20 Toddler Discipline Strategies You Should Start Using Today

When your chubby-cheeked one-year-old points to an Elmo doll placed on an end display and screams until all Target shoppers in a 10-aisle radius have cleared, it is difficult how to move forward.

It may leave you dumbstruck and googling, how to discipline a one-year-old.

But wait.

They’re too young to be disciplined, right?

Hmm…not quite.

While making a toddler sit in time out doesn’t work too well on tiny tots (they aren’t mentally mature enough to connect cause and effect), this is the perfect time to open your child’s eyes to the concept of right and wrong.

The actions put in place now will yield results later, and you’ll be thanking your lucky stars you don’t have a Veruca Salt on your hands.

GIF from GIPHY.com

Here are 20 positive discipline strategies you should make a priority of memorizing stat. If you have mom brain, you’re going to want to pin these juicy details down.

1. Be picky

Be selective on what you say no to. When you say no every time your child does something you don’t agree with, like throwing food on the floor, tearing the tissues out of the box, ripping pages out of a book, playing in the dog’s water bowl, and so on, it will lose its power. Try to only use it on the big-ticket infractions and ignore the minor ones. You may be surprised that your child will lose interest in the actions that don’t cause a big reaction from you.

If we don’t shape our kids, they will be shaped by outside forces that don’t care what shape our kids are in. – Dr. Louise Hart

2. Take preventative measures

When you have kids, you must do a house makeunder and take preventative measures. Clear your cherished travel trinkets off the end table, so your child won’t be tempted to throw it at her sibling. If your child likes to pull yesterday’s burnt chicken taquitos out of the garbage (don’t worry I saved the day with pizza), store the garbage can in the laundry room, or another enclosed space, during the day. 

Related: 5 Things To Stop Telling Your Toddler

3. Keep it short and simple

Use short sentences, such as “No spitting.” This is way better than “Violet, why are you spitting? Stop doing that.” Kids have short attention spans. Get the most important stuff out first because they will likely be running off even before you even finish your thought

4. Divert and redirect

Like you don’t do this already all day, just don’t let up. Even when your child pulls the trash out of the bathroom garbage for the 8th time that day, nicely remove her from the bathroom… and remember to close the door.

5. Use consequences

It’s never too early for your child to learn cause and effect. For example, if she wants to take forever to choose her outfit in the morning, then she’s choosing not to watch Elmo before preschool. Cause: Prolonged clothes picking = Effect: No time to watch Sesame Street. Next time, she may choose her outfit more quickly or just let mama pick it out.

6. Don’t give in to avoid a struggle

Let Mick Jagger teach your child something:

You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

Don’t give in to your child and give them the Baby Shark stuffed animal just to dodge a screaming fit in Wal-Mart. If you decide that your kid can’t have the $30 toy she saw on YouTube, stand your ground. Your future self will thank you for it. 

How to Set Firm Limits and Keep a Calm Home

7. Expect demands for attention

When I am not focused on Violet, that is when she acts up the most. If you need to cook a meal, take an important phone call, or do anything that can takes your eyes away from your little one for a decent length of time, provide some entertainment. Pop her in the high chair with a snack or put on her favorite YouTube singing channel, Super Simple Songs, so she can belt out “Daddy Finger.”

If you don’t provide something to do for your toddler when you’re busy, she’ll find something to entertain herself – in the worst way. Like, pulling off her dirty diaper and wiping the poo on the couch. True story.

8. Concentrate on behavior, not your kid

When your child is throwing a tantrum, remember to separate their behavior from who they are as a person. For example, “kicking your brother is bad, stop it” vs. “you’re being bad, stop it.” Try to shy away telling your child that she is bad. You want them to know how much you love and care for them (and their brother), you don’t like the way she’s acting at the moment.

Related: How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep Through the Night (So You Can Too)

9. Offer choices

Strong decision-making skills is a beautiful thing and it helps build confidence too. Offer your child choices, no more than 2 or 3 tops. Try to use things that you ultimately need or want her to do in the end. For example, “You have two choices. You can put your toys away now or take your bath.”

