5 Toddler Discipline Tricks That Don’t Involve Spanking

5 Toddler Discipline Tricks That Don’t Involve Spanking

When your little one misbehaves, try one of these creative solutions.


By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The purpose of discipline is to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong by punishing them when they do something wrong -- in the hopes they won’t do it again.

But because my son isn’t quite 3 yet, it’s difficult to find an effective way to teach him that hitting his little brother is bad and will have negative consequences (and I don’t want to use spanking).

Fortunately, parenting experts and experienced parents have lots of great suggestions on how to discipline kids without spanking. Here are five smart strategies.

1. Use counting. When your child does something bad, what you don’t want to do is lecture him on why his behavior was inappropriate. In fact, the fewer words, the better, says Thomas Phelan, PhD, a clinical psychologist and creator of 1-2-3 Magic parenting materials.

One of his most effective suggestions for kids 18 months and older is counting. Every time your child does something bad (like pushing his baby brother), hold up an index finger and say, "That's one." If there is a second offense, hold up two fingers and say, “That’s two.” If you get all the way to a third offense, say, "That's three," and put your toddler in his crib or room for one minute per year of his life (a 4-year-old would get four minutes). “Soon, the toddlers will respond most of the time at 1 or 2,” he adds.

2. Change the scenery. When your toddler does something naughty, he’s likely feeling flustered and frustrated, but can’t communicate his feelings. That’s why removing him from the environment that is agitating him to a more restful, calm one can stop bad behavior from escalating, says Julie Nelson, an author of parenting books and a professor of family studies at Utah Valley University. “Help him to relax by singing, talking in soothing tones, lightly stroking him, and helping him to desensitize,” she says.

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3. Use music. Even if you can’t carry a tune, your toddler most likely enjoys hearing you sing. And that’s why using music to redirect negative behavior can help calm a child who is throwing a tantrum or acting up in another way. “You can use music and sing songs to transition, to help calm down, and problem-solve with a child to learn through positive reinforcement,” says Dianna Babcock, the early childhood music director for MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Say a sister knocks over a brother’s block structure. The brother cries and runs to Mom for help. Instead of scolding the sister and spanking her for this action, the mother sings a song about what happened, asking, ‘Why did she knock over the blocks?’ And they sing about solutions.”

4. Take it outside. Deandra Coleman, CEO of What Momma Needs, a lifestyle coaching firm for moms in Washington, D.C., offers one easy and effective trick she used for her son when he was a toddler: “When he would scream, throw a temper tantrum, and just be an all-around nuisance, I would open the front door and tell him to go out on the sidewalk and carry on like that for all of the neighbors to hear and see,” Coleman recalls. “I’d tell him that he needed to ‘whoop it up’ really loudly and kick, scream, and cry. He would stop dead in his tracks and look at me like I had two heads. He'd be so terrified of embarrassing himself in front of others that he would immediately change his disposition. The learning moment would enter when he said he didn't want to do it.”

5. Involve the relatives. Kelly Johnson, founder of the pediatric massage oil line Parker Potions, says the idea that a favorite relative will find out about a toddler’s misbehaving may be enough to stop him from carrying on -- or at least it was in her experience. “Tell your child that if he misbehaves again, he is going to have to call Grandma and Grandpa and explain what he did wrong and why he did it,” says Johnson. “Kids definitely don’t want to disappoint their grandparents, so this is sure to discourage your little one from doing the misbehavior again.”

What have you found works when it comes to disciplining your toddler?


Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her hu s band and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Image ©iStock.com/metinkiyak


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