t relate these situations to the misbehavior. While it may stop the behavior in the moment, you will not be teaching your child; it will have no disciplinary effects.


I see so many articles discouraging the behaviors above and telling you how not to discipline your toddler. I see few that give practical positive solutions. Children can and should be disciplined from a young age.


How to discipline a toddler - read this practical guide for effective discipline for toddlers. Teach them to be self-disciplined and gain yourself some sanity!


While I have NOT totally mastered “disciplining my toddler”, I have a few pointers that can turn you in the right direction. It can even transform your day. You’ll still need to deal with tantrums, mess, and screaming (it’s one of the blessings of motherhood). But it can help you in a very big way with long-term discipline, starting from a young, impressionable age.


How to discipline a toddler (practical solutions): 


The key is to get to the root of the problem and to divert the behavior to a positive solution. Fulfill your child’s need in a positive way.   Your child is acting out for a reason. Here are some practical solutions that have helped me tremendously:


1. Satisfy the curiosity: 


Toddlers get into everything, often as a means of satisfying their curiosity. Redirecting this curiosity to a more positive activity can help.


My baby (like many) loves to raid kichen cabinets. Locks only go so far, as you can see from this video:


This is why our cabinets must always be empty….I don’t usually share videos of my little one, but this was too cute not to 😉 Anyone else have a toddler who loves to hide in cabinets?

Posted by Menucha Designs – Moms and Crafters on Wednesday, April 1, 2015


I created a cabinet special for him with toys. Between this, and the pot cabinet, I successfully stopped him from breaking the locks on cabinets with things he really shouldn’t be playing with. He still tries to open the others on occasion. Turning him toward this cabinet works like magic.




This also gives him something easy to do while I’m working around the kitchen.


2. Offer the sensory stimulation needed:


If your child is biting, playing with the sink, or even toilet water, she may be looking for the sensory satisfaction. Offer sensory play, or a sensory blanket for biting.


kitchen sensory bin


3. Give some quiet time:


Your child may simply be overwhelmed! Teach him to deal with this by sitting with her in a quiet corner, and giving some “down time”.


This has worked wonders for us. Since we don’t have space for a quiet corner, I use his crib. I put him in with a kiss and a book. I either sit near him, or leave the door open and pop in and out every few minutes so that he feels my presence. I have been doing this since he ditched his second nap, before he was quite ready to.


Note the difference between time out and quiet time. Quiet time is a positive solution, not a punishment! You are there with the child and simply helping him settle down. (Don’t stay with the child if you are worked up. Give him a toy to cuddle and go calm down too!)


4. Give your attention:


Your child may be calling out for attention. A quick game of “head bumping” or some story time can turn your tot back on the right track.


5. Discipline with love: 


Whichever method you choose, it must come from a place of love! Discipline with empathy, in a way that is in tune with your toddler’s needs. Set her up for life with the right skills and habits from this tender age.


how to discipline a toddler 3


6. Recognize a special situation:


If you think your situation is extreme, or your child’s behavior isn’t age-appropriate, seek expert advice. You’ll be doing what’s best for you and your child, and you won’t regret it.


7. Pick and choose your battles:


I’m very keen on this one. If it won’t last to adulthood, isn’t dangerous, and isn’t destructive, I’ll usually fold. For example, as we speak M is transferring the clean laundry into the dirty laundry hamper. Oh well! I hope he’s having fun!


How to discipline a toddler - read this practical guide for effective discipline for toddlers. Teach them to be self-disciplined and gain yourself some sanity!



What are your best tips for how to discipline a toddler? Which methods have worked for you?


Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.

How to discipline a toddler - read this practical guide for effective discipline for toddlers. Teach them to be self-disciplined and gain yourself some sanity!

Sharing is caring!

Laura at Mommy Maleta

Sunday 19th of April 2015

Thanks for the toddler tips! My girls are older now, but I'm back in the toddler stage again with my little guy - hard to believe that I forgot a lot of what goes in the toddler years! Thanks for linking this post up at the Thoughtful Spot. Hope to see you back!

Melissa Roy

Monday 13th of April 2015

I don't really like the word "discipline" when talking about young children, I feel like it implies that they are bad people making deliberately bad choices that must be dealt with which is far from the truth. As you pointed out, they don't see their behaviors as "bad," they're just curious and exploring their world and boundaries. Our job as parents is to help them learn to make wise choices.

But I do love all your tips for helping manage behavior. We have never used time out but instead say we are going to "take a break" where we have some quiet (and usually alone) time to regroup. My kids are free to be done whenever they are ready to act appropriately, it puts their behavior in their hands rather than me continuing to hand down a punishment and forcing them to sit a certain amount of time which often just leads to more battles and hysterics.

Alicia G

Sunday 12th of April 2015

I struggle with the "choose your battles"- I often initially re-direct my toddler away from something and then end up giving in because I realize"what's the big deal". When I know what I truly need to do is make my decision prior to re-direction


Sunday 12th of April 2015

This is exactly the kind of article I have been looking for! We have a 22 month old that seems to be looking for trouble lately and I've really been struggling with how to handle it. I'm excited to try out some of these ideas over the next few days....particularly the quiet time. I also love the advice for a toddler cabinet. We currently have a cabinet that he's allowed to play in and it is awesome when I'm trying to cook dinner. I'll definitely be pinning this!

Jennifer Tammy

Friday 10th of April 2015

This is a great series of tips, and thank you so much for linking to my sensory play ideas. I find it makes such a difference -- especially during seasons when you can't get outside often enough!