10. Don’t scream

When my mom would scream at me when I was little, I would tune her out, and often laugh. It was like a game with my siblings and I. Let’s see how many weird scary faces we can get out of mom. But when my Dad would reprimand us in his calm and stern, tone, we would listen and conform. Volume is overrated. It’s your tone that gets through to children.  

11. Respond to issues when they happen

Don’t wait until you get home, or your guests leave, or your husband gets home from work. Your toddler won’t remember why she’s in trouble more than a few minutes after she acted nutso. You have to nip the issue in the bud when it happens.

12. Acknowledge good behavior

When your child behaves well, praise them. When they clean up their mess without being asked, praise them. When they say please and thank you to their elders, praise them. When they get dressed and ready on time, praise them.

When you give your kid kudos when she behaves well, she’ll do these things more, and be less likely to act like a crabby pants to snag your attention.

13. Be a positive role model

If you scream and yell under pressure, your child will do the same. If you remain calm when Puffs hit the fan, he will mimic that behavior too. Your child is forever watching you. Sing it, Michael!

“I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ meeeeeee….and I have no privacy!”

Your toddler learns more from watching you rather than listening to what you say. Reflect the behaviors you want your child to have.

20 Ways to Discipline a Toddler Without Punishment

14. Use humor

I truly believe humor solves almost everything. It makes you laugh and can distract you from less than stellar situations. When your child is acting a fool and your eye is about to twitch, throw them a curveball. Say something absurd or throw them off with a wrong name.

Like, when your daughter is having a meltdown because it is time to get out of the bath, tell her Farty the Grouch (or some other tweak of her favorite character, family member, or friend) is waiting to play with her. She will laugh and be like, no mama, it’s Oscar. You can create a game out of it. The sillier the better. And, when she does make it out of the tub, click “Farty the Grouch” open on her iPad, so she can have a quick visit to Sesame Street.  

Related: The 4 Parenting Styles: What Type of Parent Are You?

15. Use a naughty chair

Give your child a time out in the naughty chair or whatever you want to call it, but first take them to a quiet spot away from shenanigans. The CDC recommends giving 1 minute of time-out for every year of the child’s age. So, a 2-year-old would sit in time-out for 2 minutes, and a 4-year-old would have a 4-minute time-out.

Do not talk to your child, look at your child, or touch your child when they’re in time out. Make sure siblings or another person in the room (ahem, Grandma) are not giving the child attention in time-out. You’d be surprised how frustrating it is for kids when attention is taken away from them. It will help them learn to make better choices in their future.

Oh, and don’t bother trying this with little kids under 2. They won’t sit still in a corner or on a chair. Just separate them from the scene of the crime and let them hash their feelings out in a safe area.

16. Don’t negotiate 

This isn’t your neighborhood garage sale. You don’t need to bargain and negotiate with your mini-me to get what you want. Ditch the “if you play nice today, I’ll buy you that LOL Doll you want.”

Otherwise, you’ll create a 4-year-old who will always expect something in exchange for good behavior. There’s a reason Veruca Salt turned out the way she did, right ladies?

17. Change it up now and again

What was your go to strategy when your baby was 13 months will likely not work when your kiddo hits the second birthday. She’ll be like Baby Boss and already have notes taken and leading YouTube videos on how to manipulate your tired mom before she has her first cup of coffee.

18. Hold the punishment

Discipline and punishment are not the same things. Discipline is the “practice of training someone to behave in accordance with rules or a code of behavior.” Punishment is to “inflict suffering for the past behavior.” There are more effective tactics to discipline your child other than spanking. Even if it happened to you as a child, and you turned out okay, it doesn’t make it right. It’s not okay to hit your child, then get angry when they respond to others in the same way. If your toddler is acting out, and you feel like your going to lose your cool, take a mommy time out to stay calm.

