How to Discipline a Baby/toddler?

Updated on January 21, 2014
M.H. asks from Lima, OH
18 answers

Hello all-
I am really wanting some advice on disciplining an one & a half year old. She is definitely in her terrible twos early on & I always try to make the excuse for her that she's "still a baby" but lately it seems that she definitely knows that when we tell her no and mean it she is quick to throw herself on the floor and bang her head on purpose. Not to mention the very loud screaming/crying pretty much all day long because we do tell her no alot due to her wanting to get into things she shouldn't be. We have two other kids who are older (6 & 7) so it's either we don't remember them being like this or they really weren't like this. (lol) I really don't think they were...they are boys and I don't know if that makes all the difference with our youngest one being a girl, but she just seems like she definitely knows what she's doing (when its wrong) and she seems to think that if she cries as hard as she can and throws herself aroud she may get her way? I don't know, but any advice would be helpful :)

EDIT** Additional comment- I DO believe in disciplining children at this age, I don't care for people who say you can't or shouldn't because kids this age ARE defiant and KNOW what they are doing. After 3 kids, you would think I would know how to discipline a child at this age, however my boys were NOT the extent my daughter is.They definitely tested us and told us no just like her, but they could be handled easily.

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answers from Chicago on

At that age, it's all about prevention --80% at least! and then distract, redirect, and ignore. When she tantrums, walk away. I'm with Doris day. I use a play pen or the crib. My son bite me once. I put him in the crib and that was that.

Discipline does not mean to punish, it means to train. So teach, but try not to say NO.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Love and logic. See if you can find classes, or at least get a book. Great stuff.

Baby sign language. Frustration comes from an inability to communicate. Babies can think before they can talk.

Instead of just telling her what not to do, you need to also tell her what to do as well.

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answers from Miami on

Here's my take on this. Get a pack and play and put it in the living room. When she has a tantrum, or fights over what it is she wants that you can't let her have, etc, put her in the pack and play and walk away. She can't hurt herself in there, and walking away from her helps her to understand EVENTUALLY that if she starts the tantruming, she won't have an audience. Don't go back to her until she stops crying and tantruming.

The thing is, it takes consistency and patience. She's still a baby. You cannot reason with her. You do need to train her, and that's what I am talking about above.

13 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Have you considered being the adult and doing some proactive childproofing? The areas you don't want her to get into? Put some childproofing zip-tie-type locks on them. (the ones where you have to press the buttons at the same time to release them).

I worked with toddlers for a long, long time. My strategies were always "change the environment/off reasonable distractions or substitutions". For a child this age, if they can't get into something they are curious about, the punishment is already in the 'not being able to'.... she is angry because she can't. So, some options are to removed the forbidden items for the time being and replace them with things she CAN do (limits her frustration) or to be aware of her tenacity and persistence and limit-- through childproofing-- access to those items. When my son (and so many of my other young charges) were this age and holding something they shouldn't, I would scoop them up, say "Oh, can I see what you found?" have them hand it over/take it from them and give them an immediate substitute "Look what I found for you! You may have this one." If they cried, I used empathetic language "Oh, you really wanted that (item) and it's not for you. I see you are sad. Let's find something else for you...." and again, distraction/redirection.

Some people might feel that childproofing at this age is a waste of time or that their kid needs to learn what NO means. Of course, all children need to learn that, but if the cabinet or cupboard isn't opening, that's an automatic "no". Kids at that age have no sense of the future consequences and have little to no regard for safety. I childproofed because I didn't want to spend my entire day in conflict and saying "no". Most toddlers and preschoolers throw tantrums, too, not because they can't have a certain item, but because they are being frustrated in their effort to achieve something. So, offering a child something engaging that they CAN do is a useful technique for the parenting toolbox. It doesn't always work, of course.

And some kids can be very strong willed. When tantrums arose for us at home, we just moved Kiddo to his room (any safe place will do) and said "I see you are really mad. Come on out when you are all done" and let him get his feelings out.

Here's the tricky thing with discipline--- I see it, at this age, as something I do WITH the child. I always offered a positive choice and an alternative which worked for me. Here's an example-- when Kiddo was about 2.5 or so, he had a desire to stand on the kitchen table and often, I'd be working at the counter, turn around, and there he'd be. Well, THAT was completely unacceptable, of course, so I would take him down and tell him "feet stay on the floor (pointing at his feet and then the floor) or you sit in the stroller". Simple, simple language. So, when he started to scramble up again, I would say "Ooops! I see you will be sitting in the stroller now." and buckle him in so that I could cook and keep him safe. (Any containment device will do, by the way...high chair, porta-crib, our umbrella stroller wasn't too big.) And I would just hand him a few things he could play with while sitting there. It wasn't a punishment, per se (the punishment/frustration --which registers in the pain centers of the developing brain at this age-- which is why your girl is raging), it was teaching him where he COULD be. It taught him that, when he tried to so something unsafe, his liberty would be revoked and he'd have to be 'grounded' (as it were) to the stroller. I do think they get the lesson of redirection better if we as parents do this as a guidance technique and don't look upon it as a power struggle.

