Toddler Discipline Tips from a Conscious Parenting Lens

Use these thoughtful toddler discipline tips & strategies to help with every age and stage of toddlerhood.

As your precious child embarks on the adventurous journey of toddlerhood, you'll undoubtedly encounter a myriad of new and unique situations that call for thoughtful discipline strategies. Note, that discipline in this article doesn’t stand for the traditional parenting paradigm of shaming, belittling, or berating children. But, it does cover a range of toddler discipline tips tailored to every age and stage. 

From addressing some challenging behaviors like biting, throwing, and hitting to unraveling the intricate tapestry of when and how toddlers begin to grasp the concept of discipline, we're dedicated to offering you effective techniques that not only foster growth but also prioritize the sacred bonds of connection and empathy with your young children.

Effective Discipline Tips Through Every Age and Stage

Toddlers are like blossoming flowers, forever evolving, and their behaviors, as diverse as the colors in a sunset, depend greatly on their age and stage of development. Effective discipline, much like a finely tuned melody, harmonizes with these nuances and adjusts to your child's ever-changing needs. 

As a Perinatal-5 Mental Health Specialist and Licensed Marriage Family Therapist — I have worked with countless families struggling in the toddler stage who share similar concerns:

“Won’t my kid just walk all over me if I don’t teach him now with a spanking?”

“What can I do to get my daughter to listen? She never listens to me, even if I yell or put her in time out”

So, I want you to remember this phrase: It’s not about will, it’s about skill. (we talk about it a ton in the Conscious Mommy Community — if you need extra guidance, come join us and grow with us!)

Early Toddler Years (1-2 years):

During this phase, focus on establishing clear boundaries, showering them with positive reinforcement, and gently redirecting their energy when necessary. Remember, their language skills are still budding, so keep instructions simple and actions consistent. 

For instance, when guiding them, offer one clear instruction at a time, like, "Sarah, please put that in the trash can." Overwhelming them with too much at once can lead to distraction and frustration. 

Additionally, toddlers respond better to concrete instructions, such as "Put the blocks in the basket," rather than abstract ones like "Pick up the toys." 

And lastly, modeling these actions and expectations will be key to setting a solid foundation.

Mid-Toddler Years (2-3 years):

Encourage communication and empathy during this evolving stage. Get curious with your child in moments of struggle: What is he really telling me right now?  What might he need? 

And remember, beneath every behavior is a feeling. And beneath every feeling is a need. Behaviors are outward signs of your child’s internal world.

Late Toddler Years (3-4 years):

Keep clear expectations and engage your child in decision-making and creative problem-solving. Encourage them to express their feelings: “How did that make you feel?”

Actively involve them in finding solutions to challenging situations: “Hmm.. what could you do differently?”

When Do Toddlers Grasp the Essence of Discipline?

If you’re wondering when your child will be compliant and do what you say, when you say it, then you may find yourself in more power struggles with your child.

The essence of discipline is learning, maturing, and growing. The ultimate goal of discipline is a sense of internal discipline and self-discipline.

So, it’s to everyone's benefit that you shift your thinking. Your goal is not to get your child to comply; nor is it to break their will.

Your goal is to teach your child how to work together, collaborate, negotiate fairly, and cooperate when needed.

Keep your tone warm and respectful, use visual cues, and provide gentle explanations at their own level to help your toddler understand that discipline is a journey of learning and growth.

Toddlers typically start to understand discipline when:

1. They learn to understand boundaries: You might observe them trying something again to see if it results in the same outcome. This is why maintaining consistency with your boundaries and discipline is crucial; it helps them find security within the boundaries you've set.

2. They respond to collaboration, not compliance: Cultivating problem-solving skills helps kids with academics and independent learning, relationships, and more. They learn to see the world from a broader, more optimistic perspective. This is your opportunity to be creative and support your child in discovering a solution as this skill evolves.

3. They exhibit empathy and consideration for others: Witnessing your little one paying attention to the emotions of others—be it laughter, tears, or animated conversations—is a heartwarming experience. Your child may start mirroring these emotions or responding with laughter or tears, showcasing their growing compassion for those around them.

Conscious Parenting Discipline Tips for Common Discipline Issues

Although I can't give you a solution for every single unwanted behavior your child displays, I can share a few helpful tips that apply conscious discipline strategies to work through specific behaviors that are much more common.

If you’re struggling to employ these strategies while your child is dysregulated, I encourage you to find ways to soothe your child first and then come back to following these methods.

How to discipline a toddler for biting

First, take a deep breath. Biting can catch parents off guard and leave us very triggered, but it's essential to remember that it's often how toddlers communicate their needs or frustrations when words fail them.

  • Stay calm and address the situation promptly. For example, you could calmly, but firmly say, “Stop your body, please!”.

  • Get curious about what is going on for your toddler and how your toddler feels. Did the other child take their toy? — could they have not been ready to share? Once you have a better understanding, you can move forward and guide them through the problem.

