Toddler discipline

A simple guide to disciplining your toddler


How do you cope when your little angel seemingly turns into a devil overnight? Here’s some ideas on using discipline to best effect.


What discipline works?

“The key to discipline is to set clear boundaries and rules,” says Larry Cohen, author of Playful Parenting. “Don’t have too many, though, as you can’t consistently respond to them all.”

Giving your child clear boundaries, and sticking to them, is no easy task. One factor that plays a part is how we were disciplined as children. “Our own upbringing has a huge impact,” says Larry. “The key is awareness – ask yourself, ‘what was going on in my life when I was the same age as my child is now?’”

So, any tricks?

Praise helps to reinforce your boundaries, explains Rachel Calam, Reader in Clinical Psychology, Manchester University. “If your child screams, instead of saying, ‘Don’t shout!’, try ‘Mummy likes your quiet voice’. Then if your child speaks more quietly, praise her.”

Amanda, 26, mum to Sara, 4, and Jake, 18 months, uses praise and consistency to reward her children’s behaviour. “We reward Sara with ‘special time’ with mum and dad once Jake is in bed.

If she’s naughty, this time gets taken away.”

“Once your child is doing as she’s asked you won’t need to praise so often,” says Rachel.

How quickly will it work?

You’ll have to repeat basic rules over and over before they sink in,” says Larry. “Compare it to reading – you don’t expect your child to read the first time she lays eyes on a book.”

How early should I start?

“It’s never too early, never too late, but I’d be worried by the idea of ‘disciplining’ a baby,” says Rachel Calam. “Parents can set down a positive routine that suits everyone, and encourage the baby to fit in with that.”

“Discipline at the moment depends on the age of the child,” says Gianna, 33, Maddie, 7, Zac, 5, Annie, 2, and Mo, 11 weeks. “We’re more able to reason with our oldest daughter, whereas our oldest son will have his favourite toy removed. Our youngest daughter just needs to hear a cross voice.”

What about the naughty step?

The ‘naughty step’ has proved a very useful tool for parents thanks predominantly to the arrival of ‘Supernanny’ Jo Frost.

However, while many experts agree on the benefits of a time-out zone, the particular term ‘naughty’ should be used with caution, advises Rachel Calam. “You don’t want to give them a message that they’re naughty and difficult. They need to know they’re loved, it’s just that sometimes their behaviour is not acceptable.”

And Mary Macleod, Chief Executive of the National Family and Parenting Institute, is equally concerned. “I have reservations about any technique that humiliates children,” she says. “Children must not be left to sit [on the naughty step] for ages and ages.”

Any more trade secrets?

“Focus on connecting with your child, not on controlling or disciplining her,” says Larry Cohen. “When you have a warm, loving connection with your child, she is naturally more co-operative, better-behaved, and a lot of fun to be around.”

Mum’s story:

“Children need to know who’s in charge”

“Children need to know that you’re in charge. If they behave badly there must be consequences. I’ve found that time in the ‘naughty corner’ works well”


Christie, 35, mum to Sally, 8, and Jim, 4

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