Related: 10 Tips to Help Stressed Moms Chill Out

19. Tell your kiddo that you love her

I’m sure the reasons you are disciplining your child are because you care about her, you want to make sure she grows into a young respectable human being, and you love her. So, don’t forget to tell her. I always end a discipline discussion with an “I love you” or other positive reinforcement. This act displays to your child to move on and not dwell on the issue at hand. It also shows the real reason why you’re establishing limits — because you love her!

20. Be consistent

The strategies don’t mean a lick if you aren’t being consistent. Discipling your child one way on Monday, then giving in to your child’s demands on Wednesday just confuse and frustrate your kid. Make sure that you and your partner are also on the same page when it comes to household rules. If mom lets her eat food on the couch, but when Dad is home she can only sit in her high chair, it will likely confuse your child and prevent her from understanding right from wrong.

What discipline tips have worked for you and your family?

20 Must Read Tips on Toddler Discipline Using Positive Parenting

21 thoughts

  1. The distraction method works good for that and it and will help you not feel bad. Whenever we go to the store, my girl wants a stuffed animal. I sing a song to her to distract her, then give her more attention, and she completely forgets about what she originally wanted. Haha!


  2. These are all excellent tips and I think you covered all of the bases here! #19 is so super important. I do it constantly… maybe too much! lol! But it is true… my heart is huge for my daughter.


  3. I love these tips. I always jokingly say “I don’t negotiate with terrorists.” But for real, I try very hard to correct my toddler with a teaspoon, but affirm her with a shovel.


  4. Love this post, and the tips are awesome, I have to admit I am far beyond toddler age, and my boys used to be easy but I use 1 or 2 back on the days, thanks for sharing.


  5. Great tips! We tried time outs, and they just don’t work at all, and they just just didn’t feel right for our family. I have found that distracting and redirecting works best for one year olds. With our older toddler, writing things down and giving 2 positive options really helps. If we’re out of something, we’ll write it down on our grocery list together, and if there’s a toy she wants at the store, we’ll write it down on our wish list. We also pick out “animal powers” and “hop in like a kangaroo” when putting on her clothes. These strategies have been an absolute lifesaver!

    Picking your battles is such a great point as well! As long as your consistent, like you mentioned. We let our toddler wear whatever she wants, as long is it’s weather appropriate. Most days, she wears her jammies!


    1. Wow, you have this mom thing down pat! I love the idea of making getting dressed a fun activity!! Definitely going to use that tip. Thanks!


  6. I am such a big advocate for positive parenting. These discipline tips you have are so great. And thank you for that reference of the number of minutes by age in the naughty chair.


    1. Positive parenting is so important to me too. It’s not always easy, but I know our kiddos will be better of because of it. 💓


  7. These are great tips for disciplining toddlers! It’s hard and exhausting, isn’t it? I love that you mentioned separating the child from the behavior. We, too, try to help our kids understand that you can be a good person who just didn’t make the best choice.


    1. Thanks so much! Yes, it is definitely exhausting. I thought I knew what tired was before I had kids. I was wrong. 😂


  8. Today’s early childhood education class topic was on THIS VERY TOPIC! You hit on all the areas we discussed. Virtual high five for great advice!


  9. These are great suggestions, I really like that you point out how emotionally immature one and even two year olds are. Time-outs, hand-smacking, etc. aren’t useful at all because they don’t recognize the cause and effect of their actions. I also really like that you point out that a lot of their behaviors at this age are attempts for attention. Whenever my two year old starts acting out, it’s usually because he’s getting tired and just wants mommy’s attention and snuggles for a little while. If I pause what I’m doing and give him the attention he’s looking for, the behavior is highly likely to stop.


    1. Yes, I see so many parents who do the timeouts and hand smacking on very young children and they get frustrated when the kid continues to do the same thing over and over. I always hope that they find the right resources to guide them on better discipline solutions.


  10. This list is a great resource for any toddler mom on disciplining. I know how hard it can be to stay calm and not yell when something crazy happens. But in the long run, I know it will be for the better!


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