The Discipline Approach That Helps Babies and Toddlers Thrive

The Discipline Approach That Helps Babies and Toddlers Thrive

Taking a positive approach to discipline from the very start.

Parents often spend a great deal of time in the early days invested in attending and understanding their babies cries and cues.

When baby cries, you try to figure out what is needed. When baby is hungry you offer nourishment. When baby is tired, you help him find sleep.  And so, your relationship bond is nourished and trust becomes central to your daily interactions.

With each of these interactions, your baby feels reassured, safe, at ease.  And you begin to build an understanding of who your child is, what he needs and how to best respond. Often it’s a trial and error kind of process. A best efforts and patience building, patience draining endeavor. At times it’s very tiring, but you know your baby is depending on you to grow and thrive. So you stay the course.

And then baby begins to move about, investigate and explore. Offer behaviors you hadn’t had to decipher before:

Climbing chairs. Pulling kitty tails. Biting your shoulder, grabbing a toy. Ripping a book, smashing peas, dumping water on the floor. Opening drawers, touching the vase, shaking his head NO with a straight face. Unrolling the toilet paper everywhere…

You may begin to ask yourself… Is it time to introduce some discipline?

What kind of discipline does a baby or toddler need?

There is a lot of information out there on how to discipline young children. How to discipline toddlers in particular.

A lot of the information available focuses on just stopping or forcing behaviors to change.
The books and programs are often very well marketed. Yet mostly unhelpful. Short lived tricks that confuse the whole family and perpetuate tears, headaches and risk your relationship bond. Toddler behaviors become worse, not better.

And why? Because the quick fixes of most behavior programs ignore what is at the core of the active baby and toddler years of smashing peas and paper unrolling moments: The child’s natural and necessary drive to fulfill important needs.

Children are by design curious, intelligent, capable, and wired to cooperate. From birth infants are programmed to seek ways to fulfill their needs and to connect to their parents – and this programming continues into the toddler years.

And so, the discipline a baby and toddler needs really is one that sustains learning, relationship and trust building. And this kind of discipline doesn’t start when the kitten gets hurt or the chairs become the jungle gym. It started already on day one.

Guidance from the very start
Here is the beauty of striving to take a positive approach to parenting. That attuned way of responding you had at the start , in babyhood, sets the very foundation needed for practicing positive discipline.

Because discipline is all about creating attuned, helpful, trust building responses to your child’s needs. Finding opportunities to teach and learn. So, discipline, positive discipline,  can start from day one. The moment your eyes first met. The moment you counted those little fingers and toes. That was the moment you started guiding your child and working together.

Any moment that you invest in your relationship with your child, however brief, is an investment in their well being and in your ability to influence and guide your child.

Because discipline that teaches starts with your relationship. With your bond and the trust you build and re-build each day with your child. Its that same trial and error approach of understanding a babies cries. It’s your willingness to work WITH your child and find the most helpful and respectful response. And you might get it wrong. And your child may make mistakes. And that is all part of the process too.

So when do you start disciplining your baby and toddler?
Every time you strive to see the mistakes that your child makes, and the ones that you make as well, as opportunities. Opportunities to work together, to understand each situation and to find solutions that are aligned with your family values and your child’s needs.

“Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn”
– Jane Nelsen, D.Ed. author of The Positive Discipline Series

As your baby grows, you may begin to notice behaviors that are unhelpful, unwanted, or unnecessary. There might be moments when you have certain expectations and would like to help your child align her choices to your values and needs. You set limits early and respectfully. You make boundaries clear and communicate with kindness.

Each time you pause and guide your child, you are practicing discipline. Each time you look your child in the eye, hold her hand and kindly place the toilet paper out of reach, you are practicing discipline. Each time you listen to the tears but keep your limit and trust your child to feel her feelings, you are practicing discipline.

Discipline really is not about counting, choosing the consequences or setting the timer. It’s about how you choose to work together with your child and how you trust your own ability to guide your child.

when does discipline begin

Two wonderful guiding questions I learned to use with my children from practicing positive discipline: What can my child learn from this? What can I learn from this?

As your baby becomes a curious, active toddler, I encourage you not to see discipline as something you must start, but simply as something to continue.

  • Keep building that relationship.
  • Keep working together.
  • Keep aiming to understand and provide guidance.
  • Always respect yourself and your child.
  • Keep learning, adapting and listening.
  • Keep trusting yourself and your child.

Do you have a current challenge related to discipline with your baby or toddler? Want to know how positive discipline can help? Tell me in comments and I will do my best to share an answer with you.

Peace & Be Well,

Ariadne

Helpful Resources

Taming Tantrums App by Parent Educator Andrea Nair

The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting, Second Edition by Rebecca Eanes

Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, Revised and Updated Edition: From Infant to Toddler Laying the Foundation. by Jane Nelsen and Cheryl Erwin

 

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, Tina Payne Bryson

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

53 Responses to The Discipline Approach That Helps Babies and Toddlers Thrive

  1. We are trying to be gentle parents, we try and empathise and explain things…but sometimes we get frustrated and have shouted more than I’d like at our 3 year old daughter.
    We’re having a problem with her hurting her brother at times, or doing other things we don’t want on a similar vein and when we ask her not to or if we can find something else to do, she carries on doing it more defiantly than ever. We’ve tried empathising and explaining, but we can’t let her keep kicking her brother until we have explained, so we move her away and sometimes get frustrated. It’s hard seeing your child hurt by your other child. He’s just 1 and she’s 3 and a bit.
    How can we stop this behaviour, it’s like she wants to stop but you can see the set jaw of I ‘have’ to challenge this behaviour. She’s always sad when we stop her and ‘doesn’t know why’ she did it when we ask. Please help!

