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When (And How) To Start Disciplining Toddlers

When (And How) To Start Disciplining Toddlers

It's amazing how quickly your child transforms from a cute, cooing baby to a full-fledged toddler — one who seems bent on getting into everything, eating whatever he encounters, and generally misbehaving. A Circle of Moms member who goes by "TealRose" describes toddlers best when she says, "He has no idea of 'right or wrong' - he only has the need to learn. He is programmed to do so by touching, tasting, moving, dropping, throwing, opening, closing, [and] breaking - not because he is 'naughty,' but because that is how he learns."

When that learning veers into dangerous or inappropriate behavior and "no" isn't working, what are the first steps you can take to discipline a child? Which tactics are appropriate and effective at this age? Here, Circle of Moms members share three parenting techniques that help a toddler learn what's acceptable and what's not, as well as some thoughts on whether corporal punishment should be a tactic you consider.

1. Re-Direct

Many moms start gently, by re-directing a child's behavior. What this means in practices is that when your child is getting into mischief and playing with or touching things she shouldn't, you simply lead her to something she should be doing instead.


For example, member Tamara S., whose 19-month-old son sometimes explores in ways that are dangerous, uses re-direction to teach him appropriate behaviors:

"If he's jumping off the chair, I might say 'how about rolling this ball across the floor?' and when he does what he wants you to do with the redirection make a big deal... I give him a high five and tell him, 'You did a great job listening with your ears,' and then I point to his ears.'"

Geri C. also recommends re-direction with young toddlers, and emphasizes that behavior which we find annoying and dangerous is really just curiosity on their part: "Try giving him an area with safe things of yours, like some plastic bowls and utensils, an old pan or two. Kids are developing their minds, they are curious [and] want what you have."

Diane S. uses re-direction in a slightly different way with her grandson. She finds a change of scenery helps:

"My 13-month-old grandson has tantrums sometimes, and I put his coat on him and take him outdoors. The change in atmosphere and climate seem to catch him off guard, and shortly we are playing outdoors as though nothing has happened."


2. Give or Take a Time Out

As a toddler's understanding and comprehension increases, moms find that time outs become a better way to teach right from wrong. Ashley M.'s son had his first time-out at 15 months old:

"I sat him on the floor in front of the kitchen sink, and set the microwave timer to 75 seconds. It's a minute for every year they are. I had to do it a few times, but he finally realized he had to sit until the timer went off and he would watch the timer and when he heard it beep he would look at me to tell him he could get up and I would explain to him why he was in time out."

A member who goes by the initial "J" says time outs are especially effective with her 15-month-old when he's misbehaving to get attention. For kids this age she suggests a time out of no more than 2-3 minutes and advises parents to take the time to explain the reasons for the time out in terms the child can understand.

Shelly I. recommends a reverse time out — one in which the parent takes the break: "give yourself a time out, and go to your room till [your child] calms down." Describing how she used this method with her own toddler, who "got it" after several repetitions, she says, "I would tell him that I didn't like being around him when he acted that way, and I would be back when he was pleasant."

3. Take Away a Toy

Toddlers are able to start to understand that there are consequences for their actions, and many moms say that you can help this along by taking away a favorite toy as punishment for misbehaving.

Sara B. found this worked well with her children. She would simply say, "If you do that again I am taking toys." As she further explains, "Whatever the favorite toy was that day, I would confiscate it if the bad behavior was repeated after this warning. When the fit ensued, I would give one more chance, making clear that they could have it back if they would calm down, and as long as they did not do X again."


The Debate Over Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment of any kind is a highly debated issue in the Circle of Moms communities. Many moms feel that spanking, especially, is inappropriate for young toddlers who are just learning to explore the world around them. As Connie O., a childcare provider who has worked with many toddlers, points out, "They have absolutely no self-control at this age. They may know it's not something they should do, they may not want to get into trouble, but they lack the ability to self-regulate and control their impulses. It's wrong to punish a child for something they have no control over. That ability will form by the time they are two, and then time out and the expectation of compliance is appropriate."

Other moms of toddlers feel that when done correctly — gently and without anger, taps on the hand and swats on the bottom can be an effective way to discipline. "Giving my son a quick tap on his padded diaper while saying, 'No' was the only thing that got his attention," says Sheryl D. And Brandi G. feels that "popping" her girls on the hand and saying, "No" in a stern voice was the most effective way to get them to stop touching things that were dangerous or off limits.