That's the best advice I can offer you. I can also tell you, from my long experience working with toddlers, that this technique of offering the positive choice (safe hands or keeping feet on the floor or not throwing hard items) and the reasonable consequence (containment, hard toy being removed from the area, replaced with softer objects) is far better and makes more sense than time outs. Why? Because when we remove the problem item or put the child in a safer place, we have already solved the problem in the moment.

ETA: for Penny-- when your son smacks you in the face, do say "NO" firmly, but also put him down off your lap/out of your arms and walk away to another room. He'll see, physically, that you refuse to tolerate being hit, and that when he does that, he doesn't get to 'have you', as it were. He might want to be 'up' again immediately, ignore this. Two minutes away from mommy's arms or lap is plenty for little ones. If the hitting happens again, pop him in the pack-n-play "you play here now" and go about your business. When you are feeling calm inside and ready to pick him up again, do say "gentle touches" and keep modeling that for him, on his own body, have him (hand over hand--help him) give you gentle touches or the cat or a toy.... so he knows what it feels like. Just a 'no' is not enough, though, when he hits. DO remove yourself from his ability to hit you.

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answers from Austin on

You need to understand this child does not have enough language and comprehension of everything going on. So to get your attention she has learned what makes you pay attention..

The good news is since she is still so young, she has a very short attention span so redirection is your friend. Always have a toy handy to "trade her" with.. Or place a dish towel on her head while you grab the delicate item she is eyeballing out of her sight.

Try not to set her up for failure. Make sure the places she can get to are child proofed. If she is a child that is in the stage of throwing food on the floor, give her just a few pieces at a time, Or place a drop cloth under her high chair.

If she likes to touch everything she sees, make sure the things at her level are safe for her to touch.. Sure it is going to take quite a few times to figure out, "we do not touch the cell phone." So have a toy phone for her to play for and do not leave a cell phone for her to get a hold of laying about in the first place.

Children are not evil. They are not born bad. They get in trouble, because they do not know all of the rules and are still learning..

Imagine going to a new job where everyone speaks a completely different language from you and all they do is yell at you and tell you "no" and look disappointed at you for the first years of your life.. That would be very frustrating. And all they wanted to do was discipline you..

Give her some time to learn the rules. And yes it will take more that 3 times, 5 times, maybe even more. She has to learn everything and remember it and control herself.

If you do not want screaming and too many loud sounds from her, all of you need to keep your voices down. When you speak with her use calm voices and use your expressions to along with this.

The loudest children come from the loudest homes and families.

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answers from San Francisco on

Well if she KNOWS what she is doing she must be the smartest 18 month old in the room.
I guess she's fully potty trained, understands health and safety hazards and is able to solve conflicts on the playground?
Seriously, take a cue from your local preschool/daycare center. ECE teachers have been professionally trained to handle this age group. Go observe for a few days. You will see lots of correction, redirection and positive reinforcement. Lather, rinse, repeat. The same thing moms have been doing for generations.
You will also see a group a relatively happy, well behaved kids. No spanking, no yelling, just a group of adults who know how to deal with young children.
I think you got lucky with your boys, I know I did, my daughters have been a challenge in more ways than one and they are STILL challenging at 14 and 18. My son was a doll by comparison.
And if she thinks she can get her way by throwing a fit and crying it's because that's what she has learned. Put her in her room/crib when she does this and close the door. Giving negative behavior any kind of attention (good or bad) just reinforces it. Don't shoot yourself in the foot.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

At that age, I redirected my child. I tried to actually stop the unwanted behavior before it even got started. So if I saw my daughter was going to stand up on the couch I would immediately go to her, physically pick her up and say "feet on the floor". I also really did not want gates all over my house, so every time my daughter would start to leave the family room/kitchen area I would pick her up and put her in the middle of the family room with her toys and say "stay in the family room".
Act quickly and consistently. Don't say or yell "no".

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answers from Albany on

Ignore and redirect.

Which is to say, when you tell her no, and she hits the bricks, ignore the temper tantrum, say something like "oh look, I'm gonna sit down and read a book", go get a book and do so.

This is more like modifying behavior rather than "discipline", you know?

Worked for my kids anyway. No way I'm engaging in any fit throwing.


5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Every kid is different. Yes, there are developmental stages but different kids go through them at different ages, and to different degrees.

My child did the head-banging phase and it's annoying. Your older ones were redirected more easily than this one, but that's not uncommon. Maybe if you know what your daughter's triggers are, you can redirect beforehand. But it's not always easy to do that.

The main thing is, she's getting some sort of a payoff for her behavior - she's getting attention, even negative attention. The most effective strategy might be to ignore it. If she's yelling and you hate that, don't let anyone in the family yell back or yell louder. If she learns that every time she throws herself on the floor and tries to inflict harm (head banging), she gets ignored or even put in her room with as little interaction as possible, she'll figure out that her strategy is not effective. That may mean you all get up and leave the room, it may mean that you put her in her own room, it may mean that you get down to her level and look her in the eye and tell her you can't understand her when she's screaming. She may be too young for the last one, or she may not be able to calm down enough to hear you, in which case it's NOT a good strategy because it gives her your attention for the screaming.