    • Thank you for discussing this, I’m having the same issue with my 3 year old to her 1 year old sister. I look forward to the responses!

    • Hi Melanie,
      It’s always important and absolutely OK to stop a child from hurting another. If you see your daughter kicking her brother, step in close and with gentle hands stop her. Gentle hands means you only use your hands with the intent to stop the hurting and move her into safety – it’s a clear physical barrier to the hurting. She will likely be upset by this and that is totally developmentally acceptable. Young children hit because they are either fearful, frustrated or angry and when you stop them and they cry about it, it’s just an emotional release that is helpful to them. Having a younger sibling is tough sometimes and acknowledging that is helpful. It might sound like “are you annoyed with your brother? or upset with him?” I would see the repetitive kicking as a request for connection with you and a need to release the pent up emotions. Don’t be afraid to set a limit “I will not let you kick” and to listen to the tears or giggling or simply being present as that jaw tenses. I think LESS words here would be better – move in, stop the kicking, wait for the reaction, help her feel better and move on. (Even though explaining is polite -in this case it seems like it’s too much because the emotions are too high) Hope that helps!

  2. My daughter is 3. I try to focus on making positive requests. Stating a feeling and a need prior if possible. This often works but there are times when she fails to comply and I really need her to. No is not an option. An example is last night her Dad was sleeping and I wanted to put her back to bed but she wanted him and only him (common as of late) with a baby in the house she is more into Daddy. I asked her to come with me but she refuses to come. This has happened many times prior. I feel like I am resorting to begging. Finally I told her if she didn’t come right now she would not get to watch her favourite show the next day and she came. Is this to harsh ? We are just starting to introduce consequences.

    • Hi Amanda, I don’t think you were being harsh, I think this was your way of recognizing your own limitations (did it get it right it was middle of the night?) and you found a way of being clear and your daughter understood your limit once you attached it to a consequence she could really understand and relate to. That being said, I would encourage you not to rely on consequences as a means to gain cooperation as it can quickly build resentment on both sides and lead to you both feeling frustrated with one another. Something I learned as a parent is that some choices will have to be ok for that moment ( you both needed sleep and not to create noise while dad was sleeping) and that after such moments, when we have time it’s great to focus some attention on the issue at a better time so the next time you can make a choice you like better. So how can you re-kindle a bit of connection with your daughter ( is she upset about the baby in the house – does she need some reassuarance you still love her? Young kids can get very love insecure in these early months with a baby around and needs loads of reassurance every single day!) There will be times when your child will NOT want to comply with you – it does not mean you have failed – it just means you get to take a breath or 10 and make a decision that gets everyone to be safe and cared for because as the parent you have the wisdom to know what is and isn’t safe, appropriate and possible in that moment – strive to set and keep your limits in a kind and clear way but do not be afraid to set them. “You want dad, i understand, dad is sleeping, I am here, I love you, I am holding your hand and walking with you to bed” for example. Hope that helps!

  3. This article came at the perfect time! We have an almost 11 month old fiery, spunky little darling girl who has some behaviors we aren’t sure how to deal with. Namely hitting and screaming. We are trying gentle techniques but having little success. Any help is greatly appreciated!

    • Hi K,

      I wonder if you have tried time ins, which is.. If your baby is having a difficult moment, crying, biting, hitting, explain you are going to pick her up for a moment. Then sit somewhere, near her or with her in your lap and let her express her feelings (cry, whine) and wait a few moments for the upset to pass. When you say you aren’t having success, I want to encourage you to take this one instance at a time because babies are so impulsive, your discipline is about helping your baby find calm again and to trust your guidance – but they are very likely to do something similar again because they simply are not yet able to manage those impulses. If a baby hits today, they might hit again tomorrow or three days from now even if you hold their and and ask them to be gentle each time – BUT the good news is that the repetition and kind, clear response from you is wiring the baby to empathy, to work with you, to trust you and to follow your guidance as they grow and learn to self-regulate more and more each day. I would be interested to know what you have tried so far?

  4. Great read, thank you for that. I wonder what you would suggest for a 10 month old who thinks it is funny to hit someone in the face. Lately se has been doing this to other babies, sometimes with a toy in her hand. She does it while she is happy and excited. I hold her hand and tell her to use her “gentle hands”. Look forward to your reply.

  5. Hi Ariadne,

    I have a 15 week old baby and a nearly 3 year old toddler. Up until the birth of my youngest, we had no real need to discipline my toddler. Since her sister’s arrival, my toddler has been displaying undesirable behaviour such as jumping on & off the couch or bed when I am trying to breastfeed the baby, clinging onto my leg when I am trying to walk with the baby, going down to the babies room to wake her up etc.