But even this crosses the line for some. As TealRose sees it, even a light "pop" on the hand of a toddler under two years old does more harm than good:

"You don't need to smack his hand - he has no way of understanding why dearest mummy just hurt him. Simple child development will tell you that. He might stop touching that vase, but then he will stop touching a lot of things, and stop learning too– not good."

Image Source: Citril via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Join The Conversation
StephanieRobertson74422 StephanieRobertson74422 3 years
While I respect other parents' decisions, here are the reasons I choose NOT to spank…
WakeishaHollister WakeishaHollister 4 years
I have read some of the comments left about this articule and i wasnt going to say anything however i felt the need to. Im 25yrs old and i was spanked as a child. I love kids and i have witnessed so many ways parents discipline their children and with that experience it helps with discipline my own son. However i started early not with spanking but with firm sayings and a look that he understands "mommy means no" i dont believe hitting a child or yelling at one solves the situtation you as parent let your child know that you are the one in control of the situtation so be calm yet firm when you say no. No one way of discipline works well with your child all you can do is take all the advice you can get and incorporate a method that works best for you and your child. No one can ever tell you how to reason your own but fellow parents should be able to listen and take advice.
DeniTomkoMelnyk DeniTomkoMelnyk 4 years
I was spanked as a child and so was my husband, we turned out fine and respect and love our parents to this day very much. The problem with these days is children learn from a very young age the control their parents and have all the power which then follows these children into school and their adult life. We have an entitlement generation and why? Because these children get away with everything from day 1. There is no reason we should be afraid to disapline our children. If it includes spanking or if it doesn't, not all children are the same and what works for one may not work for another. People need to get off their high horses and mind their buissness.
AmandaBethCrowther AmandaBethCrowther 4 years
When my 19 almost 20 yr old sis sheesh I feel old was toddler she had serious jelousy issues and do to fact mother was insane I mostly took care of her even though I was still pretty young I was ij charge of her do to brother who is a little less then 2 yrs younger then her,being born. So when she'd throw a tantrum id pick her up in postion were she couldn't kick me and take her ijtointo room and set her on ground this way no one was around execpt her and I I said if you want to throw a fit you throw it here let me know when you are done. I turned my back till she calmed down it didn't take lokg. I admit it I popped her on butt once but she tried to drowned the baby sneakily well he was in tub really she pulled a big one she pretended to be all sweet kissing him and then yeah you kind of get point I poped her oj butt and then we talked it's not hard to understand a toddlers speech if listeh even if unclear speech you will know what they mean. She was nearly 3 at time but not quite. Honestly wasn't best choice but sometimes you need sudden discration to prevent danger. Taking a toy away means nothing to toddler and soke of us as toddlers are little brats or can entertain ourselves in corner I was both I constantly tested limits and learned fingers were fun toy so spanking was what parents did however my parents also probably let me do somethings they shouldn't have but I guess I was learning lesson hard way.
AndreaMcCrery AndreaMcCrery 4 years
I swore I would never comment on one of these blogs but this is such a sensitive issue and hits close to home for me. I get so frustrated when people on here just run off at the mouth "sell your kid","child abuse" ect. because you spank your child. I have spanked me 3 yr old numerous times and I also have done time outs, vinegar on the tongue, re-directing, but what I find humorous is how people say "just do this or that when your child does this or that". Children are not cookie cutters. My son is hard headed, adventurous, beautiful and a happy child, but he is testing his limits, powers, and there is a power struggle going on I feel at that age. Not to mention his daycare thinks he may have ADD, which he is getting evaluated by a dev. ped. in amonth I have had Numerous people tell me, "oh, I never spanked my child, or maybe just once" then reprimand me because I do, but when I give them numerous examples so "they" with their infinite wisdom could help me in some of these trying situations.They ignore me or do not have an answer. If I left the store everytime my son stood up in the cart or wanted a toy and had a tantrum, I Would Never get any shopping done! I will not teach my son that if he acts out he controls my life or we leave the store like he wants too. Re-directing, Does Not work with my son. I have tried that numerous times, my son knows exactly what I am doing and gets angrier. He has attempted to hit me and I grab his wrists and try to hug him and sometimes that works other times, no. I do know when I have said ,"no" 5x, stayed calm, seen the sheer glee in his face like "I heard you and what are you gonna do about it and I know I am