If you’re in search of tips to teach you how to disciple a toddler without yelling, time outs, and other forms of punishment, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading for our best tips to avoid temper tantrums from occurring, managing the length and intensity of them when they do, as well as our favorite calming tips and tools to bring kids (and adults) back to a place of calm when big emotions threaten to take over.
Toddler Behavior Problems: What You Need to Know
You’ve probably heard moms and dads use the terms ‘Terrible Twos’, ‘Trying Threes’, and ‘Freaking Fours’ to describe the crying, screaming, hitting, and kicking that often occurs when young children feel frustrated, and while these explosions and behaviors are a normal part of a child’s development, they can be very overwhelming to parents and caregivers. If you want to know how to discipline a toddler who is exhibiting these behaviors, the first thing you need to do is understand what causes these behaviors to happen in the first place. Here are some things to consider:
- When kids reach the 18-month mark, they become much more self-aware. They start to become more independent and you’ll probably notice your little one testing his or her limits as much as possible.
- This explosion in development also causes children to feel emotions that are new to them, and since they don’t have the language skills needed to express themselves properly, they are easily frustrated.
- These feelings of frustration can cause your child to lash out both physically and verbally because toddlers lack appropriate self-control. They are impulsive, have difficulty with self-regulation, and haven’t yet learned the art of delayed gratification.
- Toddlers aren’t logical. It’s true! While they may be more verbal and expressive and appear rational at times, logic and reasoning doesn’t really begin to take hold until a child reaches the 5-year mark.
How to Discipline a Toddler: 10 Tips for Parents
Whether you’re completely new to toddlerhood and proactively looking for behavior management tips and ideas, or you’re a seasoned pro trying to figure out how to discipline a toddler without yelling and punishment, the strategies listed below will give you a lot to think about.
It’s important to note that we’re big believers in positive discipline here at Meraki Lane, which is all about remaining calm and respectful to children while enforcing the rules by which you expect them to conduct themselves. We believe that when we establish reasonable limits for our kids and guide them on how to stay within these limits, we empower them to handle situations appropriately and equip them with the tools they need to recognize and rectify their own bad behaviors.
Here are 10 positive discipline ideas for toddlers to inspire you!
1) Prioritize one-on-one time
One of the most effective parenting tools that was given to me when I was in the throes of the Terrible Twos and trying to figure out how to discipline a toddler was to set aside 15+ minutes at regular intervals throughout the day to spend with my daughter to ensure her attention bucket was full. I remember feeling skeptical that something so simple would have an impact, but I was blown away with the difference it made in my daughter’s behavior. It’s a positive parenting technique I continue to use today and it works every single time I notice poor behaviors cropping up. Give it a try! And remember that this doesn’t need to be complicated – it just needs to be deliberate.
2) Stay calm
I know this probably sounds obvious, but never underestimate the power of your own words, actions, and nonverbal cues. Lead by example by taking deep breaths, avoiding sudden movements, and talking in a soft voice to help instil a sense of calm in everyone when a temper tantrum threatens to take over.
3) Change the environment
Wherever possible, remove your child from the situation and take him or her to a quiet area when he or she is in the throes of a temper tantrum. This can be more challenging when you’re out and about, but moving your child to a secluded part of a store, the bathroom of a restaurant, or even to your car is a great strategy as he or she won’t have an audience and can work through whatever emotions have taken hold in private. Your main focus should be ensuring your child is safe and ignoring the behavior.
4) Redirect and distract
If you recognize the warning signs of an impending temper tantrum, consider distracting and redirecting your child elsewhere to keep his or her emotions from escalating.
5) Give warnings before transitions
Giving warnings before transitions is another great strategy for preventing temper tantrums. This is especially important when a child is moving from a preferred activity to something he or she finds less interesting. A Time Timer is a great tool to use as it visually shows kids the passage of time, and providing a 10-, 5-, and 3-minute warning can also help make transitions easier.
6) Be clear and consistent
Another way to curb bad behaviors in toddlers is to set clear guidelines around the rules by which you want your home to be governed. Communicate which behaviors will and will not be tolerated, provide regular reminders, and remember that the key to good behavior is consistency. When your child engages in poor behaviors, you must always follow through with whatever consequences you’ve set forth to decrease the likelihood it will happen again.
Which leads me to my next tip…
7) Use consequences properly
Unlike punishment, which is aimed at making a child suffer in retaliation for inappropriate behavior, consequences offer an opportunity for children to learn from their mistakes. When used properly, consequences can teach children responsibility, accountability, and problem-solving. Here are a few Dos and Don’ts about implementing consequences for bad behaviors:
- Criticize. Remember that the goal behind using consequences is to provide an opportunity for your child to learn from their mistakes, not lower their self-esteem.
- Blow things out of proportion. As tempting as it may be to remove privileges or send your child to his or her room when he or she is misbehaving, take a deep breath and think before you act.
- Delay consequences. In order for consequences to be effective, they need to be implemented immediately after the undesirable behavior occurred.
- Ignore bad behavior. If your child is engaging in undesirable behavior that isn’t dangerous or harmful to himself or others, ignore it. Do not engage him or her and avoid eye contact until he or she stops the behavior in favor of something more acceptable, at which time you should offer praise and positive interaction.
- Use praise and rewards. Taking the time to point out and praise or reward your child when he or she behaves appropriately not only boosts his or her self-esteem, but it also teaches him or her what your expectations are. Positive reinforcement will also make your child more motivated to seek out desirable instead of undesirable behaviors.
- Be consistent and follow through. In order for consequences to work, you must resist the urge to intervene and always follow through!
8) Make sure the consequences you use are relevant
While consequences can be extremely effective in warding off undesirable behaviors, most parents don’t know how to use them effectively. They either don’t implement them soon enough, the consequence doesn’t match up to the behavior, or the parent uses the consequence as a way to shame the child. A much better option is to use natural and logical consequences.
Natural consequences are those that occur inevitably as a result of a child’s behaviors or actions (i.e. if a child refuses to eat, she’ll feel hungry), while logical consequences are designed to help children replace poor behaviors with more appropriate ones (i.e. if a child throws a toy, he or she loses the toy for the remainder of the day). Natural consequences tend to be more effective, but since they don’t always occur as a result of poor behaviors, logical consequences are an excellent positive parenting technique to use if you’re trying to figure out how to discipline a toddler. We’ve written a whole post about natural and logical consequences along with some great ideas to help inspire you, which you can read here.
9) Use reward systems
Positive reinforcement – the act of reinforcing desirable behavior immediately after it occurs to increase the likelihood that it will happen again – is a fabulous strategy to help encourage good behavior in children, regardless of their age. Ignoring undesirable behavior and rewarding positive interactions through sticker charts is a great tool to consider. We share our favorite reward charts HERE.
10) Teach your child calming strategies
My last tip for those who want to know how to discipline a toddler without yelling and punishments is to teach your child how to calm down when big emotions threaten to take over. This will take time, and you will probably need to teach your child different calming strategies as he or she gets older, but teaching your child how to self-regulate is so important to your little one’s long-term development.
There are heaps of calming tools you can keep on hand to help diffuse big emotions, like playdoh, stress balls, rainmakers, and calming music that can be stored on your smartphone. All of these work well, but if you’re looking for a long-term strategy your child can carry through to adulthood to help deal with tough situations, I suggest grabbing some bubbles and teaching your little one mindful breathing. We’ve written an entire post about mindful breathing HERE.
Whew! That was a lot of information, but I hope these behavior management tips and ideas help your in your quest to figure out how to discipline a toddler without losing your sanity!