Strategies For Effectively Disciplining Toddlers

Disciplining toddlers requires a fine balance between patience and firmness.  Children in the toddler years begin to test boundaries and they are definitely going to let their parents know it! Toddlers behavior runs the gamut from biting, hitting and throwing temper tantrums in the grocery store, to just outright disobeying. The good news is that there are some effective strategies that can help curb outbursts and redirect your toddler’s behavior!

How To Discipline a Toddler Who Hits

disciplining toddlers not to hit

Toddlers often engage in hitting as a form of expression. When they don’t have the words or social skills to express their feelings of anger or frustration they act out. According to Psychology Today, an aggressive child (1-3 years of age) is not being ‘bad’ or disobedient. They are trying to tell you something, but haven’t yet developed the language skills or emotional habits to communicate effectively. Either that, or they don’t feel you’re listening to them, and violence is the only way to get your attention.

Although it is generally just a phase that most toddlers grow out of, it is still important to try to correct and/or curb unwanted behavior. Setting limits is essential so behavior doesn’t get out of hand. Here are some tips for disciplining toddlers who hit.

Top strategies to implement today.

  1. Don’t hit, spank or slap your child. It reinforces the aggressive behavior that you are trying to curb. Kids learn from parents’ behavior so displaying aggression shows your child that this behavior is acceptable. This is the polar opposite of what you are trying to teach.
  2. Don’t punish your child. Instead focus on providing positive reinforcement or simple redirection as opposed to labeling their behavior as “bad’. It will inevitably reinforce more hitting or unwanted behavior.
  3. Pay attention to your child’s mood and try to anticipate their behavior. If they are overtired, excited or frustrated, they might be prone to hitting. Try to de-escalate their behavior before it gets to that point.
  4. Try to remain calm when your child hits. Raising your voice or yelling at your child will scare them and they are less likely to take in the message that you are trying to convey.
  5. Explain to your child why it is wrong to hit. It’s also important to validate their emotions of frustration and anger.
  6. Create new patterns of better behavior once your child has calmed down. Practice alternative methods of handling a similar situation so that they have more effective tools to draw upon in the future.
  7. Consider placing your child in a time-out. Simply remove them from the environment in which they are causing trouble. Place them in a neutral, unstimulating and designated space. According to the CDC, time-outs usually last between 2-5 minutes for toddlers and preschoolers. A good rule of thumb is to give time-outs lasting one minute per year of age. For example, a 2-year-old would sit in time-out for 2 minutes and a 3-year-old’s time-out would last for 3 minutes.

If your child’s hitting continues to escalate or is causing problems with others, consider seeking medical advice and direction from your child’s pediatrician. 

Related articles:

How to Discipline Toddlers Without Yelling

child covering her ears

Many parents have inevitably lost their patience with their toddlers. It’s easy to resort to yelling out of sheer frustration, however, this is not an effective method for disciplining toddlers. Yelling can actually lead to more unwanted behavior as opposed to correcting bad behavior.

Even with this knowledge, quotes a study from the Journal of Marriage and Family. They state that 89 percent of parents report that they are guilty of yelling at their children. Yelling also becomes ineffective overtime as your child learns to tune you out. By setting rules it shows your child that there are other solutions to their behavior. According to BabyQuip, parenting failures are impossible to avoid, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to avoid yelling or overreacting. Here are some more effective tips for disciplining toddlers instead of raising your voice!

It’s hard not to yell! Here’s what to do instead:

  1. Establish clear rules and follow through with immediate consequences. Children will be more likely to make better decisions if they know what is expected of them in advance. Clearly communicate that there will be swift consequences if they don’t comply.
  2. Discuss consequences with your child ahead of time. If they are aware ahead of time that they will get a time-out or lose a privilege, they will be more likely to consider their behaviors before misbehaving. In which case you will avoid yelling at them since they’ve made a good choice.
  3. Provide your child with positive reinforcement for following the rules. A good time to praise your child’s behavior is when you are catching them being good. This will reduce negative attention-seeking behavior.  
  4. Reward good behavior. Create a rewards system such as a sticker chart to encourage your child to make good decisions.
  5. Instead of yelling, give your child an initial warning in a calm manner. Let them know that there will be repercussions, such as missing out on play time or tv time if they don’t listen. This helps kids learn that their bad behavior has consequences.
  6. Be consistent with discipline. If your child sees consistent consequences to their unruly behavior, they will be more inclined to make better choices in the future.

