How To Discipline A Toddler: 15 Ideas Worth Trying

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Hi there, Welcome To Creative Parenting! If you’re looking for ideas for how to discipline a toddler, this post’s for you.

The transformation of your baby into a little person with ideas of his or her own can leave you feeling mystified…

So, let’s dive into some ideas that’ll help demystify how to discipline your toddler.

So, the first signs our son showed of starting to challenge authority began around the 1.5 year mark. We started having a conversation with him that went like this:

Us: “Sweetie, step down from there.”

Him: Smiles back. Doesn’t move.

Us: “Ok buddy, can you step over in the living room and away from the fireplace mantel?”

Him: Keeps smiling. Doesn’t move.

Us: “Ok Mr. time to step away”…

And so on. This continues until we finally convince him to move. Or get up and hold his hand and physically guide him to where we want him to be.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar?

After you get through the first year of parenting and your little one starts getting closer to two years old, you might find yourself asking:

How Do I Discipline A Toddler?

And when you think about it…

It’s remarkable how quickly we go from caring for a small baby 24/7 to having a little person running around, laughing, playing… and testing boundaries.

If you’ve ever caught yourself feeling surprised that it’s happened already…

…and at the same time wondering about the best way to manage this, know that:

You’re not alone.

I say that as the parent of a 21-month-old.

Because I’ve asked myself that same question.

And it’s got me wondering, researching, and dreaming up new ideas regularly. All so I can constantly uphold safe boundaries while letting him explore to his heart’s content.

Because we all want our kids to be happy.

RELATED: 8 Tips To Raise A Happy Kid

So I’ve gathered a few ideas, techniques, and tricks. Some I’ve used, some successfully, and some I’m continuing to refine.

Now, it’s worth repeating that these ideas are my opinions. I’m no professional, of any kind. Just another parent like you figuring out things as I go along.

And there’s so much info out there it can be overwhelming. Sometimes I agree. But sometimes I don’t.

I was inspired by this article in USA Today on the topic, so I’ve distilled down some of my best ideas below.


Without further ado, here’s my 15 ideas on:

How To Discipline A Toddler

1. Remember How Much They Understand

Now, I don’t know about you…

…but I find it’s easy to forget how much our little guy has learned. And how much he can understand. I’ve heard people say toddlers understand so much more than they can say. And I think that’s true.

In my recent experience, he seems to know what’s going on more often than not. Even if he doesn’t always comply when we’re trying to enforce rules, I can tell can understand.

I think this is important not to forget, for a few reasons.

One is that besides just keeping them safe and making sure they follow our rules, our job as parents is to help them understand the world around.

For me, part of that is NOT forgetting how much they DO understand.

Because if I forget this, then I might not feel like taking time to explain things to them so they know the WHY for the rule, rather than just hearing me say NO all the time.

In other words, context is important. I don’t want to be an arbitrary enforcer of rules. So I try to explain the why along with the rule itself.

Because I figure if he does understand the context, he’ll be able to let me know what he’s thinking.

And that brings me to the next idea:

2. Encourage Them To Communicate

When our son first started talking, I’d often forget to nudge him to connect new words together.

But I quickly got over that.

In time, I remembered some basics from the years I spent studying foreign languages in college.

I’m no language acquisition expert, but I did learn a few things from the hours I’d spent with flash cards trying to remember and use German.

And one of those lessons was consistently building and repeating language and words I’d learned, and adding to it. For example, if I learned a new word, using it in different sentences with other words I know.

So I started doing this with our son. And I think it’s helped put things in context, faster than he might have otherwise.

What does this have to do with discipline?

Well, my thinking is:

the faster he can learn to communicate, the less frustrated he’ll be in asking for things he needs (like a snack), and so it’ll reduce the chance that he acts out.

Plus, I think it’ll help cut down on whining in the future.

RELATED: Find Your Inner Zen Against Whining

And THAT will help cut down on the number of times I need to do the next thing:

3. Why You Should Be Consistently Firm

You may have heard it before: Consistency, consistency, consistency.

And in my experience, that’s sooo key. Especially when it comes to setting boundaries and enforcing rules.

Because you don’t want to be changing up what the rules are every day. He’s learning so much so fast, it’s good for him to have some familiarity.