    Though I understand she is doing these things partly for attention, I find them very frustrating to deal with and what’s even more frustrating, is that she doesn’t listen to me when I try to divert her or ask her to stop. This causes me to get angry & raise my voice which is something i am not particularly comfortable with & something that is fuelled by sleep deprivation. My toddler’s behaviour sometimes prevents my baby from feeding & sleeping properly. Can you suggest any suitable, positive ways of dealing with these behaviours ?

    Many thanks

    • Hi Emma, it can be really challenging when a new baby enters the picture. At age three, attention and connection is so very important and tots will do anything to get their needs met. It’s tough to juggle two but a great first step is to proactively plan how to meet the needs of all three of you. Trying to develop a consistent routine for what your toddler can do while you breastfeed can make a big difference in how the feedings go. I wrote a lot about this very topic in this post is all about discipline when a new baby arrives and the toddler acts out. I hope it helps – hang in there, it does get better. http://www.positiveparentingconnection.net/how-to-discipline-when-a-new-baby-arrives-and-siblings-act-out/

  6. Thank you for reminding me that I need to be working WITH my toddler and that I’m on his side.

    I’ve been very frustrated with my almost 2 year old son lately as he hits/shoves/kicks our sweet senior dog. I get focused on defending the dog and worrying that my son will think it is okay to be unkind that I myself become unkind in my tone and response.

    The advice I’ve gotten ranges from rehoming our dog (this seems ridiculous as in my opinion the dog is part of our family and has done nothing wrong) to blocking the dog off from his play area (we have a small home and again, this would be punishing the dog by forcing him to be separate from us) and finally just being constantly close to block any hits, kicks, etc. The latter seems to be my only feasible option right now. If you have any advice I would be forever grateful!

  7. I’m not seeing any cut and dry ideas on how to deal with the situations that you listed above. My son, 16 months old, does most of them. Climbs on the kitchen table, spills milk purposely, plays in the toilet, waddles away as fast as he can, throws things, tries to tear books, etc. I’m at my wits end and so is my husband. Sometimes I feel like there need to be plain and simple examples…”your son does this, you can do this. He does that, you can do this.” Sometimes I’m too stressed to try to come up with my own ideas as to how to deal with these things, and I’m really not the best positive parent since I have a 6.5 yr old with special needs that tries with all her might to get negative attention as well.

  8. My 16 month old (youngest of 5) has started screaming when she doesn’t get her way. (If a sibling has something she wants, or is blocking her way, etc.) There is no crying, just a super loud, high-pitched, break the glass in movies kind of scream. I understand she is just having a hard time communicating her needs and wants, so I will often go to her and encourage her to ask (using sign language) for what she wants, and/or explaining that she needs to share whatever she’s screaming about. When I intervene, she complies and asks for what she wants but I just don’t know how to get her to stop screaming. The noise is nearly unbearable. (As an added note, I haven’t seen her scream at friends or strangers. She only does it with her siblings. With other babies her age she always asks politely for what she wants without my intervening at all.) She’s young, so I’m not expecting her to fully comprehend the concept of sharing or taking turns. I just want the screaming to stop. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  9. I have one twin that is very demanding and wants needs met super quick and is very quick to frustrate. Often resorts to hurting 2.5 year old twin sister if I can’t move fast enough. Or figure it out fast enough so instead I am left comforting the hurt one and telling other one to be nice. Feels like all i am doing is putting out fires. Any tips to help navigate better?

  10. Hi ariadne, thank you for your article. I have a 16 month old who feels some strong emotions when she is stopped/guided away from doing something. She falls to the floor, gets very worked up, hits out (not nastily, it’s evidently her natural reaction) what is the best approach? I don’t want her to feel I am leaving her to deal with it on her own but likewise, I want to set good foundations now for helping her to cope.
    Many thanks

  11. My 2 very nearly 3 year old is very protective of toys at home snatching and using the famous word “mine” although at nursery he is very passive and allows other children to take toys from him , I’m worried that he will hurt his younger 1 year old brother as he smacks him to tell him it is naughty although we don’t smack or raise voices when disciplining . I’m truly puzzled, can you suggest how I can rectify this or explain why he acts so differently at nursery ?

  12. My 19 month old loves to show me she is done with dinner by throwing her leftover food on the floor! Lucky for us, it is hardwood flooring, so it isn’t a cleaning issue! It actually doesn’t bother me she does it, but I find it is a good time to guide her that we either give the food to me or keep it on her tray. What would you suggest on guiding her in a positive way? She is always an easy going and is always a good listener and usually follows by our redirection and modeling good behavior. It is just the one thing we can’t come to understanding with each other.

