Training Toddlers: Actions Precede Beliefs

Find out why you can and should correct your older baby, pretoddler, and toddler even when she can’t understand why yet.

Toddler having a tantrum

As cute as older babies and toddlers are, they still can make choices that are not ideal.

When this happens, parents are often at a loss for how to respond. Is it even fair to tell a toddler he can’t hit if he doesn’t understand why he can’t hit?

Thoughts on Training Babies and Toddlers

When it comes to training babies, pre-toddlers, and toddlers, parents often fall in one of two camps of thought.

One camp is a bit in disarray because the parents don’t really want to push moral behavior before the child can conceptualize why the behavior is not okay.

So the child sometimes is not allowed to do something and other times is allowed to do the same thing. This leads to confusion and frustration–especially frustration from the parents because the child isn’t listening.

The other camp is a bit frustrated because they want the child doing things for the “right reasons” and wants the child to want to obey.

It is frustrating for the parent because children of young age groups cannot understand morals, so there is no behaving for the wrong or right reason–it just is or isn’t. 

Both of these camps miss the mark.

“Young children do not have the moral means to create or respond to right and wrong”.

(On Becoming Babywise Book Two, page 21)

So our second camp is aiming for an unachievable goal.

But that doesn’t mean we just wait until they turn three and start to understand morals.

“This does not mean, however, that you suspend the training of right responses”.

(page 21)

Despite a Lack of Understanding, Train Now

Don’t wait until “later.”

Teach your toddler now.

He may not understand why he shouldn’t throw his food on the floor.

He isn’t capable of thinking of how others feel when he screams in close quarters with others.

He doesn’t have the empathy skills to imagine what it would feel like if his sibling hit him

But actions precede beliefs. 

Teach him to keep his food on his high chair tray. Teach him to not hit. Teach him to not scream in the house.

Teach him correct behavior.

When the age is right, he will start to understand why this behavior is right or why other behaviors are wrong (usually around age 3).

Until then, he will gain correct habits and won’t involve arduous retraining as a 3 year old.

Remember the mantra of Start As You Mean To Go On. Don’t stress about teaching the why right now. Focus on the what. The why will come when it is age-appropriate.


Actions precede beliefs