Even if it’s just simple little things like staying away from the fireplace mantel like in our house.

Now there’s a good chance you are already trying to do this. But it doesn’t always work or, if you are re-iterating something you’ve told him a million times, then it’s time to try this next technique:

4. A The Secret To Hearing “No” Less: Give Them 2 Options

One thing I realized once our son was older and talking more was that I had been in the habit of asking him yes or no questions.

This was fine when he was a baby. But once he started talking, I realized that more often than not he would say no.

I think part of the reason for this was that it was just easier for him to say no than to say yes. So very quickly I started hearing and know a lot.

And it at first it caught me off guard. And I quickly realized my mistake. So I started using this technique because it was easier to do this than to break my habit of asking yes or no questions.

So I started it just giving him two options: Do you want to do A or B.

In other words: I stopped giving him the option of saying no. And sure enough it started to work. I started hearing fewer “No”s.

So give it a try. The next time you accidentally ask a yes or no question, think about what you want them to do, and then give that as one of two options.

Make it a choice. That shifts the dynamic.

5. Give Them The Context And The WHY

We talked about explaining things before. Now we’re going to elaborate on that. Specifically, talking about them giving them the why.

And what do I mean by this?

Giving them a reason for why you’re telling them no, or asking them not to do something.

So back to the story that I talk about in the beginning, abut telling our son to not get close to the fireplace:

I’d also give a brief explanation to explain to him why I didn’t want him to do this. It would go something like this:

“I want you to step away from there because it can be hot and you could get hurt.”

Contrast this with:

“Please step down from there”

In the first, you get some context and explanation. In the second your using more words to say no.

In my book the second is more productive than the first.

And it shifts the conversation in a more positive direction. And that leads us and to our next tip.

6. Learn To Say YES!

Now, even if you use the above steps you still going to have to say no a lot. So this tip is for when you’ve exhausted and everything else and don’t know what to do.

Flip it around and just start saying yes.

Now to be sure I’m not advocating doing anything dangerous.

All I’m suggesting here is that you consider saying yes to the things that you normally would say no to.

And in a way, this is a mental exercise.

You can ask yourself:

Is there a real reason I’m saying no to this? Or is it just my personal preference?

Because I don’t know about you, but I certainly have many personal preferences for why I want my son to do or not do.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that if he does do them it’s the end of the world,

So try it out some time, and see what sorts of fun might happen as a result.

You might find that they have some fun ideas. And if you listen more to their ideas, maybe they’ll start to listen to your feedback and take it more seriously.

Saying yes a few more times than no might mean a more interesting, exciting, and fun weekend.

On a side note, I think teaching your kid to say Yes! is a good skill to cultivate too. Life’s all about getting and thriving with new experiences!

RELATED: Are you ready for a picky eater?

7. Tell Them What You Want Them TO Do

Similar to shifting your perspective around and saying yes to your little one, is remembering to tell them what you want them TO do.

Now your first thought maybe well, “this is obvious.”

But here’s the thing…

In my experience, oftentimes when I think I’m telling him why I want him to do, I’m really just telling him what I DON’T want him to do.

So for example if I don’t want him to be standing on something, I’ll say:

“Please stand on the floor and not on the bag of paper towels.”

Instead, try this:

“Let’s play with your blocks and not stand on the paper towels!”

Did you see what I did there?

Yes, the latter part of the sentence was still a soft no, But the first part took a different approach entirely.

It presented a positive option as a way of redirecting his attention.

I found that when he does those little things that he knows he shouldn’t do, he often just wants attention or needs a new activity to engage with.

So a simple redirect and refocus of his attention will often do wonders to get him to do something I want to do.

8. Revisit That Mental Checklist

Do you remember the days of having a newborn baby?

Once you have a toddler it can be easy to look back on those early months with nostalgia.

Even though you might not have been sleeping, in a way, taking care of a newborn baby seemed easier.

Once they’re a toddler and running around, it seems like everything is more complicated.

But sometimes it’s useful to remember not to over complicate things too much.

Here’s what I mean:

If you’re like me when they were young babies, you had a checklist he went through when they were upset: Is he hungry? Give him something to eat. Is he tired? Then it’s time for a nap. I think you get the idea.