  13. My husband and i are struggling with my 2 and half year olds hitting and screaming, since the birth of our second child nearly 4 weeks ago. She hits our daughter and laughs and screams in her ear when I’m putting her to sleep. She is also absolutely lovely with her too, loves helping and lying down on the play mat with herand we do practice time ins to help her calm down. But in the evenings the hitting can just be relentless and it’s hard to keep my cool, so i often end up shouting. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

  14. My son is 21 months. He thinks its hilarious when he pulls the cat tail. Ive told him no.nicley, made the cat move, the cat.has even scratched.him. But he still does it.
    Im not too sure what to do…

    • Hi Ashley,
      Toddlers really like to see how we react to these situations. I would invite you to just keep the cat away from your toddler, to redirect your toddler away from the cat as much as possible, but without much of a fuss about it. I would in your shoes simply invite the toddler to do something else and if the he can reach the cat’s tail I would gently take his hands off, let him know I will not allow it “I will not let you” or “I will not allow you to hurt the kitty” and then walk with the toddler in a different direction. If tears come up, I would empathize and validate “you wanted to touch the cat and I didn’t let you” and then I would wait for the tears to pass. It’s tempting to talk a lot “oh no, don’t hurt the kitty, careful kitty is going to scratch you. no no no, stop that, no way, oh oh kitty is upset..” but all that makes it an interesting activity and then the toddler will repeat, repeat, repeat because it’s so interesting. Instead, aim to make it boring, by respecting the kitty’s need for peace and just help your toddler walk away and find something your toddler can do.

  15. Our daughter just turned three and is very defiant at times, as is typical for her age. Sometimes I really need her to listen and I can’t force her to follow directions, like today when the baby crawled into a pile of dog vomit outside and I needed her toddler to come inside with us so I could clean him up. She knew I had my hands full and couldn’t guide her in, so she ran the opposite direction and then went back outside alone once I did get her in and went to the bathroom with the baby. It’s times like this where it becomes a safety issue that are really making me lose patience and feel like the gentle/respectful parenting I’m trying isn’t going so well.

    • Hi Kate, sounds like a really difficult moment! You are right that this is very typical for the age. I wonder what you might have done differently if you had the chance to re-live that moment? (Not that I really wish for another dog vomit incident!!) but often when we pause and reflect on a situation we can learn about our own reactions and how to see them from a new angle. For example, could you have invited your toddler to race back into the house? Could you have taken her hand (even if the hand got a bit dirty) and then wash the two children together? Could you have brought both children into the bathroom and closed the bathroom door and asked toddler to tell you a story, or give her some toys to float in the sink….I realize that this might sound a bit much work, but thinking it’s probably better than having to run after your daughter or worry about the running out of the house. Sometimes when there are two little ones it’s helpful to think ahead “what do I need to do to help both children do well in this situation” and as much as possible use a calm but very clear tone of voice. Not asking IF they want to come in but generally stating “time to go inside” Hopefully such a situation will not repeat itself. If you find that it’s hard for your toddler to follow your requests, using cooperative phrases might help too. You can see lots of examples of that here.

  16. Thank you Ariadne Brill you doing great job for many parents will get lot help from your support may God bless and your family

  17. I have a 25 month old girl and a 9 month old boy. We have a fairly consistent daily routine, and most of the time all is well. Except for when I stop a tively engaging my toddler. That is when she decides it is a good time to push her brother over. Our house has solid wood floors throughout so he is hitting his head on something hard every time. It’s really unnerving, and I am a very patient momma, I practice positive parenting, but I cannot figure out how to help her with this need.

    • Hi Sherry,
      I wonder in what ways you can set up your toddler to succeed in the times when you need to stop engaging with her? Could you give her a specific task or take the baby with you to a safe spot? I realize it sounds like more work, but it would be a short term investment here to get past this stage. It’s tough for toddlers to be bigger siblings and it is a time that calls for lots of guidance and patience. Somethings that come to mind is setting up special time for you and your 25month old-with a timer and when the timer stops, you let your tot know her time is UP and that you are moving on to say cooking and you would like her to choose a toy to play on her own. This is likely to bring up tears or defiance (a way to process that her time with you has to stop) so if you were planning on dedicating 10 minutes to play – plan on 10 more after that for this transition time (the time needed will reduce over time). And then keep finding ways to keep baby safe when you must step away from your tot so that she does not have access or a way to hurt him. The time investment in being pro-active is often less than the tears and unnerving feeling of dealing with all the falls and pushing. So what CAN your toddler do when you need to stop engaging? hope that helps 🙂

  18. Could you tell me a a way to handle throwing things (which usually happens when in a temper or not having his own way) and also hitting parents (again this is when in a temper or can’t not get his own way) I always struggle on noting the best way to deal with it as nothing seems to work but maybe I’m looking at it and dealing with it from the wrong angle. Thanks

    • Hi Amy,
      It’s pretty common for toddlers to throw and hit when they are overwhelmed. What we often try to do is to reason with little ones and ask them not to do this, but because they are so caught up in their distress, they simply cannot follow our request. Instead, it’s very helpful to set a clear limit, using gentle kind hands, you can hold their arm and say something like “I will not let you hit me.” or “I will not let you throw” Now this is very likely to bring out MORE tears and frustration because the child’s body and brain needs to process these overwhelming feelings. So the next step is to stay close, keep them safe but allow those feelings to pour out. (It’s sometimes inconvenient but if you do this a few times, the duration of the tantrum is so very likely to reduce each time) It’s helpful to empathize and validate and you can do so without changing your mind (for times when he can’t have his own way) for example “wow you are so upset that I said you can’t touch your father’s computer. I know you really wanted to. I get that.” The calmer you can stay and just be willing to see those emotions roll fully and offering your calm but clear guidance the more your child will regulate and calm in these moments. So 1. stop the hitting/throwing 2. name feelings 3. stay close 4. wait for the tears to pass 5. offer a hug or kisses 6. move on to a)meeting needs for rest, food, attention or b) get back to the activity at hand if child is able. THis post might be helpful Teaching Children To Manage Anger and Agression

  19. First, I would like to thank you for this article, it is so full of extremely useful information. I appreciate the time is has taken you to write, edit and research this topic.

