Toddler Behavior and Discipline

This could probably be a TFT, but I figured since its on my mind I’d post it today.

Those of you with toddlers… what forms of discipline/rewards systems/punishment etc do you use? I’m asking because I’m interested in trying different methods with Porter to see if there is another way that is better suited for him. He’s a good kid, and most of his behavior problems are related to his age, but sometimes I wonder if I could be doing something different to make matters better.

Here are the things we do:

1. The main thing we use is counting. Typically we use this if he is stalling or dawdling. He doesn’t like to be counted and we’ve gotten to the point where I can say “Do I need to count you?” and he’ll get his butt in gear. If it does get to the counting, we usually only make it to two and he’ll begin to do what is asked of him. I do slack a bit as I probably should always give him a consequence ahead of time (ie… if I count to 3, you’ll be in a time out etc.)… sometimes I just jump into counting and I don’t let him know what will happen if I get to 3… but we rarely get to 3, so I guess that’s ok.

2. Time outs…. if he’s too rough or loud or does something totally inappropriate he’ll have a time out. We don’t always give warnings before a time out (such as if he hits the dog etc…) but we try to give a warning before punishment. We don’t have a specific time out spot- its usually just wherever. Which works great for us as we can do a time out in a store if needed as he’s not biased to any one specific spot.

3. Bedroom time outs.. if he starts to throw a tantrum or is crying over something (typically when he’s not getting his way), we just say “Go to your room. Go to your room and you can come out when you’re done.” He’ll usually stop right away and say “I’m done!”, but there are times where he does get sent to his room and stays there for awhile.

I’d like to try some sort of reward chart for good behavior…. although I’m not sure what would work best for this age. I am not sure if it should be something where he earns stickers on a chart and then at the end of the day/week gets a reward or if it should be something where he starts out with a certain amount of stickers etc and he loses one with bad behavior and will earn a reward if he keeps “x” amount of them by the end of the day/week. I don’t really have a specific behavior to do this for (although staying in bed at naptime/bedtime would be a good idea)… I’d basically like to try to tame toddler tantrums, not listening, getting into things that aren’t his (and we all know he is famous for that…).

I have lots of ideas for older kids… in school we use the stoplight system… each child has a red, yellow and green light on their black index card and they all start out on green. They move to yellow if they misbehave and then to red which means they would stay in for recess. I’m not sure if something like this would be grasped by a 2.5 year old?

What do you use? Does anyone have any suggestions?


  1. Ooh – great topic! I can’t wait to read the comments you get. I am in need of new suggestions as well. We do a lot of time out. For hitting, Lucy does not get a warning. She goes straight to time out in the corner in the dining room. At the first sign of a tantrum, I scoop her up and put her in her room with the door shut. When she calms down, I set the timer for 2 minutes (love and logic method).I would also like to know what to do when she gets into things she shouldn’t. I don’t think I should have to child lock EVERYTHING. I think she should learn to stay out if she is told. I try distraction, but that usually involves my undivided attention for a significant amount of time and that isn’t always possible. Also, we have a lot of sibling stuff – “I had the first” kind of stuff, as well as, Lucy messing up something Norah has set up. She is very feisty and you can tell by the look in her eye that she just wants to make Norah mad.

  2. Hmmm, well for Annika I use counting a lot. She responds well so I do it. We usually never get to 3 though. She gets a time out for something more severe, like hitting or talking back. If she is to the point of no return, she has to go to her room to chill out. We seem to be doing the same things. Annika doesn’t respond to taking things away, or rewards for that matter. She just doesn’t really care either way. Sorry, no help for you. As far as a chart, you could just take a few token behaviors you want to work on for now. As he grasps the system, you could always add more. Maybe at the end of the week, he can get an ice cream cone, or some one on one time with you. I bet he’s at the right age for that. Good luck!

  3. We use Love and Logic with Eliot and it’s working for the most part. He still says no, gets time-outs, etc but he’s two. We decided against counting/warnings since that gives him a way to not follow directions right away. Once an expectation has been firmly established (i.e. not hitting the dog) he automatically gets a consequence for choosing that behavior with any warning from us. He’s a fairly easy kid, though, so we haven’t been tested like some. I know counting works well for some people though and I used it as a teacher once in awhile. I am hesitant in encouraging any positive behavior modification so early. Once you get them trained on stickers/charts/etc they stop making good choices just for good choices sake. They’ll start wanting something for good choices/good days. Does that make sense? If you keep consistent in your discipline, the behaviors work themselves out over time without rewards for doing what they should have done in the first place. It’s also just a slippery slope of having to make the reward bigger/more creative, etc. One of the best books I read as a teacher was called Raise the Responsibility and it emphasized children being taught to follow directions and/or rules because it’s the right thing to do, not for a tangible item. It changed a lot of what I did as a teacher and now as a parent. I may be stepping on toes here but these are the choices we’ve committed to in our parenting. Everyone’s different though and everyone’s children are different. I pretty much just wrote my own blog entry! Sorry!

  4. Gavin is still a little young so we haven't had to deal with tantrums much, but he's going through a hitting & throwing phase. Right from the start we made it clear that those behaviors are no-no's and we put him time out for one minute. It seems to be working so far, even though we haven't used it all that much (maybe a handful of times).I don't like the chart idea for rewarding good behavior for fear of what a child would do if that was suddenly taken away. Would they still choose the right because that is the right thing to do or do they do it simply because they know they would get a star or whatever? However, I do think it could be a great tool to use for chores, etc…

  5. I HIGHLY recommend this book called 1,2,3 Magic (see link below)www.parentmagic.comI have it and I love it….it works great, you just have to really patient for the first couple of weeks!