Keep in mind that yelling at your child is not an effective discipline technique. According to verywell family, it’s actually one of the top 8 discipline techniques that can worsen behavior problems.

Effective Tips For Disciplining Toddlers

father and daughter

There will be times where your toddler’s behavior will drive even the most sane adult to the brink of insanity! That said, we have some very effective pointers for keeping everyone in the household calm and collected during toddler meltdowns!

Best overall discipline techniques.

  1. First and foremost, stay calm when your toddler is in the throes of a tantrum. Parents need to take a deep breath and be in a calm and rational space before disciplining their toddler.
  2. Pick your battles! In a toddler’s mind, everything is up for debate. However, to avoid being challenged by your toddler, be selective about which battles are worth the fight! Things that involve safety, such as riding in a car seat are not open for debate. If your child is adamant about wearing a certain outfit to preschool, it may not be worth fighting over!
  3. Use redirection to distract your child from negative behaviors. If they are misbehaving, redirect them to another activity that will help them avoid a temper tantrum or meltdown.
  4. Model good behavior for your child. It is the parent’s responsibility to be a good role model for their child. If your child sees you being calm under pressure, they will take cues and model similar behavior. If your child sees you losing your cool, they will emulate your behavior. 
  5. Do not bribe or negotiate with your child. If you bribe your child, their good behavior will always be contingent upon some sort of materialistic reward system.
  6. Give your child choices. This allows your child to feel a sense of pride and autonomy over making a good decision. Praise them when they make a good choice.
  7. Focus on the behavior and not the child. Don’t imply that your child is bad, but rather that their behavior or choice is not a good one. Try to avoid using the word ‘bad’.
  8. Do not give in to your toddler. If you are firm in following through with disciplining your child, they will eventually realize that they can’t get away with bad behavior.


Disciplining toddlers often feels like a futile endeavor, however with consistency, patience and a clear plan, you will be on your way to helping develop a well-behaved toddler that makes good choices!


  1. Rebecca Ruelas

    November 11, 2019 at 8:00 am

    Take a deep breath, take a deep breath, take a deep breath — the number one thing I have to repeatedly remind myself as my two year old daughter has just entered the stage of epic tantrums!! With another one on the way, these tips are so helpful for establishing strategies of effective discipline. Thank you!

  2. Jenny Bubenik

    November 5, 2019 at 10:33 pm

    Love this article. Giving choices has been really helpful for my kid and then praising her when she makes a good choice. We also set an expectation of the behavior we want. so we’ll tell her we need good behavior and then we ask her what she thinks the good behavior looks like and we talked about what that would be in each situation.

  3. Katie Grant Goldman

    November 1, 2019 at 8:11 am

    Thank you. It’s good to know I am doing some things right! I have a 2 1/2 year old and it’s hard to remember, in the moment of a seemingly unreasonable freak out, that their brains are not yet capable of seeing whatever outcome they seek is really no big deal. It is to them! Like you said, patience and consistency is key.

  4. Jessica

    October 31, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    The tips are spot on. I am always open to learn new ways how to communicate with my child and take on my own actions when disciplining my son. I talk to my husband about how we discipline our son because two parents with two different styles of discipline is confusing. We recently started a reward system that also doubles as a discipline tool for us to talk about hurtful choices.

  5. Judi Greenhill

    October 31, 2019 at 9:49 am

    This is very important subject matter. Having a plan certainly helps in the heat of the moment and maintaining respect for this tiny human being. Thank you!

  6. Christina Harr

    October 30, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Great ideas! I have twin boys who are 22 months and I am definitely seeing some frustration in them not being able to express their feelings.

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