Valuable Discipline Tips for Toddlers

These helpful tips will help you correct your toddler and make sure he/she obeys you from a young age, making future correction so much easier!

Toddler girl sitting in the forest in Yellowstone

There are some important points to keep in mind and consider when you need to correct your toddler. Toddlers do not always disobey intentionally, but they do need to be corrected even so. When you do correct quickly at younger ages, you are able to set yourself up for a much easier child later on!

Here are a few thoughts on discipline from On Becoming Toddlerwise that I find very valuable.

Read: 10 Truths About Parenting a Toddler

Correcting a Toddler

Some parents feel hesitant to discipline their toddler because the child wasn’t necessarily doing something “wrong”–at least to the knowledge of the child. Discipline, or correction, doesn’t have to mean your child has done something terribly wrong.

“Correction simply means to realign or bring back from error” (Toddlerwise, page 91).

Your child is going to do things he shouldn’t. He will say things, touch things, go places, and play with things he shouldn’t. When he does these things, he is stepping off the path that leads him where you want him to go.

At these moments, you want to quickly get him back on the path. The faster you get him on the path, the easier the transition. A child who has only stepped off the path will make it back faster than the one who has been wandering away from it for several weeks.

In other words, if your toddler misbehaves and you quickly correct it, you will have an easier time correcting that behavior than you will if your child has been allowed to do that behavior for the last few weeks.

On Becoming Pottywise
On Becoming Teenwise
On Becoming Preteenwise
On Becoming Childwise
On Becoming Preschoolwise
On Becoming Toddlerwise
On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise
On Becoming Babywise Book 2
On Becoming Babywise
On Becoming Pottywise
On Becoming Teenwise
On Becoming Preteenwise
On Becoming Childwise
On Becoming Preschoolwise
On Becoming Toddlerwise
On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise
On Becoming Babywise Book 2
On Becoming Babywise

Principles of Instructing Toddlers

We first encountered the principles of instruction in Babywise Book Two. Here, most of the principles are the same. These are found on pages 94-96.

Expect A Response

When you tell your child to do something, expect him to do it. When you ask your child a question, expect a response. Children rise to the expectations placed on them. You want to be sure your expectations are age appropriate. That means you neither expect too little nor too much. Be sure to be aware of what you can realistically expect from your toddler. See this post for more How Often Can You Really Expect a Child To Obey

Give Instructions, Not Suggestions

In Babywise II, this category was Mean What You Say. With your toddler, Toddlerwise points out that you don’t need permission from your child to be a parent. This means you don’t ask your child if he wants to go to bed. Very few would respond yes. You don’t ask if he wants to help you clean up his toys; he might say yes, and he might say no. You tell him it is time to clean up the toys.

This can also mean you do not add the word “okay” to the end of your instruction. Some parents can use the word “okay” with authority and the kids do not question it. Many parents use the word “okay” with a strong question mark. “Sammy, it is almost time to stop playing, okay?” 

This leaves room for Sammy to say no.

What you really want when you say “okay” is for Sammy to acknowledge your instruction. This can be met with requiring a “yes Mommy” as discussed below. You could also add a “Got it?” to your instruction. 

Pinnable image about toddler discipline

Be Consistent

By this point in your parenting journey, I am sure you fully know the importance of consistency. It was important for your baby, and it is still important for your toddler.

The key to so much in raising children is consistency. Discipline is certainly no different.

Inconsistency will only confuse your child. When you are consistent, your child knows what to expect, which gives him a lot of control over the outcome of his day. You want you to be consistent, the boundaries to be consistent, and the consequences to be consistent. Then your child can be consistent. You cannot expect a child to be consistently obedient until you are first consistent.

Require Eye Contact

Starting around age 12 months, require eye contact from your child when you give instructions. Be sure you have your child looking at you before you give instruction. He will be better able to pay attention to your directions and therefore follow through better.

I want to add a cultural qualification here. For the U.S. culture, eye contact is an important non-verbal cue that the listener is actively engaged in what the speaker is saying. If you live in a culture where this is inappropriate, you don’t have to do it. I know that for many cultures, a child looking an adult in the eyes would be a sign of disrespect. If this is true for you, think of something you can instruct your child to do that is culturally appropriate that can demonstrate that the child is listening.

Read: How To Get Your Child to Obey with a Simple “Yes Mom”

At age 16-18 months, require a “yes, Mommy” after you give the instruction. Toddlerwise says it might start with only a head nod (especially if your child is not able to say the words together yet).

I find “Yes, Mommy” to be a very helpful tool. I distinctly remember giving Kaitlyn an instruction at barely two years old and having her refuse. As soon as I added, “Say ‘Yes Mommy’ ” she responded, “Yes, Mommy” and did what I had asked her to do.

Kaitlyn never refused to say “Yes, Mommy,” but there were times she said it and then continues on her own way ignoring the instruction that came before the “yes Mommy”. There won’t be 100% perfection with this phrase, but you will see dramatic results (dramatic in the positive).

Train the Heart

Up to age three, you are training habits of the heart (page 99). You are not giving your child a full background on the reasons he cannot do something or should do something. You are simply helping him get in the habit of doing what he should. When you tell your child to not throw food on the floor, you don’t need to get into the many reasons for not doing so. Right now he is just learning not to do it.

Read: Actions Precede Beliefs

As he approaches three and you can see he is ready for the reasons, you can give them to him. “We don’t throw food on the floor because it makes a big mess. It also isn’t nice to Mommy. She just cleaned the floor and throwing food on it isn’t respectful to her hard work.”

Your child needs to be able to understand the reasons and needs to be able to care. While toddlers are pure and wonderful, they aren’t yet capable of empathy. That doesn’t mean he is malicious and mean–he isn’t capable of that yet either. He is just still in the frame of mind that tells him he is the center of the world.

Valuable toddler discipline tips pinnable image

Continue to Value Sleep and Nutrition

Chances are when your child was a baby, you were obsessed with sleeping and eating totals. These things might start to slip your mind as you start to worry about discipline issues.

Keep in mind that sleep and proper nutrition are still vitally important for a toddler. An overly tired and/or hungry child is simply not going to obey as well as a child who is well rested and well fed. You can be tempted to keep your child up longer than he should be up now that he is older and more capable of doing so–life has more freedom! But don’t do so to the detriment of your child’s health and behavior. Read up on Overstimulation for Toddlers here.


These tips can help you to successfully correct and teach your toddler the correct way to behave and learn to obey you well.