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Toddler Discipline

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KEY POINTS

  • It is normal for your toddler to test the rules to see if you will really do what you say. Make rules and let your child know what will happen if your child breaks a rule. When your child does what you ask, offer praise so your child will continue the behavior. When your child does not do what you ask, put your child in time-out, which is usually 1 minute for each year of age.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Your child will grow out of this phase. Stay calm.

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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 ask. Your child may get upset easily. Your child will often use the words “no!” and “mine!”

Toddlers want to get their own way and do things for themselves. Your toddler wants to be in charge of clothes, food, and activities. A toddler's bossiness is a way to test how much power he or she really has. Your toddler will do things to get attention. Your toddler will also imitate anything seen and heard.

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. Your child will try to get into things even though you say no. One of the ways to help avoid problems is to provide a safe, uncluttered place for your child to play indoors and out.
  • Redirect your child. If your child is playing with something you don't want him or her to have, replace it with another enjoyable object or toy. 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 outings when your child is rested, has eaten, and is not sick.
  • Spend time with your toddler each day. Tell your child, “I love you” often, play together, sing together, or take a walk together. 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 or she breaks a rule. Know your child’s abilities and limitations. Give your child instructions that you know he or she can do.
  • Notice good behavior. It is best to give your child more attention when acting in ways that you like. When your child does what you ask, praise him or her so that your child will continue the behavior. You could also give a reward such as a sticker, small toy, or a fun activity.
  • Look for patterns. When your child does not do what you ask, see if you can find a pattern. For example, notice if it is more likely to happen at certain times of day, or in certain places.
  • Enforce the rules every time. When needed, discipline should be fair, brief, and simple. 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 your child 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 or her in time-out, which is usually 1 minute for each year of age. Do not talk with your child during 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 bad behavior worse.
  • Spanking can hurt your child physically and emotionally. You may feel guilty after you have calmed down.
  • Spanking increases the chance of your child having mental health and learning problems as he or she grows and becomes an adult.

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 future behavior. Many parents find the toddler stage difficult. Ask your healthcare provider if you want more advice on managing behavior. With patience, support, understanding, and consistency, you and your child will survive this phase.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-09-12
Last reviewed: 2019-08-26
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.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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