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Toddlers 1-3 Years | Discipline

5 Practical Tips to Discipline Your Child in a Positive Way

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why you are disciplining your toddler? It’s important to understand that we use discipline as a tool to teach our children, not to punish them. Accoding to Gary Ezzo from Growing Families International, it’s important to always give a “moral reason why” when disciplining your child.


Here are 5 ways to help you discipline in an effective, positive way:

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

With a small offence a warning is good enough. It’s not worth getting on your child’s case about every single thing he does wrong. However, remember to bear in mind the context of the offence. Simply give a warning and leave it at that.  If he hasn’t done this specific thing in a while, distract him and move on. If the offence is something he very much knows he shouldn’t be doing and is testing you by ignoring the warning, choose an appropriate discipline method. The punishment should always fit the crime, suggests Supernanny Jo Frost. Grounding a child for three weeks for breaking your lamp stand after you have warned him to stop running around in the house is overdoing it. A more appropriate punishment, seeing that it was an accident, would be for him to help you with house chores or wash your car to save up and buy another lamp. This doesn’t only teach him accountability but teaches him the value of money.

2. The tone

It’s all in the tone. It’s so easy to get carried away and scream in an angry, penetrating tone at the top of your voice. If your child gets used to this tone, it means that you will have to resort to using it every time before he actually listens. With a warning or any form of discipline, use a low, calm and authoritive voice at all times. It conveys to the child that mom is in control and that she means business.

3. Choose an appropriate discipline method

The discipline recipe

  • Request: please pick up your toys.
  • One warning. This gives your child a chance to correct his behaviour.
  • Ultimatum. Let him know what the consequence is without threatening him: pick up your toys or you are going straight to the naughty chair. It gives the child a choice and let him know what the outcome will be.
  • Choose an appropriate discipline method that fits the ‘crime’.
  • Explanation. Let him know why he is being punished. Keep it short and simple.
  • Ask him to apologise.
  • Reassure him of your love. He needs to know that he is forgiven and that you still love him.
  • It’s over – forget all about it and move on. Don’t hold it against him.
  • Praise him for picking up his toys.

Below are a few examples of choosing an appropriate discipline method in various situations. Remember that each child is different and that you need to find what works for your child:

Example 1 – Apply common sense
4-Year old Levi has had his warning about leaving his bicycle out on the grass. Now, this is not a wilful act of disobedience as he has simply been sidetracked, but he needs to learn to put his bicycle away. Always choose an appropriate type of punishment by applying common sense. The most logical thing to do here is to take the privilege of riding his bike away for a period of time (perhaps a day or two). Ask him to apologise for not putting his bike away, reassure him of your love for him and explain to him that his bike might get stolen or driven over if he leaves it out on the grass. Praise him when he does remember to put his bike away.

Example 2 – Time-out
Mila refuses to tidy up and put her toys away. Mom uses the correct tone and gives her a warning. Mila throws herself on the floor and starts kicking and screaming. When a child is throwing a serious tantrum it can get both the parent and the child into a state, so a hiding is out of the question as it usually only makes matters worse and the situation can get out of control. Mom moves on to step 2 and gives her an ultimatum: Pick up your toys or you are going straight to the Naughty Chair! This only makes Mila act up more. Mom then chooses an appropriate correctional action and takes Mila to the Naughty Chair for time-out. Now, the idea here is not to punish her but to teach her, so mom explains that she needs to pick up her toys after playing with them otherwise they would get lost or broken and that it is good manners to tidy up when you are done playing (the “moral reason why”). With time-out the child will sit down one minute for every year of their age. Mila is three years old and Mom makes her sit on the chair for three minutes. If Mila gets off the chair before the three  minutes are up, mom will calmly take her back to the chair every time and explain shortly that she has to stay on the chair because she didn’t want to pick up her toys. It helps to wear a very indifferent look at this stage. After the three minutes mom asks her if she is ready to apologise and pick up her toys. It’s good to get your child into the habit of saying what she is apologising for. “Sorry for not listening and picking up my toys, mommy.” Mom then reassures her that she loves her very much but that it is important for her to listen to mommy and daddy. Mom praises her as she is tidying up her room.

Example 3 – Hard crime calls for hard punishment
Dad is teaching Jett road safety rules by asking him to place his hand on the outside of the car door when he gets out of the car. Jett is three and very independent, so he decides to cross the road without dad. He runs into the road, right in front of an oncoming car. When a child puts himself in danger (and has been warned previously) you need to choose a discipline method that conveys the seriousness of the situation. It doesn’t help if dad gives Jett time-out when he returns home in three hour’s time as this very serious moment would’ve been long forgotten by then! Choose a discipline method that you believe in and feel comfortable with, and act immediately.