    Discipline is a major topic in my household. I am a single mother of two young girls, ages 1 and 3. As a single mother, I am in a living situation with roommates. Also, my family is very toxic, but going at this alone frequently forces me to rely on their assistance. That being said, I am having a difficult time getting the adults in my home to respect my discipline techniques. They often rage at the children inappropriately, and often well beyond my boundry lines. This results in me having to “defend,” or “stick up” for my children in their presence. Which can be counter productive especially if they were doing something inappropriate themselves.

    I don’t know how to get the adults in our life to respect my parenting choices, and respect my children, while trying to create a healthy, learning and growing environment for my young girls. As a result of this chaos in my home, my two daughters have been acting out in negative ways in what appears as a plea for attention. Often times my oldest daughter is virtually ignored when she’s behaving, and ganged up on when she is misbehaving. More and more she is pulling away from my positive attention, and almost begging the adults who are negatively responding to her behavior to pay more attention to her, even if that means behaving in a negative way. I want to put a stop to this confusing behavior before it begins to effect any more of her understanding of relationships. Please help!

    • Hi, thank you for sharing your experience and situation. Clearly there is a lot going on but what I want to share with you is an idea, that you may want to have a short meeting with the adults involved in your child’s lives, and frame it not as a negative but as a positive experience to thank them for their willingness to participate in raising the children. Within this frame of mind you can talk about your children and share how they thrive when you use positive ways of talking and disciplining them. Most people shut down in the face of criticism and so creating this opportunity to thank them might open the door for you for a helpful dialogue. Tell them how much your daughters enjoy the positive attention, in other words can you help the adults in your children’s lives see the positives, the good moments? It’s often frustrating, but much like we can’t force kids to behave with any good long lasting results, the same is true for our adult relationships. So being kind but clear with those that are helping you can be quite helpful – show gratitude AND build clear boundaries. Best wishes to you as you navigate all this!

  20. Hi, I am trying to apply positive parenting with my two year old toddler. However I struggle to find words to convince him to take his bath and go to bed in the evenings– he knows the bedtime routine and therefore finds all sorts of excuses to stall for time. He also has a bad habit of throwing things/food once he’s lost interest in it. Any suggestions on how to set limits in a respectful manner?

    • Hi Kristin,
      I would invite you to notice if you are trying to get permission from your son to start bath / bed time. It’s really OK for you to decide that it’s time and to be calm and confident about the schedule. This doesn’t mean you have to be rigid or authoritative , but that you focus on moving your son towards bath and bed time. Working WITH your son and giving him choices he CAN make. So the question isn’t “do you want to take a bath” but rather it might be “which duck is going in the bath with you today – the yellow ducky or the green one?” You get to set the tone for the evening and you know when it’s bath / bed time. Your son gets to choose a few ways to make it more fun (like which toy to bring, or if he gives you a squeezy hug or a slippy high five when you get him out of the tub) Can you picture that difference? You don’t ask “want to get out of the tub sweetie?” you state clear “Tub is over! Are you stepping out with your right or left foot?” and so on… The throwing piece is all about staying calm and simply not reacting much. In a matter of fact way, pick up whatever was thrown and let him know that the meal is over (if it’s food) or simply put the toy out of reach. Hope that helps!

  21. Great site Ariadne
    As a former Montessori teacher and social worker what I was taught was that toddlers have a hard time with negative concepts. If you say ” Don’t pull the cats tail”, they hear “pull the cats tail”. Try giving them positive words for the behavior you want, “pat the cat gently”. Instead of “don’t pull my hair” try “touch my hair gently” or “pat mamms shoulder”. It takes work at first to think of a positive alternative but is well worth the effort.

    Many of these questions make it sound like many are so afraid of not being positive, you are not using age appropriate discipline. If your 3 year old is hurting the baby, please move the toddler or the baby as you talk about ” kicking hurts, ouch! You can kick the ball but not your brother”.

    To the mom worried about yelling, I learned a technique that workes wonders. It was called the the mom face but a better description is the super hero stance. Face child, feet hip width apart. Hands on hips. Face emotionless, voice emotionless and quiet. If they are screaming, be silent until the storm passes. It’s not your usual stance. They are not getting the usual rise. It also forces you to stay in control. It takes practice but always works better than yelling which is scary and counter productive. Also works for tantrums.

    • Hi Lieslie, thank you for your added suggestions and comments. It’s very true that sometimes in the name of being kind and positive there is a piece that is forgotten, which is to be firm (or what I prefer to call calm and clear) with the child that is having a hard time. By being both kind and firm the parent can give children guidance that they can follow and help them see they are able to choose a different behavior. Your comment about DON’t is so true…AND one of our most popular posts is exactly about that, how skipping don’t and giving children clear information about what they CAN do example: “pat the kitty.” and “the sofa is for sitting” sets a child up for being able to do what she is asked.