doing wrong" and I swat that rear end, that whole expression of "Yeah I had that coming" look comes accross his face. I can't move a 65 inch t.v if he is trying to hit it, nor will he let me redirect. In some situations putting him in his room for ten second works, he hates that. I do know it says "SPARE THE ROD SPOIL THE CHILD" in the Bible. I am not using a rod, kicking, screaming, cussing, calling him names, isolating, punching, or slapping my son (that IS child abuse). He gets hugged and kissed on 50x a day, goes to the park, sandbox, ect and has a wonderful life and there is noone going to tell me that I am bad mother. I just wish some people would just quit looking for something to start drama about or look to criticize cuase that is usually is what is going. My son is also behind in his speech dev. the only real issue he is having, it is coming out alot more now. So telling him to stop and apologize is not going to happen. I have had many people watch my son's "hard-headedness for control" and watched me resorting to spanking and then they say "I would have done the same thing" When my son is trying to hit me because he is having a temper tantrum and I pic him up to hold him and try to explain why he cant do what he want, he has a couple times hit me , when I let him down he proceeds to kick the kitchen door over and over and find things of mine to throw. I am a biology major and I do believe whole-heartedly that children have diff. dispositions and I believe some are born with predispositions to being more meek, cruel, cold, selfish, unselfish, loving, ect. and I do believe some children do need to be spanked on the butt if not the world may be in a world of hurt and there are some children if you spank them you will break there heart.
SiriCrowther SiriCrowther 4 years
And no I didn't use foul language to tell that lady off either there is a proper way for everything to get a great out come. But I refuse to be run over as a parent by both other people and my kid.
SiriCrowther SiriCrowther 4 years
I won't say much but I will say this onetime I was at Walmart and I was preggers with my first child in the eisle there was a mom looking at some canned food. Her kid was maybe 2 or so he kept standing on. The seat and she firmly would say no you have to sit otherwise you will fall and get hurt. The kid threw a toy at her and she took it away and said that was wrong you don't throw things at people so she took it away. Then he stood up again this honestly happened more than 5 times and the mom was getting mad so finally she told her kid a bit louder you stand up again and I will give you time out when we get home. The kid spit on her and stood up so she spanked him in the butt (I swear not hard at allllllllll) some lady starts hollering child abuse and security came by they questioned me cuz I was there too and the mom the lady completely lied about the story and this poor mom was taken away till the cops came by and looked at security footage. Now I have my own kid he is 2 and I do use a spank here and there when he is too over the top and it has worked. Now one thing I won't tolerate and I have been in many discussions on this with strangers is for some idiot to tell me how to parent when I am not judging your kids when they back mouth you! Someone were to call 911 on me believe me I will do much much more to you. A lot of people I have noticed always have something to say. Like example the other day I am at the grocery store I kept telling my son you can't push things off the isles I told him more than 4 times very firmly and he kept doing it so finally I said it louder and firmer and a mom with 6 kids passes next to me with her husband their kids are cussing and misbehaving and she tells me " that is just wrong to holler at a kid and smack his hand you should be ashamed" ooooooooommmmmmgggggggg many things came out of my mouth this woman can't take care of her own but she wants to meddle in my bees wax? Na ah! That's when I become a real @!?$ and told her off. I would understand if I abused my child. I am against abuse and there is a limit to the force used on a child when u spank them I barely touch mine but when he sees the action he always behaves (and yes he still explores with his hands, it's a matter of mphasising that yes it was wrong for you to do that or touch that but you can touch this other thing or that) I don't believe in other parents telling me what to do or opinionating on what I do because I don't do that to others. To me it doesn't take a village to raise a kid it takes me and my husband and that's that. I never saw sooo much disrespect among parents until I came to America and became a parent my self most parents to me are absolutely out of line. So if someone ever where to address something about my job and life believe me I won't be acting like a dog with my tail between my legs you will hear a lot from me as we'll. most kids I have seen are the way they are because when their parents discipline them how ever it is that they do other people meddle and stick their noses, when the kid sees their own parent being disciplined they think they are right and the parent was wrong. I don't believe in abuse but I don't believe in being "oh please don't do that" or "I said no" again and again and again and let my kid run me over. I believe in how I was raised and I came out super darn good. All I gotta say.
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