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How Do You Discipline a Difficult Toddler?

The toddler years are a tough time for parents, and they often find themselves at their wit’s end with what to do when disciplining an angry or difficult toddler.

Are there any parents who haven’t felt complete and utter love for their toddler and, at the same time, frustration and anger?

Our beloved little ones test our nerves because they’re testing boundaries all around them. Every day, little by little, they’re mastering new skills and are anxious and excited to use them. Check out My Baby Nursery for all your baby product needs.

Sometimes it’s tough to reel in a toddler, but it can be done. And setting rules and limits now — when your child is learning what behaviours are acceptable — will help prevent more significant problems down the road. Here are some ways to help you keep your youngster on the right track. 

So What Should You Do?

Temper tantrums are a normal part of growing up. They are your 2-year-old child’s way of expressing their frustrations when they don’t have the words or language to tell you what they need or feel. It’s more than just the “terrible twos.” It’s your toddler’s way of learning to deal with new challenges and disappointments.

There are ways you can respond to outbursts or lousy behaviour without negatively impacting your 2-year-old child and their development. Here are a few tips on effective ways to discipline your toddler.

Show and Tell. 

Teach children right from wrong with calm words and actions. Model behaviours you would like to see in your children.

Set Limits.

Have clear and consistent rules your children can follow. Be sure to explain these rules in age-appropriate terms they can understand.

Give Consequences. 

Calmly and firmly explain the consequences if they don’t behave.

For example, tell her that if she does not pick up her toys, you will put them away for the rest of the day. Be prepared to follow through right away. Please don’t give in by giving them back after a few minutes. But remember, never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.

Hear Them Out.

Listening is important. Let your child finish the story before helping solve the problem. Watch for times when misbehaviour has a pattern, like if your child is feeling jealous. Talk with your child about this rather than just giving consequences.

Give Them Your Attention. 

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The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviours and discourage others. Remember, all children want their parent’s attention.

Catch Them Being Good. 

Children need to know when they do something wrong–and when they do something good. Notice good behaviour and point it out, praising success and good tries. Be specific (for example, “Wow, you did a good job putting that toy away!”).

Know When Not to Respond.

As long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behaviour, ignoring bad behaviour can be an effective way of stopping it.

Ignoring bad behaviour can also teach children the natural consequences of their actions. For example, if your child keeps dropping her cookies on purpose, she will soon have no more cookies left to eat.

If she throws and breaks her toy, she will not be able to play with it. It will not be long before she learns not to drop her cookies and play carefully with her toys.

Be Prepared for Trouble. 

Plan for situations when your child might have trouble behaving. Prepare them for upcoming activities and how you want them to act.

Redirect Bad Behavior.

Sometimes children misbehave because they are bored or don’t know any better. Find something else for your child to do. Our exclusive range of baby nursery products will help create the perfect baby nursery for your baby.

Ignore Them

This may seem harsh, but one of the critical ways of responding to your child’s tantrum is not to engage it. Once your 2-year-old is having a tantrum, their emotions have gotten the best of them, and talking with them or trying other discipline measures may not work at that moment.

Please make sure they are safe, and then let the tantrum finish. When they are calm, could you hug them and go on with the day?

Two-year-olds do not usually have tantrums on purpose unless they learn that having a tantrum is the easiest way to get your attention.

You may want to let them know, firmly, that you ignore their tantrum because that behaviour is not the way to get your attention. Tell them sternly but calmly that they need to use their words to tell you something.

They may not have the whole vocabulary to tell you, even if they know the words, so encourage them in other ways. You can teach your toddler sign language for comments like “I want,” “hurt,” “more,” “drink,” and “tired” if they are not speaking yet or not speaking clearly. Finding other ways to communicate can help cut down on outbursts and help you build a stronger bond with your child. 

Walk Away

Understanding your limits is part of disciplining your 2-year-old. If you feel yourself becoming angry, walk away. Take a breath.

Remember that your child is not being evil or trying to upset you. Instead, they are upset with themselves and can’t express their feelings the way adults can. Once you are calm, you will be able to discipline your child appropriately to be harmful.