Example 4 – Temper tantrums
Mom is going shopping and little Ava is skipping along enthusiastically. Mom knows it’s not a good idea to get Ava to behave by bribing her with a sweet treat, as this is not teaching her the importance of listening. Before they go into the shop, mom explains to Ava what she expects from her. The moment Ava sees a gap and has a captive audience, she starts demanding everything she lays her eyes on. When mom firmly says no, Ava throws herself down on the floor. Mom tries to give her a warning, but by now she is totally out of control. Mom leaves the trolley right there and takes Ava to the public restrooms where she explains to her that this behaviour is unacceptable. By removing her from the “scene of the crime” immediately, mom showed Ava that she means business. Mom tells her that she loves her very much and explains what she expects from Ava. They calmly return to continue their shopping. Mom praises Eva for being such a good girl.

Example 5 – Taking the context into consideration
Mom is running late and still has a million-and-one things to do before dad gets home. Sarah is in an impossible mood, which is only winding Mom up even more. If you don’t know anything about the situation, you would immediately assume that Sarah needs some serious discipline. But mom knows that Sarah missed her afternoon nap due to errands she had to run, and was also supposed to get her afternoon snack 45 minutes ago. It is understandable that she may be a little irritable and moody. It’s important to take the circumstances into consideration before applying punishment. Sarah needs something to eat and perhaps a power nap, not punishment. Being tired and hungry is of course no excuse for bad manners, but the situation should definitely be dealt with differently.

4.    Age appropriate independence
Showing their independence is a natural stage of growing up. Your child needs strong boundaries, but also needs to be given age appropriate choices - such as which dress she would like to wear, whether she would like her hair tied up or not, and whether she feels like having Oats or Pronutro for breakfast. The moment your child can’t handle the responsibility of accepting your choice for her, it means that she is not ready to make that choice. If you offer her tea in her pink cup and she refuses to drink it because she wants it in the red cup, you have a problem. She needs to learn that she can make some choices, but that all the other choices will be made by you and she needs to accept them. If she is struggling to accept this, take away some of her choices away and leave her with the ones she can cope with. You can introduce more choices as she shows readiness.

5. The secret ingredient
The most important aspect of discipline is being consistent. Decide what is not acceptable to you and stick to it – i.e. bad manners, disobedience and hurting others.  If Jett is allowed to jump on the couch today just because mom had a hectic day at work and is not in the mood to get into another fight with him, but tomorrow she sends him to the Naughty Chair for jumping on the couch, she is sending him mixed signals that will only confuse him. Yesterday he was the boss and today she is the boss again. Who will be the boss tomorrow?

What NOT to do when disciplining your child:

  • Don’t repeat yourself or threaten your children as they are quick to recognise an empty threat. Stick to the one warning and ultimatum method.
  • Don’t bribe your child in order to get him to behave the way you want him to, as this is not teaching him anything in the long run.
  • Don’t ask him whether he would like to come and have breakfast, tell him to come and have breakfast.
  • Don’t give long explanations, a child will lose you after the second sentence and start focusing on something else. Keep it short and sweet.
  • Don’t count to three (or any other number for that matter), you are only giving him a gap. If he can do whatever it is that you expect him to do on the count of three, he can just as well do it on the count of one. Request, warn and issue an ultimatum.
  • Don’t do the evil-eye thing. It needs to be followed up with an action otherwise it’s just another empty threat.

Every child is unique, which means that you need to experiment and find out what works best for you and your child. The reason we are disciplining our children is to teach them what is morally right and what is wrong, so that they can grow into well balanced adults that can stand up for themselves. Choose your battles and be consistent, even when it feels like all you are doing is disciplining your child. It will pay off eventually!

Growing Families International

3 Responses to “5 Practical Tips to Discipline Your Child in a Positive Way”

  1. C Pinkham says:

    The most important thing that I have learned over 8 years in teaching, and two years of being a mother: don’t judge another’s parenting style… you don’t always know the circumstances…..

  2. lee says:


    I wonder if you can give me some advice. I have been a single mom for most of my son’s life. He is now 3 years and 10 months old. I recently got engaged and moved to Durban to be with my Fiance. My son is addapting to his new school quite nicely and my Fiance loves him to bits.

    This is his first “Father Figure” he has had in his whole life and he really does look up to him. I want to know how do I deal with the changes of having another person helping me to discipline my child when I am used to doing it all by myself my way. Keep in mind my Fiance does not have any kids of his own yet.

    My son’s is comming up with funny nauthy things like covering his ears when I am talking to him. He has never done this before. And he back chats be sometimes sticking out his tongue.

    Is this behaviour normal???

    He seems to listen more to my Fiance then to me.

    Please any advice will help. And I am 12 weeks pregnant aswell.

    Thank you

  3. Editor says:

    I would suggest sitting down with your fiance, and perhaps set some guidelines when it come to disciplining your son, you both need to be on the same page, discipline consistently and set the same boundaries, so your son knows exactly where he stands. He might be ‘acting out’ at the moment due to the new environment, new forms of discipline etc. He needs some time to settle, you and your fiance also need time to settle. Goodluck

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