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Toddler Discipline

What is normal toddler behavior?

It is normal for your toddler to test the rules to see if you will really do what you say. Your toddler will often do the opposite of what you want him to do. Your child may get upset easily. He will often use the words “no!” and “mine!”.

Your toddler wants to get his own way and do things for himself. He wants to be in charge of what he wears and eats, where he goes, and what he does. A toddler's bossiness is a way to test how much power he really has. Your toddler will do things to get attention. He will also imitate what he sees and hears – good or bad.

How can I help avoid problems?

Here are some ways you can avoid trouble.

  • Childproof your home. Go through every room in your house and remove anything valuable, dangerous, or messy. Your child wants to explore and may break things. He will try to get into things even though you say no. One of the ways to help avoid problems is to provide a safe place for your child to play indoors and out.
  • Redirect your child. If your child is playing with something you don't want him to have, replace it with another object or toy that he enjoys. This approach avoids a fight and does not give your child a chance to say no.
  • Give choices. Give 2 or 3 choices to avoid "no" answers. For example, do not ask if your child wants to go to the park. Instead, ask "When we get to the park, do you want to play on the swing or the slide?" Do not give too many choices.
  • Let your child be active. Toddlers have a lot of energy. Make sure that your child has plenty of chances to play outside and get lots of exercise.
  • Plan ahead. Tantrums are more likely to happen when your child is tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or has done too many things in one day. Plan your day carefully and take your child on outings when he is rested, has eaten, and is not sick.
  • Spend time with your toddler each day. Tell him, “I love you” often, play with him, sing to him or take him on a walk. Use your time together to build a happy, trusting relationship.

How can I teach good behavior?

  • Set limits. Make rules and let your child know what will happen if he breaks a rule. Know your child’s abilities and limitations. Give your child instructions that you know he is able to do.
  • Notice good behavior. When your child does what you ask, praise him so that he will continue the behavior. You could also give a reward, such as a small toy or letting your child do a fun activity.
  • Look for patterns. When your child does not do what you ask, see if you can find a pattern. For example, is it more likely at certain times of day, or in certain places?
  • Enforce the rules every time. Be gentle but firm with your child. Avoid scolding or nagging. If your child doesn’t do as you ask, repeat the instruction and what will happen if he does not obey. Keep your voice calm. Make sure that you do what you say you will do. Empty threats will not work. If your child still won’t do as you ask, put him in time-out (usually 1 minute for each year of age). Do not talk with your child when he is in time-out.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Your child will grow out of this phase. Stay calm.

Should I spank my child?

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend spanking as a form of discipline. Some reasons that spanking does not work include:

  • Spanking can teach your child that hitting others is okay. It may make his behavior worse.
  • Spanking can hurt your child physically and emotionally. You may feel guilty after you have calmed down.

Your child's self-esteem will increase as he or she learns to deal with the world and other people. How you manage this period of growing independence and individuality will impact your child's future behavior. Many parents find the toddler stage difficult. Ask your healthcare provider if you would like more advice on managing behavior. With patience, support, understanding, and consistency, you and your child will survive this phase.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-04
Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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