Discipline: 1 – 3 year olds

Your child’s toddler years are defined by a natural curiosity about life that will occasionally and inevitably lead her into trouble – while she’s learning about the world through experimentation, she will need guidance from you to learn what’s right and what’s wrong. Discipline at this age, needs to be all about focusing on positive reinforcement.

  • Be patient with your child as you teach her new skills and give her lots of praise when she does the right thing.
  • When she’s intent on doing something you want her to stop, try distracting her with a new activity rather than repeating No!’
  • Don’t get into battles with your toddler that have no end.
  • You may need to show and remind your toddler of the behaviour you expect from her many times before she will follow you.
  • Your toddler doesn’t understand punishment and so it is unlikely that she will learn the lesson you are trying to teach her if you punish her. It is better to softly but firmly ask her to stop the behaviour and then distract her.
  • If your toddler repeatedly defies you and is placing herself in a potentially dangerous situation, you need to physically pick her up and remove her.
  • Don’t forget to reward her with praise and attention when she’s doing the right thing – this is what will encourage her to continue with the good behaviour.


Sometimes, in order to win the war, you have to lose a battle or two. Don’t tussle over every little thing with your toddler. You’ll both be miserable. Instead pick the battles you need to win, for example, teaching her to hold your hand when crossing the road every time, and then be prepared to concede in more trivial affairs – she wants to wear a bikini and tights to daycare… you think she looks silly, but will anyone be hurt if she gets her way? Hard to admit, but probably not.


  • Discipline is not about punishment – it’s about guidance and positive reinforcement
  • While there must be house rules and consequences for those times when the rules are broken, don’t dole out punishment that is extreme – by doing this, you risk your child forgetting the reason for the punishment by only remembering the punishment itself.
  • Assess your expectations – is it reasonable for you to expect your toddler to behave in the manner you do?
  • Sometimes to drive a point home to your child, you have to make hard decisions rather than convenient ones. Always use discipline in a way that will teach your child effectively.

This article was written by Ella Walsh for Kidspot. Sources include SA Government’s Parenting and Child Health

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