  • Find a solution:  “Here’s a safer way. Keep your hands & mouth to yourself and say, I’m not ready to share.” (if your child is younger or not able to understand this many words, simplify the language but still guide your child to an alternative, more appropriate action).
  • Offer a replacement object to bite. Sometimes, kids just need a chew toy to get their “bites” out. Or, a “bitier” meal, like a tough piece of sourdough.

If biting incidents or other 'bad behavior' occur at school, it's always a good idea to collaborate with your child's teachers to understand the circumstances and work together to teach your child the importance of gentle interactions.

How to Discipline a Toddler For Fighting With Their Sibling

Siblings fighting is stressful. Thankfully, we know so much about sibling relationships and family dynamics that we can actually course-correct and find effective ways to interact in a few simple steps:

  • Remember your role: to mediate and support. Not to judge or find blame.

  • If your kids are getting physical: separate them.

  • Hear both sides out: This is crucial for kids to feel safe. It also helps them to build perspective and see situations from multiple angles.

  • Offer your perspective if you witnessed the event. Stay neutral.

  • Support your child's behavior by teaching them how to problem solve. When kids fight, it’s reflective of their development. They lack the social skills to handle conflict with grace. Support their process through modeling and encouraging.

The goal of this supportive method is to help our children have repeated experiences of learning how to stay safe in a relationship, even when they’re frustrated, hurt, jealous, or feeling strongly.

How to Discipline a Toddler For Hitting

Remember earlier we talked about the phrase: It’s not about will, it’s about skill.

When it comes to hitting, kicking, and even biting, these are typical developmental norms for toddlers when they get angry or frustrated until they reach approximately 4 to 5 years old. 

However, this does NOT mean you just sit back passively and let the kids do whatever they want.

If your toddler is hitting, here is a simple conscious discipline approach:

  • Set a clear boundary: "I can't let you hit"

  • Then, give alternative ways to express their emotions: "You can put all of your angry feelings on this coloring page."

  • Be sure to honor the need beneath the feelings: "I wonder if you need a big hug..."
  • On the daily, role play more appropriate behaviors through play time: You can read a bedtime story about feelings or use puppets, figurines, and dolls to help your children learn the lessons you're trying to teach.

Of course, these methods are easier said than done, so remember a conscious approach takes a lifetime to embody. Baby steps every day are enough to put a dent in this hard work. And if you need more support, come join us in the Conscious Mommy Community!

Key Tips to Discipline Your Toddler Without Yelling, Shaming, or Punishing

Contrary to the high-pitched chorus of raised voices that many of us may have grown up with or observed on playgrounds, effective discipline doesn't require shouting, shaming, or punishing. In fact, shouting alone can sow the seeds of fear and resentment in your child's heart.

How To Discipline Your Toddler Without Yelling, Shaming, or Punishing:

  • You must emphasize teaching them how to work collaboratively and solve problems, rather than only respond to a reward or a punishment. This will give your child a leg up in life.
  • Stay consistent: Consistency is key. We must offer our boundaries reliably and predictably. 
  • Be clear with your directives while keeping a compassionate heart. 
  • Always be ready to offer your child assistance if and when needed. 
  • For every 1 debit, give 9 deposits. Demands like no hitting, stop your body, time to leave, etc…ask your child to pivot and be on your schedule. This can be taxing to their nervous systems. So be sure to replenish their bucket with 9 deposits. Play time, something spontaneous, saying yes to their idea, having a dance party, etc…are all ways to deposit.
  • Make it part of your daily routine to pay attention to which moments require you to give freedom vs. when to take charge.

Remember, we want your child to know that you are at least attempting to understand their perspective despite setting firm rules and boundaries.  This is key to circumventing power struggles and finding mutual collaboration and respect. 

By implementing the following tips and strategies above, you’re well on your way to becoming a conscious discipline pro!

Selecting the Perfect Toddler Discipline Approach for Your Family

Effective toddler discipline techniques are like the notes in a melodious tune, prioritizing open communication, heartfelt connection, and valuable teaching moments.

Corporal punishment, shame, and yelling share no room in offering collaboration and connection during your child's temper tantrums.

Remember that you are the conductor of this symphony in your unique family. No one can dictate what you should or shouldn't do. It's all about finding what keeps you attuned to your child and your family dynamics.

What Next: Join the Conscious Mommy Community

As we conclude our exploration of these toddler discipline tips, we extend a heartfelt invitation to connect with a nurturing community of parents who share your values. Parenthood is a rollercoaster filled with joyful moments, but also with moments that can make your knees crumble to the ground. 

Being part of a supportive community can offer you valuable insights, endless encouragement, and a safe space to share your beautiful experiences while working through the challenging ones.

Together, we can create a world where discipline is not just a path but a beautiful garden teeming with growth, understanding, and connection. 

So, reach out your hands and join fellow parents in this harmonious journey, exchanging stories, learning from one another, and celebrating the magnificent adventure of guiding our little ones toward a bright and promising future. Join our village and introduce yourself to the Conscious Mommy Community today.