Toddlerwise: Discipline Points for Toddlers

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There are a few thoughts on discipline from On Becoming Toddlerwise that I wanted to bring out. These thoughts have been discussed in previous posts, but I wanted to highlight them in toddler viewpoint.

Some parents feel hesitant to discipline their child because the child wasn’t necessarily doing something “wrong”–at least to the knowledge of the child. Discipline, or correction, doesn’t mean your child has done something terribly wrong. “Correction simply means to realign or bring back from error” (Toddlerwise, page 91). You 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 wondering away from it for several weeks.

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: Obedience Percentages

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.

Be Consistent
By now, I am sure you fully know the importance of consistency. It was important for your baby, and it is now 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
At 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.

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). For more on this topic, see this blog label: yes mom . I find “Yes, Mommy” to be a very helpful tool. I can give Kaitlyn an instruction and have her, as a new two year old, refuse. As soon as I say, “Say ‘Yes Mommy’ ” she responds, “Yes, Mommy” and does what I have asked her to do. Kaitlyn doesn’t ever refuse to say “Yes, Mommy,” but there are times she says it and then continues on her own way. There won’t be 100% perfection with this phrase, but you will see dramatic results (dramatic in the positive).

See this post for the Babywise II thoughts. The are still applicable to the toddler: Principles of Instruction

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.

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.” You 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.

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. 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.


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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Tia
    June 8, 2009 / 4:18 PM

    first of all love your blog, i have done babywise for my first two kids and am doing it with my now 4 month old little girl. I love the book but I always end up having questions so this is great. I have been searching your site and looking for some advice in regards to a growth spurt. She's been waking up at different times in the middle of the night and I have had to feed her cause she won't go back to sleep so I went back down to a 2.5 hour feeding schedule from my typical 3 hour schedule that seemed to solve it, but I've been doing that for about a week so I thought she was over it and I tried going back to a 3 hour schedule but she woke back up again last night so I guess I will try the 2.5 hour schedule again. It just seems at 4 months she should be going closer to a 4 hour shchedule. Anyway Im trying to figure out how to handle the napping schedule when she's eating every 2.5 hours. Any thoughts in reality she should be only sleeping 2 longer naps and one shorter nap but the 2.5 hour schedule allows for alot more. I just feel like im throwing her all off. Any advice would be helpful!!

  2. Plowmanators
    July 7, 2009 / 9:51 PM

    Tia, Thanks! I am glad you like the blog.If she needs to eat every 2.5 hours, then I would just stick with the EWS cycle with perhaps not having a nap between the last two feedings if she doesn't need it (the last two would be the feeding around 5ish and 7ish). I would say to just do what she needs as long as she needs it. If the 2.5 hour schedule seems to be off for her, then work toward extending it (see the blog label waking early). If it is what she needs, go with it and don't worry if it isn't "by the book." She will get there.

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