Give Them What They Want on Your Terms

Your toddler grabs the container of juice and is trying hard to open it. You think to yourself that this is going to end badly. You could yell at your child to put down the juice.

Instead, gently take the container from them. Reassure them that you will open the bottle and pour them a glass. You can apply this technique to other situations, like if they’re reaching for something in the cabinet or throwing their toys around because they’re having difficulty getting the one they want.

Lending a helping hand in this way lets them know they can ask for help when they’re having trouble instead of trying on their own and creating a mess. But if you don’t want them to have that item, use a soft voice to explain why you are taking it away and offer a substitute.

Distract and Divert Their Attention

Our instinct as parents is to scoop up our child and move them away from whatever potentially dangerous object they’re headed toward. But that can trigger a tantrum because you are removing them from the thing they wanted.

If they are born into danger, such as a busy street, then that’s OK. All 2-year-olds will have some tantrums on their way to learning what they can and cannot do; not every tantrum can be prevented.

Another method when safety is not at stake is to distract and divert. Call their name to grab their attention. Once they’re fixated on you, call them over to you and show them something else they’ll like that is safe.

This can also work before a tantrum starts to distract them from what they’re becoming upset about in the first place.

If your roving toddler does head toward an unacceptable or dangerous play object, calmly say “No” and either remove your child from the area or distract him or her with another activity.

It’s essential not to spank, hit, or slap your child. At this age, kids are unlikely to be able to make a connection between behaviour and physical punishment. When you spank, the message you send is that it’s OK to hit someone when you’re angry.

Experts say that spanking is no more effective than other forms of discipline, such as timeouts.

Think Like Your Toddler

It’s easy to become upset when your child is making a mess. Today, they’ve drawn all over the walls with their crayons. Yesterday, they tracked in dirt from playing in the backyard. Now you’re left to clean it all up.

But try and think like your little one. They see these activities as fun, and that’s normal! They’re learning and discovering what’s around them.

Please don’t remove them from the activity, as it may trigger a tantrum. Instead, please wait a few minutes, and they’ll most likely go on to something else. Or you can join in and constructively guide them. For example, start colouring on some sheets of paper and invite them to do the same.

Help Your Child Explore

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Your toddler, like all toddlers, wants to explore the world. Part of that exploration is touching everything under the sun. And you’re bound to become frustrated with their impulsive grabbing.

Instead, help them figure out what is safe and not safe to touch. Try “no-touch” for objects off-limits or unsafe, “soft touch” for faces and animals, and “yes touch” for particular items. And have fun thinking of other word associations like “hot touch,” “cold touch,” or “owie touch” to help tame your little one’s roaming fingers.

But Set Limits

“Because I said so” and “because I said no” aren’t helpful ways to discipline your child. Instead, set limits and explain why to your child.

For example, if your child pulls your cat’s fur, remove his hand, tell him that it hurts the cat when he does that, and show him instead how to pet. Also, set boundaries by keeping things out of reach (think scissors and knives in locked draws, pantry door closed).

Your child may become frustrated when they can’t do what they want, but you will help them learn self-control by setting limits.

Be Consistent

When it comes to discipline, it’s essential to be consistent. Parents who don’t stick to the rules and consequences they set up don’t have kids who do either. For example, if you tell your toddler that a timeout is a repercussion for bad behaviour, be sure to enforce it.

Only issue warnings for things that you can follow through on. Empty threats undermine your authority.

And don’t forget that kids learn by watching adults, particularly their parents. So make sure your behaviour is role-model material. When asking your child to pick up toys, you’ll make a much stronger impression if you’ve put away your belongings rather than leaving your stuff all around the room.

Eliminate Temptation

By now, you’ve figured out that your toddler wants to explore and investigate the world. Toddlers are naturally curious, so it’s wise to eliminate temptations whenever possible. That means keeping things like TVs, phones, and electronics out of reach. Also, beware of choking hazards like jewellery, buttons, and small items that kids can put in their mouths.

