Monday 14th , 2013
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As a proud mother of a 20 month old girl, I have found myself in unfamiliar territory with how to effectively discipline my daughter when she misbehaves or does something that could potentially harm herself or another.  My husband has primarily taken the role of disciplinarian since it makes me feel uncomfortable or I have the immediate sense of guilt that I’ve been too harsh.  However, not wanting my husband to solely bare that burden as it is both our responsibility as her parent, I have sought out resources that have been helpful with what is often the toughest and most frustrating task of parenthood. 


Often people equate “discipline” to spanking and punishment.  Discipline is about setting rules to stop a child from engaging in behavior that’s aggressive, dangerous, or inappropriate.  The first step to effective discipline is understanding where your child is developmentally.

18 Months: Though a child is building a vocabulary and can follow simple instructions, they can’t effectively communicate their needs or understand lengthy reprimands.  Consequences of misbehavior must be immediate or they won’t remember what they did wrong or be able to associate the action with the consequence. 

Age 2:  Children are developing motor skills to test limits, as well as speaking a few words at a time.  Consequences should be swift, as a 2 year old is unable to grasp time.

Age 3:  Knows right from wrong, understands cause and effect, and retains information for several hours. Consequences can be delayed and explanations more detailed.  For example if your child throws food, the consequence might be that they can’t watching Elmo on TV.  When the child later asks to watch Elmo, you remind them of the consequence of throwing food. 

Once you have in mind, where your child is developmentally, you are ready to put seven strategies into practice that help set limits and stop bad behavior.

  1. Pick Your Battles:  If you are constantly saying, “No, no, no,” your child will tune you out and won’t understand your priorities.
  2. Know Your Child’s Triggers:  Some misbehavior is preventable, so identify and remove tangible temptations. 
  3. Be Consistent:  There’s no timetable as to how many incidents and reprimands it will take before your child stops a certain misbehavior.  But consistency is key for your child to eventually learn the lesson and discontinue the behavior.
  4. Don’t Get Emotional:  When a child is affected by a parent’s negative mood, they will see the emotion but won’t hear the message.  Additionally an angry reaction is likely to only enhance the entertainment value. 
  5. Keep it Short & Simple:  Speak in short phrases, repeating the message a few times and incorporating vocal inflections and facial expressions. 
  6. Give a Time-Out:  If repeated reprimands, redirection, and loss of privileges don’t work, consider a time-out for a minute per year of age.  Toddlers don’t like being separated from their parents and toys, so typically the mere threat of a time-out should be enough.
  7. Stay Positive:  No matter how frustrated you feel about your child’s misbehavior, do not vent about it in front of them.  They won’t have a good image of you, and they’ll end up repeating the behavior. is a helpful resource for more detailed information on effective disciplining techniques for toddlers.  Kidspace will also be hosting a Positive Discipline workshop on Tuesday, January 15th from 6:00-8:00pm.  The workshop will be led by Karin Wright, an instructor with the Parent Education program at Burbank Adult School, and will teach about how to be both firm and kind, so children can learn cooperation and self-discipline.  Click to register for the Positive Discipline workshop.


Blog entry by:

MaryAnn Viviano, Business Operations Director, has been with Kidspace Children’s Museum since 2004.  Prior experience includes working for the American Red Cross after receiving a BA in Communications from the University of Texas at Austin.