  22. Hi there. Really appreciate your article. As a social worker, I love me some positive parenting! My almost 9 month old has 6 teeth already and is biting everyone, including her friends at daycare. She isn’t doing it out of anger or frustration… It’s always done with a smile on her face and a giggle. She is a very sociable and happy baby. At times, I think she might be imitating physical affection and just gets confused on what to do with her teeth. But, there has been a time or two when I think she did it to get our attention while we were talking to someone else. I know this is part of her development. I don’t want to discourage her from sharing affection but the biting is increasing and I’m concerned another baby might get hurt-she bites hard! Any suggestions on how to redirect at such a young age? Thank you!

    • Hi Jami, I would encourage the daycare workers to pay attention to what happens before the biting. Usually babies bite because they learn that it gets a reaction from the parent / caregiver and it becomes very interesting. It’s helpful to respond in a very calm, matter of fact way (boring, few words as possible) and anticipate the biting as much as possible to redirect before it happens. This might be of interest Helping Babies when They Bite

  23. Something my husband and I have talked about is our 6 month old squirming around while we are changing him. My husband will hold his arms or legs down to get clothes on him. I don’t feel comfortable restraining our son, so I will actually just get one pant leg on and gently find a way to get the other one on while he is squirming. For me it is about respecting him as a person. Does that seem like a trivial question? It sparked a discussion for us, because in my mind – if it is o.k. to physically restrain a child to dress them now, when is it no longer o.k and how do you figure that out?

    • Claire, using the upmost respect even at this early stage is very appropriate. I would only restrain an infant if it were a matter of her personal safety – i.e. to prevent a fall. Many infants resist getting dressed, a calm approach can help them – it’s better to be matter of fact and calm and allow the tears while explaining “I am dressing you to keep you warm and safe” with love in your voice than to force the clothes on. Follow your heart and keep dialoguing with your husband. I bet his intention is to help baby be dressed and warm, so talk to each other about finding ways to do so that are still calm and respectful unless there is a true emergency there is no need to restrain. hope that helps you.

    • I know with my toddler, he was able to hold his own milk bottle from an early age, so I would give him his bottle while changing him and this helped to keep him still. He is now 20 months and still has his sippy cup when changing him in the morning into his clothes. Just make sure the liquid won’t come out too fast or that the child can’t control the speed since he/she will be on their back and you don’t want them to choke (similarly straw cups aren’t useful since the bottom needs to be down to drink). He will sometimes take the drink at other times of the day, but more often I give him a toy or sing songs and make funny noises/faces as a way to keep him entertained. This doesn’t stop all wiggling, but does minimize it.

  24. I love this thread, so many great alternative ideas. I have a lovely 2 1/2 year old, he’s a kind and gentle, observant child, and has the occasional use of an iPad to watch nursery rhymes etc. He loves that iPad a lot. I try and limit the time to 20-30 mins and he doesn’t watch any tv so he’s hopefully not over stimulated. But when I say, it’s time for the iPad to have a rest lets go out/play with this/do something, he cries and cries for the iPad. It can go on for 30 mins on and off.
    I’ve tried calmly saying that it’s ok it’ll be here tomorrow, I’ve tried ignoring him. I’ve tried giving him a cuddle and distracting him (occasionally works but it often) but I don’t know how to calm him without resorting to bribery but sticking to my guns.
    Thanks

    • Hi Sally,
      Oh the love children have for tablets…There is a lot of research coming out lately to help us better understand how this technology is affecting children’s development and well-being. One thing is certain, less is better…realistically (having 3 kids myself) I know that it’s a tempting and great way to pass sometime to allow some screen time. Keeping it short at age 2.5 is crucial. Now, it’s not uncommon for toddlers to have big meltdowns when transitioning between activities. I would be curious to know if this happens only with screen time or also with other fun activities such as leaving the park? If yes, the key here is to work on transitions. If it’s truly just the ipad that causes this, I would take a break from using a tablet, especially if you are allowing your tot to play games that are beeping and singing little bits of rewards along the way – we are starting to understand that this kind of interaction for little growing brains is really not that healthy and playing simple games with you like rolling a ball, picking up buttons, chasing around the house and jumping over cushions are more developmentally healthy. You CAN find a happy medium if you can really stick to 20 minutes and work on that transition being very clear, and once you make your decision STICK with it because your little one needs to be able to trust your guidance.I would highly recommend you JOIN your child in the last 5 minutes of his screen time and start chatting about what he is seeing/doing and move the focus onto YOU, your relationship and interacting and then, the most respectful thing you can do if you say the time on the tablet is over, is to finish screen time, put it away and do something together. If tears show up, wait them out but keep true to your decision. The more you can make the end of tablet transition to something fun with you the more likely getting off the tablet will seem not so bad. I hope this helps you.

