Mom Tip Monday: 10 Toddler Discipline Techniques

by Heligirl on January 10, 2011

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles

I talk a lot in my articles about discipline, and specifically positive discipline. That word, discipline, seems to carry some negative connotations. At least I know my first thought when hearing the word is of a child being scolded or spanked (the way my generation was “disciplined.”)

Positive discipline is about being kind but firm, looking at the source of misbehaviors, finding teachable moments, and treating our kids with respect.

One big thing about any kind of discipline, however, even positive discipline, is the techniques must be related to the child’s age and ability to process and understand what we’re teaching them. Toddlers, for example, can’t rationalize, and grade schoolers aren’t going to go for distraction since they can hold onto an idea for more than a moment.

That said, below is a list of 10 toddler discipline techniques. While toddlers can start responding to these techniques as early as 9-12 months, it never hurts to be training yourself to use them even if you have an infant. Put these to work in your home and watch your child flourish while also learning about appropriate behaviors.

1.    Distract – interrupt a child’s thought and redirect it where you would like it to be. They don’t have the ability to do this on their own.

2.    Ignore – Use this with annoying behaviors that cause no harm. It must be ignored every time it occurs to be effective. The behavior may increase before it stops.

3.    Substitute – Show a child where and/or how to perform the same or similar activity in a way that is acceptable to you.

4.    Comment on Appropriate Behaviors – more often than negative behaviors. Any attention given to any behavior reinforces that behavior. Factual comment often throughout the day.

5.    Intervene Physically – physically remove a child from a potentially dangerous situation. They seldom respond to verbal direction alone.

6.    Use Positive Statements – Reduce the use of “no” and “don’t” when directing your toddler. Tell him what he can do rather than what he should not be doing. Other effective language includes you saying to your child “when you”¦then,” “I expect you”¦” and “you can”¦.” Offer choices when appropriate.

7.    Limit Set – A few easily remembered rules work better than many rules that may be forgotten. Limits need to be age and developmentally appropriate. Think: “Is this rule really important?”

8.    Investigate – What could be the source of the misbehavior? Is your child tired? Hungry? What is going on in his development? What are her temperament traits? Is the surrounding environment stressful? Could he be getting sick? Sometimes the source can be solved, or understood, which helps with the misbehavior.

9.    Nurture – Make time for hugging, talking, reading, snuggling, listening and playing. Undivided attention and uninterrupted, child-directed play each day can be very effective.

10.  Modify Environment – Toddler proof your home. The more freedom your child has to explore his surroundings safely, the less negative attention needs to be placed on him.


Liz F January 10, 2011 at 11:41 am

Okay Jen I have a question for you: how do you deal with a toddler who throws his food on the floor? DS does this and I can’t figure out if it’s because he’s done (which it seems like sometimes it is) or because he’s not interested (this happened with broccoli the other night lol) or because it’s funny to watch the dog run around and eat it (self-explanatory!) My gut reaction is to ignore the behavior (#2) but at the same time ignoring it hasn’t deterred the behavior. DS is 14 mos.

Twitter: Heligirl
January 10, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I so hear you with this Liz. Mr. Man is 20 months and we still have the same problem. I try to ignore it, and have for months, yet that’s not made it stop. My only saving grace is he knows doing it doesn’t get a rise out of us. Then I started responding by both saying and signing “all done” then taking away the food once he starts throwing it. He’s finally started signing “all done” while trying to say it before the food starts flying so I think, with time and patience, that’s what worked. My lesson learned here is sometimes you can’t fix it immediately, but you can keep them from acting out further by staying consistent. Sometimes it just takes a while. I hope this helps some. 🙂

Liz F January 11, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Thanks for the suggestions ladies 🙂 (@Susan, too!)

Susan January 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Liz, I would also add that you could tell your Ds (in a cheerful or calm tone), “Food is for eating, not for throwing.” And then, if he continues to throw it, I’d do what Heli suggests. After many repetitions, one day, it will sink in.
Susan recently posted: The Roller Coaster Rolls On

Melissa {adventuroo} January 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Great tips… and so timely! Little Roo will be a toddler next month and I’m sure these days are ahead of me!
Melissa {adventuroo} recently posted: Jump Off the Bandwagon and onto the Intention Train

Twitter: Heligirl
January 10, 2011 at 8:55 pm

You’re in for some real fun Mel. Enjoy! I promise to visit real soon. 🙂

Making It Work Mom January 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Great Tips as always!!! My other tip would be to give Specific Praise. Don’t just say “good job” or “good boy/girl” let them kow what specificially they did well because they probably have no idea 🙂

Twitter: Heligirl
January 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Nice addition. I agree wholeheartedly! I call it encouragement, rather than praise. They love it when you notice specific things they do. Praise itself, like “good girl,” is shallow and means little. But when you take the time to notice something specific and comment on it, even by simply saying, “I noticed you cleaned up your toys without me asking. I really appreciate that” you achieve amazing things with kids. Thanks again!!

Susan January 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Those tips are definitely PD gold standard. I still use them with my 8 yr. old son. Thanks for sharing!

With toddlers, I’m a big proponent of baby-proofing the heck out of the area in the house where you spend your days (our kitchen, dining room, and living room area all open and connected). I loved being able to let my little guy roam and play safely, without my having to keep an eye on him every second. I could fix meals and not worry about him.

The area was protected with quality gates, including a very long one around our fireplace/ wood stove. When we bought our gates, I was balking at the price of one when my Dh said, “How much does an emergency room visit and injury to our son cost?” [Would you ever consider polling your readers for their favorite baby/ toddler-proofing items?].
Susan recently posted: The Roller Coaster Rolls On

Liz F January 11, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Susan, my favorite baby proof item is our “baby cage”–I have it around the fireplace currently. When he was little and just crawling I had it surrounding our couch area so he would stay close. My in-laws have one at their cabin for when we come to visit and it is definitely a great thing to have 🙂

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