While we often think of discipline as necessary for older children, the truth is that parenting gets easier when we start early with a clear understanding of how to handle toddlers. With many parents turning to the internet for help when dealing with child discipline problems, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the pure volume of advice and input. Some of it is good, but much of it is bad.

Bad Ideas For Toddler Discipline & How To Avoid These Toddler Mistakes!

Bad Idea #1: More Toddler Behavioral Challenges Mean More Talk

As soon as young toddlers begin to respond to language, we tend to start using more and more words. This makes sense, of course.

This exchange of language and words allows for a complex learning process to unfold, and mastery of many practical, as well as future academic tasks.

The mistake we make with toddlers often unfolds when we begin to see that our discussions and words do, at times, get attention and a response. Again, this is great.

The problem emerges when we start to seek more discipline and influence over their behavior. If you happen to have a very challenging toddler, this problem evolves sooner in life.

The common advice found in blogs, internet sites, and some parenting books suggests the need for more talk, in response to behavior challenges. The advice seems to be this: If you are having troubles with your toddler, you simply need to talk to them more. Ask more questions. Probe. Question. Talk, talk, talk.

Yet, as a parenting coach, I have worked with many thousands of parents. These are good parents, who are working hard to do the right thing. I find that most of these parents are well-intentioned, concerned, and engaged parents.

ALREADY, these good parents talk frequently to their toddlers about good behavior. They talk with loving intent. They talk with a desire to help their child. They talk quite often and have helpful, supportive comments (most of the time).

More toddler struggles equal more talk about the struggles.

This is a bad idea. The problem is not the talking. The problem is too much talking…particularly talking at the wrong time and saying the same things over and over.

Now I don’t’ mean that to sound as harsh as it appears, because talking to your toddler and having a great relationship with them is extremely important. It is just that talking is not the solution to a behavior problem.

When behavior change is needed, and a shift in parenting is required, all that TALK is making things worse…rather than better.

Simple correction:

  • Talk less when dealing with behavior challenges, and take more action. That’s the key.

Lead with your action, and follow with your words a few weeks down the road. This will make life easier, and your toddler learns that your words have meaning.

Yet when most of us have tried the talking and more talk approach, we get exhausted. We then turn to a second bad idea.

Bad Idea #2: It’s Time to Get Strict!

This is simply not true.

Here again, it would be nice if a single, simple idea was the solution. It’s not.

Being “strict” implies different things to different people. However, for most of us, it means harsh. Harsh attitude. Harsh words. Harsh consequences.

This doesn’t work well either, to teach toddlers about behavioral limits.

Yes, clarity about limits and consequences is needed. Consistency is needed. But harsh and strict are not the cornerstone of great parenting. For the more challenging toddlers, this approach will backfire!

Again, I find that parents who are struggling with toddler discipline issues have already tried the ‘strict’ approach. This approach doesn’t usually include a clear understanding of which rules make sense, and which consequences to use under which circumstances.

Simple Correction:

  • Define what you can ignore, and do so. Make no exceptions to this at the toddler stage.
  • Secondly, define what limits you will consistently enforce in your home. Then, enforce them with action, not words.

The key to toddler discipline is simplicity. Honor these guidelines daily.

Limit your words WHEN DEALING with behavioral issues. Ignore everything that is possibly ignorable. And set clear, pre-determined limits on acceptable behavior. Then, enforce those limits with action on your part…not more words!

Bad idea #3: Your toddler will just grow out of it.

Well, it’s true. Your toddler will grow out of much of the small problem behavior. We see it all the time.

But for the big stuff, the ugly tantrums, the horrible whining, and defiant not listening… the most challenging toddlers WILL NOT grow out of it. They grow INTO it more.

When dealing with toddler discipline problems, there are certain phases that children go through. As infants move into and through various toddler phases, there are many transitions. Most of these are obvious.

Thus, normal developmental phases are not a concern. Toddlers move through these, and behaviors come and go. Your pediatrician has likely prepared you for these, and you have no reason to worry.

However, when behavior is more challenging, more defiant, and more extreme…there is usually cause for concern. It would be a mistake to assume these challenges will simply disappear.

What is important is how you handle these challenges. It’s how you respond, that will teach your child.

Problem: The wrong strategy means you will have been battling for years.

Key Point: The right parenting strategy means these challenges will be just a toddler phase. What a relief!

The right strategy begins to bring lessons of reality into your toddler’s discipline. By this, I mean that I would ask you to embrace the challenges that are there in front of you. If your toddler is defiant, then she is defiant. If tantrums are happening every day, then you have tantrums. If none of the children seem to listen, they don’t listen.

This is our starting point. NOT our finish point.

But if we can start with reality, regardless of how ugly it is, we can then lose some of our frustration and anger, and embarrassment. Because if we don’t lose this emotional edge, then we are going to be in big trouble.


Because this is where we lose touch with reality. We get reactive. We get emotional. We take everything personally (when it’s not).

All of this removes is from good, solid toddler parenting. Good discipline demands that we keep our cool Good discipline demands that we have a clear game plan. Good discipline demands that we follow through consistently.

But we begin by realizing that the more extreme behavior will not disappear by yelling or screaming or using time-outs 1000 times. These are all pointers to a problem.

Bottom Line: Minor moments of behavior usually do just pass. The more extreme the resistance, the more severe the tantrum, the more out of control the defiance….the more likely you need a strategy that involves less talk, more clearly defined action, and resolve to take the serious behavior seriously!

Toddler Questions:

  • How will l respond to disrespect?
  • How do I handle that whining and complaining?
  • What will I say to the lying child?
  • How will I discipline them when they fail to do their share?
  • How will they find happiness if they expect me to keep solving what makes them unhappy?
  • How will they grow out of it, if I don’t know how to create opportunities for them to grow and become more disciplined?

Many more great questions exist for us to ponder. Yet, all of the major lessons your toddler needs are contained in the way that you respond to a problem or challenge. Let’s call this the way you discipline. Rather than doing the same thing, and hoping your failing strategy finally works, it’s time to map out your action-oriented game plan.

If you have serious, challenging toddler behaviors, please don’t be deluded to think, “Oh…this will go away on its own.” If your child were sick, would you take that risk if the sickness has already been there for 3 months…or 6 months…or for some of you, it’s been there for years.

No. You would go to the doctor. It’s time for a change in your child discipline approach. Please take this seriously. Here’s a great free opportunity to get more specific details. It’s like a free parent coaching session for your toddler, along with support for the next 60 days.

I encourage you to check out the parent coaching articles on child behavior and toddler discipline problems we have here at www.TerrificParenting.com.

For great videos on parenting, you may also want to subscribe to my YouTube Channel at DrCaleParentingCoach.

Thanks for being a part of our community. Take care now,

Randy L. Cale, PhD