And always keep cleaning supplies and medicines stored safely away where kids can’t get to them.

Put Them in Timeout

If your child is continuing their negative behaviour, then you may want to put them in timeout. Pick a dull spot, like a chair or the hallway floor.

Have your toddler sit in that spot and wait for them to calm down.

Timeout should last about one minute for each year in age (for example, a 2-year-old should stay in timeout for two minutes, and a 3-year-old for three minutes). Bring your child back to the timeout spot if they start to wander before time is up. Please don’t respond to anything they say or do until the timeout is over.

Once your child is calm, explain why you put them in timeout and why their behaviour was wrong.

Never hit or use spank-control methods to discipline your child. Such practices hurt your child and reinforce negative behaviour.

If you need to take a harder line with your child, timeouts can be an effective form of discipline. A 2- or 3-year-old who has been hitting, biting, or throwing food, for example, should be told why the behaviour is unacceptable and taken to a designated timeout area — a kitchen chair or bottom stair — for a minute or two to calm down.

As a general rule, about 1 minute per year of age is a good guide for timeouts. Longer timeouts have no added benefit. And they could undermine your efforts if your child gets up (and refuses to return) before you signal that the timeout has ended.

Be sure that the timeout area is away from distractions such as toys or TV and that you do not provide your child with any attention (talking, eye contact) while they’re sitting in timeout.

How to Avoid Temper Tantrums

Even the most well-behaved toddler can have a tantrum from time to time. Tantrums are common during toddlerhood because kids can understand more than they can express, which often leads to frustration.

Toddlers get frustrated in other ways, too, like when they can’t dress a doll or keep up with an older sibling. Power struggles can come when your toddler wants more independence and autonomy too soon.

The best way to deal with tantrums is to avoid them whenever possible. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Make sure your child isn’t acting up to get attention. Establish a habit of catching your child being good (“time-in”), which means rewarding your little one with attention for positive behaviour.
  • Give your toddler control over little things. This may fulfil the need for independence and ward off tantrums. Offer little choices that you can live with, such as “Would you like an apple or banana with lunch?”
  • When kids are playing or trying to master a new task, offer age-appropriate toys and games. Also, start with something easy before moving on to more challenging tasks. This will build their confidence and motivation to try things that might be frustrating.
  • Consider the request carefully when your child wants something. Is it outrageous? If not, try to be flexible.
  • Know your child’s limits. If you know your toddler is tired, it’s not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand.

When Tempers Flare

If your child does throw a tantrum, keep your cool. Don’t complicate the problem with your frustration. Kids can sense when parents are becoming frazzled, and this can make their frustration worse. Try to understand where your child is coming from. For example, if your youngster has just had a great disappointment, you may need to provide comfort.

Children seek attention from their parents, and an easy way to get a big reaction is to misbehave. One of the best ways to reduce attention-seeking behaviour is to ignore it. Continue your activities, paying no attention to your child but remaining within sight.

Keep in mind that your child’s behaviour may worsen before it gets better when you do this. This can be frustrating, but it means that ignoring the tantrum is working. Your child will try harder to get your attention with misbehaviour because it has worked in the past. When your child learns that misbehaving won’t get your attention, the behaviour will start to improve.

Note: Kids who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. Ignoring is not an appropriate way of handling aggressive or dangerous behaviour.

Some kids will have a hard time stopping a tantrum. In these cases, try saying, “I’ll help you settle down now.” But whatever you do, don’t reward your toddler by giving in. This will only prove that tantrums are an effective way to get what he or she wants. Instead, verbally praise your child for regaining self-control. Remember, you want to teach your child that the best way to get what he or she wants is through good behaviour.

The Takeaway

Disciplining your toddler requires you to balance sternness and sympathy.

Keep in mind that temper tantrums are a regular part of your child’s development. Tantrums happen when your child doesn’t know how to express what’s upsetting them. My Baby Nursery is your one-stop baby product store.

Remember to stay cool and calm, and treat your child with compassion while addressing the problem. Many of these methods will help prevent future tantrums as well.

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