  25. Hello, we have recently become a family of 3. My 7 year old daughter really had wanted a baby sister. She was quite sad that she got a baby brother. Our second child is also a boy , 5 years old.
    Anna has always been quite cooperative and empathic but since our baby was born she clearly feels displaced. Making comets such as, I don’t want to be the eldest.
    Her 5 year old brother always has been a hand full.. He frequently challenges our authority or just openly does the oposite of what we ask him to do. My husband has been trying to give him lots of attention, ie playing Lego with him. Since Anna is quite gòd at engaging herself she received much less attention.
    Baby is often unsettled and in arms constantly.
    Now Anna and Bernie are fighting heaps. Anna also gets annoyed a lot and slams doors. One continued struggle with her are meal times.
    She gets cranky when she is hungry but fails tO realise, we ask her to come and eat with us and she will always go sit in a corner somewhere and not come. Or keep playing setting up her dolls to eat in a high chair. Bottom line she always starts to eat only half way through a meal and finishes ages after us. We keep telling her to please come and start when we start but even when she sits down she does not know what she wants to eat.
    We have tried explaining to her how we feel and playful approaches. Yesterday I totally lost it, yelled at her and had a parent tantrum. I felt bad as I could see she was afraid of me but I am soo tired and I just want to have positive contact and I feel Anna ruins every day with her meal time responses.
    U would love some help.

  26. Thank you for your very helpful article. What about a toddler that will not allow their teeth to be brushed without some restraint? I have tried demonstrating tooth brushing, letting her brush my teeth, letting her brush her own teeth first, I have bought her a book with pop up animals cleaning their teeth, made up silly songs for tooth brushing time. She is 15 months so nor really old enough to understand the concept of why we brush.

    • Hi Caroline,

      The toothbrushing struggle is very real! Many children really dislike this (my youngest daughter did struggle so very much with this!! now 6 and we have no issues, so it does get better!) So, it’s absolutely right and important to work on brushing to protect those little teeth. I would suggest picking ONE strategy, perhaps one that has worked well for you at some point and sticking with it for several days. Otherwise all the switching up and energy you put into this becomes a negative yet expected routine. If you are feeling fearful or bothered by this process try telling a friend in confidence how you are feeling about it so you can let go a bit as well. When it’s time to brush, try to stay calm and matter of fact about it and simply say it’s time. If your child starts to cry, wait and listen to the tears ( so build in some extra time to get this worked out) and also away from teeth brushing time, say if you are just playing and having fun, mention ONCE to your tot “after lunch we are brushing teeth” and see if any big feelings come up that she might want to release, cry, or even get mad about. If you can listen to the pent up feelings and when it’s time for brushing not get worked up she will soon learn it’s not a negotiable activity. Lastly, one strategy that worked for us was doing a walking tour, always in the same order, we wet the brush, add tooth paste, go to the window and brush for the tree 1, 2, 3, walk to the living room brush for the shinny floor 1,2,3,4, walk to the kitchen brush for five, 1,2,3,4,5, walk back to the bathroom brush for three more 1,2, 3 and all done. Once I decided we would do this walking tour every morning and every night we didn’t change strategies until she felt totally comfortable, which was likely a solid month of consistency, listening to the tears and sticking with the routine. Hope that helps you.

  27. Hi Ariadne,
    We have a just turned 2yr old and a 10 week old bub. Our 2yr old has just started going through a phase where she always wants what another child is playing with, despite whether we offer her an alternative. If the other child shows interest in the alternative toy, my daughter then wants that one too. She used to be so good at sharing and taking turns but she seems to have gotten worse. She will now often hit or kick to get her way and I find it very difficult to manage in the way I want to (getting down to her level, talking calmly, gently removing her from the situation) because I am often feeding my baby and can’t give an immediate physical response so I find myself trying to manage her with language alone and often I raise my voice because I don’t want to be seen to be not doing anything about it by the other parent, nor do I want another child hurt. She also sometimes appears to randomly (I can’t pinpoint a trigger) hit or kick other children with a smile on her face. I really try my best to give her A LOT of positive attention at all other times when my baby isn’t needing to be breastfed and I don’t want to stop having playdates because I truly think it’s good for all of us.
    She seems to be otherwise coping really well with having a baby sister but the lashing out is making interactions really difficult and embarrassing.
    Looking forward to your response, thank you!

    • Hi Erin,
      What you are describing is a very common (although challenging) scenario for toddlers with newborn sibs. In all my years facilitating playgroups for toddlers, the best strategy I have found for this is to encourage moms to pair up with another mom they trust as an ally for such situations. Some really cool research came out this past year showing that children don’t really understand TRUE turn taking until they are closer to age 4 if not 5. Until then, they will reluctantly share or not share based on how they are feeling, how comfortable the surroundings are and well, a good deal based on impulse too. Since you are busy feeding baby, your toddler needs someone else that is able to offer her guidance. As you noticed, the words only approach isn’t helping. I think moms in a playgroup do well to stick together and help out, especially if you can explain with the intent to ask for help (sometimes moms see this as defeat, it really ins’t, children benefit so much from knowing that they are cared for by parents and other kind adults) I would encourage you to seek out one or two moms and ask them if they are willing to give you a hand at redirecting, even better at engaging in a short amount of play with your tot (before she needs guidance) so that she is feeling some trust and able to follow also their requests. Do you think that might work for you?