The main point here is that even though they seem a lot older and bigger to you, they are just barely past being a baby, and they can’t always communicate their needs.

So it pays to return to the trusty old mental checklist you used for meeting their needs you used often when they were babies.

You might save yourself more than a few meltdowns by not forgetting it.

Ok, next tip!

9. Adjust Your Patience Timeline

Just as your patience with your child will need to shift as they get older, so too will your own patience with yourself.

This relates to something I touched on the tip about the checklist.

Even though they’re older and starting to understand more, perhaps even talking some, they’re still just little kids.

Now this might seem the most obvious comment to you, But it’s something that I find myself for. I think part of the reason for this is because our little guy is talking more than I thought he wouldn’t this age.

And it’s almost like this plays a trick on my brain.

So I often have to remind myself that he’s not even two yet. And adjust my patience and expectations accordingly.

Because when I start to think he’s older than he is, my expectations for him change as a result.

And then I end up being less patient with him than I should be. Once I realize that then it’s time to reset my time horizon.

10. Give ‘Em Something Shiny!

Is your little one acting up? Just Distract them with a new or shiny object.

It could be a game, activity, or song.

It could be an outing you take as a family. The main idea here is that kids have short attention spans.

So before you necessarily involved some type of harsh punishment you might just need to engage their brains.

You’d be surprised how quickly and that can shift their behavior.

11. Be More Stoic Than A Rock

Cultivating a sense of patience is important. But it also pays dividends to learn how to be stoic.

In other words:

Staying calm, and not overreacting when your little one has a complete meltdown.

Whether it’s in a store, grocery store, or some other public setting, It will happen eventually…

Your little one will have a complete meltdown. And there won’t be anything that you can do about it.

Other than just stay calm and not freak out yourself.

That’s why I like to imagine a rock. A literal, lifeless stone.

And then in those moments when things get really crazy…

I transform myself into that stoic rock.

RELATED: Live More Mindfully With Bullet Journaling – Grab Our FREE Guide Here

12. Remember How They Don’t Know ANYTHING

When my son was about seven months old he started standing up in his crib. And that was exciting at first until I realized there was a problem:

He didn’t know how to sit down.

It sounds so simple. Comically so.

But he literally did not know what to do after he stood up. And his little muscle system seems so excited to stand up that he went through a phase where he just would stand up no matter what.

And after a couple of nights of losing sleep because of this, I realized I needed to teach him:

How to sit down.

With this experience I learned an important lesson: Our babies and toddlers don’t know anything. It’s up to us to teach them.

So try and remember that the next time your little one is acting out.

Maybe there’s something they don’t know about what’s going on, and that lack of knowledge leads to anxiety and acting out.

13. DON’T Forget To Tell Them You LOVE Them Every Day


Life is short.

Even if the challenges of parenting today feel overwhelming…

… there’s a good chance they aren’t going to last forever.


Do yourself a favor and make it a habit to tell your little ones you love them EVERY day.

Because the truth is, none of us know how long we have with our kids.

I know that sounds drastic.

But for me it serves as a reminder: To let them know I love them and tell them often.

And the way I see it: actively cultivating my relationship with my son and reminding him often that I love him, establishes a loving baseline relationship for when I do need to discipline.

14. Teach Them New Words & Context

I don’t know about you, but for me, lotta challenges with discipline come down to communication.

The way I see it – when he gets upset or acts out, it’s because he wants to communicate something but can’t!

He just doesn’t have the words – yet.

So I make an effort to teach him new words on a regular basis. I pay attention to the new words he’s learning, and when I use new words try to make sure to use ones he knows.

And build on it from there. Then, I like to explain the context of what I’m saying.

So that he understands. It’s similar to what my foreign language teachers did in high school and college.

And I think it helps!

It’s laying the groundwork for long term learning.

And the faster and better he learns, the smoother this next topic will be:

15. Hold On For The Roller Coast Ride

Last but not least…

Hold on for the ride!

And try to live in the moment and be more present.

Because in my experience:

When I made a concerted effort to be a more mindful parent, it pays off in many ways.

That’s all for today!

As always, thanks for reading and stopping by.

For more ideas, insights, and tips from Creative Parenting check out our home page here.

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