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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.
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5. Give Your Child a Break

Time-outs are one of the foundations of child discipline, but they may not be the best approach for the toddler stage. The negative implication of being sent away can teach kids that they're bad rather than promote good behavior.

If you do give your child a time-out, limit it to just a minute or two at this age. Instead of calling it a time-out, which can be confusing to children under 3, refer to it as something more positive.

Lerner suggests creating a "cozy corner," a safe place free from distractions and stimulation where your child can just chill out for a few minutes until he or she can get back in control. That time away can help you regroup as well.

Correct bad behaviors, but also take the time to praise good behaviors. Asta says, "If you don't tell your child when they're doing the right thing, sometimes they'll do the wrong thing just to get attention."  When you tell your toddler he or she has done something good, there's a good chance your child will want to do it again.

6. Stay Calm

It’s easy for your blood pressure to reach the boiling point when you’re in the middle of watching your child throw a tantrum. But losing control will quickly escalate an already stressful situation. Give yourself some time to cool off, Forehand says. "Otherwise, you're venting your own anger. In the end that's going to make you, as a parent, feel worse and guilty. And it's not going to do your child any good."

"I call it the 'Stepford Wife' approach," Lerner says. "As your child screams, say, 'I know, I know,' but stay completely calm as you pick him up. Don't show any emotion."

Sometimes the best tactic is to ignore the behavior entirely. "You just literally act like they're not doing what they're doing," Lerner says. "You ignore the behavior you want to stop." When your child realizes that his screaming fit is not going to get him a second lollipop or your attention, eventually he'll get tired of yelling.

Your child may drive you so close to the breaking point that you're tempted to spank him. But most experts warn against the practice. "When we spank, kids learn that physical punishment is acceptable. And so we are modeling exactly what we don't want our kids to do," Forehand says. At the toddler stage, redirection and brief breaks are far more effective discipline tactics, he says.

7. Know When to Give In

Certain things in a toddler's life are nonnegotiable. She has to eat, brush her teeth, and ride in a car seat. She also has to take baths once in a while. Hitting and biting are never OK. But many other issues aren't worth the headache of an argument. Pick your battles.

"You have to decide whether it's worth fighting about, and about half the time it's not worth fighting about," Asta says. That means it's OK to let your son wear his superhero costume to the grocery store or read The Giving Tree 10 times in a row. Once he gets what he wants, you can gradually get him to shift in another direction -- like wearing another outfit or picking out a different book to read.

Finally, know that it's OK to feel stressed out by your toddler sometimes. "Realize that none of us as parents is perfect -- we do the best we can. There are going to be days that we're better at this than other days," Forehand says. "But if we parent consistently and have consistent rules, then we're going to see more good days than bad days."

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Reviewed on October 17, 2013
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