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7 Secrets of Toddler Discipline

Just saying “no” doesn’t always work. How to get your child to live and learn -- and not lose your cool in the process.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD

Have you ever found yourself in deep negotiations with your 2-year-old over whether she can wear her princess costume to preschool for the fifth day in a row? Have you taken the  "walk of shame" out of the local supermarket after your toddler threw a temper tantrum on the floor? There may be comfort in knowing you’re not alone, but that doesn’t make navigating the early years of discipline any easier.

Toddlerhood is a particularly vexing time for parents because this is the age at which children start to become more independent and discover themselves as individuals. Yet they still have a limited ability to communicate and reason.

Child development specialist Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources for the nonprofit organization Zero to Three, says, "They understand that their actions matter -- they can make things happen. This leads them to want to make their imprint on the world and assert themselves in a way they didn't when they were a baby. The problem is they have very little self-control and they're not rational thinkers. It's a very challenging combination."

Here are a few simple toddler discipline strategies to help make life easier for your whole family when your self-asserting toddler needs direction.

1. Be Consistent

Order and routine give young children a safe haven from what they view as an overwhelming and unpredictable world, Lerner says. "When there's some predictability and routine, it makes children feel much more safe and secure, and they tend to be much more behaved and calm because they know what to expect."

Try to keep to the same schedule every day. That means having consistent nap times, mealtimes, and bedtimes as well as times when your toddler is free to just run around and have fun.

Warn your child in advance if you do have to make a change. Telling your child "Aunt Jean is going to watch you tonight while Mommy and Daddy go out for a little bit" will prepare her for a slightly different routine and may prevent a scene at bedtime. 

Consistency is also important when it comes to discipline. When you say "no hitting" the first time your child smacks another child on the playground, you also need to say "no hitting" the second, third, and fourth time your child does it.

2. Avoid Stressful Situations

By the time your child has reached the toddler stage, you've spent enough time with him or her to know what triggers reactions. The most common ones are hunger, sleepiness, and quick changes of venue. Avoid these potential meltdown scenarios with a little advance planning.

Pediatrician Lisa Asta, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, says, "You have to anticipate, which means you don't go to the grocery store when your child needs a nap."

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