  28. I have lost my way recently and want to go back to positive parenting my little boy is nearly 3 and on the whole when we are out we can talk and negotiate situations together however recently when we are home he seems to challenge everything I say he is definitely not listening to me and can be quite rude I just don’t know how to get our relationship back on track please help.

    • Hi Christine, thank you for sharing your experience and questions. 3 year olds often speak exactly what is on their minds – they haven’t quite figured out that social filter or how to say what they mean without sounding demanding. The good news is that with time, patience and a lot of modeling they begin to find those kinder words. three year olds love to mimic our tone, our words and those of others as well so this is a great time to speak to your child the way you want them to speak back “can you please ask me that again?” “I’m not liking what you are doing, let’s try to work together” “It’s almost time to leave, please get your shoes on, let me know if you need help.” such phrases are modeling respectful communication while still making limits and requests clear. Another thing might be that your 3 year old wants to have a bit more choices (but not too much) if you are negotiating everything it may be that he feels overwhelmed. A great way to find balance is to use words like “this time I choose, next time I will ask you” or “This one is my decision, I’ll let you know when you get to choose” and then you might need to be ready to listen to some upsets or tears but have faith that if you trust in your own decision than your child will understand he should follow your guidance. hope that helps!

  29. Hi Ariadne,

    My 15 month old has recently started screaming a very high pitched scream when he is frustrated or wants my attention. I always try to respond calmly by saying things like ‘I see you are mad, it’s okay to be mad, but it’s not okay to scream.’or ‘you don’t need to scream to get my attention, please use a gentle voice’ or ‘we use gentle voices in this house, that’s too loud’ and I try to show him what a gentle voice sounds like as well. But I can’t even finish my sentence before he is screaming again. I don’t feel like he is therefore receiving any of my calm messages at all, because his next scream interrupts my sentence. He will do this several times in a row. If I try to pick him up to calm him with a hug, he will often become more upset and lash out further by throwing his head back, thrashing his limbs, or sometimes lately a return to biting behavior. In order to overcome biting, if I saw he was about to bite me, I would say ‘are you going to give me a kiss?! I love kisses!’ and this has worked very well– until the screaming started, and now the biting seems to have returned (if he is in a fit.) He also sometimes throws tantrums by laying flat on the floor and thrashing his limbs when he is frustrated. Again I always try to respond calmly by naming his emotions, validating them, and giving him the appropriate alternative, but he doesn’t seem to be learning. He is so far non-verbal, so I think that not being able to talk is a big frustration for him on it’s own. He can definitely follow simple instructions for tasks and he is a good listener otherwise about limits we have set (such as not pulling the toilet paper, not pressing the stereo volume, etc.) So far it seems to be the screaming attention seeking behavior that I cannot overcome. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Hi Krista,

      When toddlers scream it can be challenging to stay calm and it sounds like you have been trying to do just that which in the long term is very helpful. Attention is a legitimate need but also one that is hard to balance at times since other things must get done…. One thing you can do is to express clearly the order in which you will do things… it might sound like “mom is going to peel these veggies, wash them and then I will give you a hug.” Setting the order of things ahead of time and checking in OFTEN with your tot is super important.. Beyond stopping the screams…It might be more helpful to work on a preventative strategy, notice the times when this is happening most and see if you can pinpoint some of the triggers. Not to say you have to tip toe around your child-s emotions, not at all, but just so you can understand what is going on a bit better and express clearly what is happening / when you can pay attention etc… That being said, your toddler might just need to learn some different ways of coping with overwhelm so screaming is not the default mode. When your child is calm, you might want to try teaching hand signals like HELP , most toddlers like this one, which is tapping both hands on their chest gently. Use these often and talk to your tot if he is trying to do something and you notice a struggle bubbling up say “can I HELP you” and make the sign. Tots pick up these hand signals very quickly and most really like using them. I hear your frustration with “doesn’t seem to be learning” but this really does take time – if you can take small steps and have faith in your child and the learning process things are going to progress. Toddlers need a lot of repetition for developing emotional regulation. If you get interrupted with a scream, instead of talking, taking a few deep breaths because your todddler really cannot process any new information mid scream. Your silence and empathy will likely lead to either the behavior stopping or to your child unloading a lot of emotional charge through cries. Stop any unsafe behaviors (hitting/kicking) but allow the emotional release. I hope this helps!

  30. Is there a way to discipline toddlers when they aren’t yet vocal and don’t understand concept like “these things are dangerous? For example, to not take off and throw eyeglasses, not go into drawers and cabinets with sharp knives and breakable glass (broken 3 types of child-safety equipment intended to keep children out so far), and not to push the elevator button and go on the elevator without an adult and permission.

    • Hi Ariella,
      Some of the behaviors you describe like taking off eyeglasses or opening cabinets can be stopped with kind and firm limits – it does take persistence and being calm, following through and providing alternatives. A big part of discipline in the pre-verbal stages is going to involve supervision and kind and firm guidance. Child safety gadgets can help up to an extent but they can also seem very interesting to a toddler. So beyond just locking a drawer it would be important to find ways to set a clear limit and help your tot find something else to do as well. We talk a lot about the how to of limit setting in the toddler class if you would like to join us!! Hope that helps you.

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