  6. I’ve been counting for Jocelyn and have done a few 30 second time-outs when she stands on something that could be dangerous i.e. inside her “car”, climbing toys, etc. She’s a smart alec and likes to say TWWWWWOOOOO after I count to One but we never get to three. And she has stopped being a daredevil climber/standupper lol. I’m sure we will have more challenging things seeing how she is just shy of 2. Her temper tantrums are usually just dramatic “crying” with her head buried in the couch and some occasional peeking to see if she’s captured your attention. I ignore it and she stops. I can’t wait for the full fledged throw-myself-on-the-floor tantrums. We’ll see if the ignoring still works or if we have to resort to bedroom time-outs like you. I remember you telling Porter to go to his room and play if he can’t behave and he got the idea right away, I think that’s a perfect way to let him know he’s out of line.Rewards seem to go along with chores/peeing and pooping in the toilet, etc. But I think he is old enough to understand if I’m on a majority of good behavior for a day, I get a sticker, and if I get 4 by the end of the week…I get a surprise. Then as he gets older make it more good days than 4 and add chores etc. That way it won’t be individual “good” behaviors, so you won’t have to worry about him stopping them if you take the surprise away, it will be a whole good day instead.

  7. omg – our discipline system was put to the TEST tonight. argh.we starting giving tucker timeouts. he will sit in what we call the ‘naughty spot’. if he does something wrong, we tell him to stop and give him the warning. if he keeps it up – naughty spot it is. then, after his two minutes, we have him apologize for the behavior and move on. if it keeps doing it, he keeps going back in the spot – no warnings. sometimes i just point back to his spot and there he goes. if this doesn’t work, we will send him to his room to stay until he’s done throwing his fit. i don’t think we have a the best system for discipline so i’m going to be checking out these comments as well for other options. good post!

  8. Well around here I feel like most of our discipline these days is about interaction between the kids, not necessarily things they are doing to misbehave or disobey, and I think that’s hard to always know the right approach. It’s hard to balance letting them figure things out on their own, teaching them the correct behavior/responses to each other, and providing consistent consequences for when things have been discussed too many times. Ugh. It’s a full time job around here.But that’s not what’s on your plate right now. As far as individual rules/expectations, with Sawyer specifically, we pretty much just use time outs. I completely agree with Katie M. on the counting thing and in the past few months we’ve been really working hard on NOT counting. My kids were never responding until I was on the verge of THREE and though sometimes results are results and who cares, I want them in general to be responding to what I say when I say it, not take advantage of those last dozen seconds that they feel they don’t have to take action and obey. If you give them warnings, they walk all over those warnings. I don’t need to be counting every little thing. Especially once they know an expectation or boundary and they know they’re crossing that. In that case I simply tell them. Once. And then I take action. Admittedly this has taken lots of work with my laziness… counting and threatening is so much easier. HA!Anyway, time outs. I’m trying to use the same spot in the house… somewhere where he’s away from anything else going on. Two minutes, and then we briefly talk about it and/or resolve what was going on. For fits he goes to his room until he can calm down or take care of the problem.I also try really hard to put the focus on their choices and the consequences THEY’RE ultimately chosing, rather than me reacting to the behavior. Does that make sense? So it’s not the parent being the bad guy or being upset by something, it’s simply the choice of the action that result in the time out or time away from the activity or situation.And I know this is forever long, but I know you struggle with P staying in bed at bedtime and I think he would be old enough to do a bedtime chart. We had to do one with Savannah about this age and when Sawyer was newborn. I actually just found her old chart and I was going to blog about it because I couldn’t believe some of the pictures we took, but I’ll give an abbreviated version of how we did it here…I sat down with her and together we talked about being a big girl and how could we have happier bedtimes. We made a list of things to do before turning out the lights; snack, potty, teeth, books, tuck animals in, prayers, etc. I made sure that she was brainstorming these as much as I was and we wrote down everything (within reason) that she felt she needed to do to feel bedtime was complete. The last thing on the list was that mommy and daddy go downstairs and Savannah’s stays in bed to sleep. We took pictures of Savannah acting out each thing on the list and put a thumbnail size pic on the chart next to them. She absolutely loved following that chart, that she helped make!, every night before bed and by her taking responsibility for the steps before bed, she somehow took it all more seriously. It made a huge difference in our bedtime and her staying put in bed. If she (rarely) still got up, I would go in and remind her that we did everything on the list and it was her job to make sure she did a great job with the last one. Later on when she was three or four we did do a reward chart for staying in bed after the first tuck in and she got a treat after like 10 stamps on the chart. I haven’t tried any chart stuff with Sawyer yet. He’s pretty good about being talked into doing something to show he can do it, to be proud of himself and show me he can do it each individual time rather than physical rewards to work towards.Oh! One more thing. (I know, I know, shut up already!!)On the topic of good choices/expecting to be rewarded, etc… Instead of reward charts with my kids (except in extreme cases) I randomly reward them for things. If I feel like going out for ice cream, I’ll say (at the end of a good day, after the fact– not as an ultimatum to get good behavior out of them) “gee, you guys did such a good job of such and such today” or “I really liked how you did such and such today without me having to ask you more than once” and then “let’s go enjoy an ice cream treat together since we had such a happy day” or whatever. I use that conversely too… “man, I thought we could go get some movies at the library today, but you guys have been having such a hard time not jumping on the couch today I guess we can’t use it for a movie time tonight.” Even if I was never planning on going to the library at all. So they’re randomly and surprisingly rewarded, or not, hopefully teaching them that being a great kid/sister/friend/helper/etc reaps some rewards in the bigger picture of life… when you’re a happier person and you make an effort to make the people around you happy, you can enjoy more special times and things together.Alright. I’ll shut up now. Really.

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