What worked for us was leaving where we were, or pulling the car over (and getting out, but leaving him in his car seat alone) - he could see us but we didn't have to hear the screaming. We kept a book if one of us was alone, so we were occupied but within his view if that makes sense, but not engaged in the tantrum. We understood that our child has a hard head and wasn't going to hurt himself by banging, but when he went through a phase of smashing his head into the head of the person who was holding him, that was a no-no. If I was standing in a check-out line and he pulled that, I left the store and put him in the car seat, then ignored him. I said, "No head butts" and pulled out my book - I never let him feel abandoned in the sense that I was leaving him anywhere, but stood where I couldn't hear him and he got nothing from me. It took a month or so.

Whatever you do, make it completely consistent. If we switch up our discipline too much, it confuses the child.

Older kids with more verbal skills can be engaged verbally, and you'll know when it's right to do that - saying "stop screaming and tell me why you are upset" might work for a 4 year old but maybe not a 1.5 year old, you know? But for now, figure out your goal. Is it to stop her screaming and her defiance? Then those things have to not work for her. She has to NOT get any kind of payoff. She'll get the idea. But nothing you do will work on the first try - that doesn't mean it's ineffective.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

So - I see one alarm bell here "we do tell her no alot due to her wanting to get into things she shouldn't be..."

My pediatrician told me once - if you want to have a happy home with your baby when she gets older - babyproof so you don't have to be seen as the person always saying no. You don't want to shut down your child's inquisitive nature and invite unecessary tantrums.

My child has thrown wicked tantrums - and we have gone the ignore and/or redirect method. We also do timeouts - which she absolutely hates. I've never understood how making a child sit in a chair staring at a wall in the hallway is so unbearable - but it has worked with us. My kid is manipulative , strong willed and defiant. We are a no spanking household with zero tolerance for bad behavior. Needless to say - this makes for a very challenging discipline approach. So here are my suggestions :

1 - Timeouts do work for attitude correction - and they can be done anywhere - even in stores. I've done it. My kid even tries to negotiate early release from a timeout by saying the alphabet or counting to 10. We never give in!

2 - Timeouts don't work if you have to do them all the time. I resorted to putting her to bed every time she threw a tantrum unless she did something intentional - like trying to hit something - or knocking things off of a counter. This drastically reduced the number of itmeouts we needed - and improved her behavior.

3 - Ignore - Ignore - Ignore. I have a mantra - if you act like an animal - I will not acknowledge your existence. It's just that simple! I have no qualms leaving the screeching banshee to wail on the floor till she wears herself out. She learned quickly that tantrums never yield anything - not even an angry response from us - no love - no hate - simply her non-existence.

4 - Throwing herself at our feet, on the floor , into walls.....
Gravity simply taught her that lesson. I got so sick of her throwing herself at my feet, one day I simply stepped to the side and let her hit the floor. That was the end of that nonsense.

5 - I believe in giving kids choices whenever possible.
As a mother - all we do is tell our kids what to do. So I offer everything in terms of a choice so she can have some freedoms of her own. I ask her what juice she wants, what fruit, what she wants to eat first, what ipad game she wants to play, what shirt she wants to wear, which pair of shoes etc. So she can feel like she has some control.

6 - Give her something that's completely hers.... Most of my drawers are locked - but two are open with cups, forks, spoons, etc that she can get whenever she wants. She also has free access to a bowl of fruit that she can feed herself with. This makes her feel like she's doing big things - and she leaves my other drawers alone.

7 - After every punishment - is the reminder that she's still loved. She's invited to give a hug after she's had her timeout and we've discussed what she did wrong. We do this so that she remembers we always love her - but acting like a fool isn't going to get her what she wants. We also NEVER give her what she threw a tantrum for.

Finally - girls can be evil little things. Ours is pushing every single button that she can decipher. Remember this is the battle of the wills!

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answers from San Francisco on

Some children are more strong-willed -- your daughter is one of those children. That's why you didn't experience this with your boys.

It's simple: IGNORE the negative, REWARD the positive. Your daughter continues to do the negative behavior because she is getting constant attention for it. Stop telling her no all the time, and instead give her attention when she is doing behaviors you want.

I am just now taking an online course that involves human behavior. Over and over again, they are emphasizing this core principle of discipline.

Stop telling her no. You are reinforcing her negative behavior. Reward positive behavior. Be consistent, and you will see her negative behavior diminish and mostly go away.

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answers from Chicago on

When she does this out her in the crib and say no. But you might want instead of saying "NO" to try and redirect her. Instead of no you can't play with my car keys say let's play blocks etc. Try to redirect her.

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answers from New York on

If you give her attention during these tantrums, then she'll continue to have them. When she's in tantrum mode, walk away or put her in a safe place and leave the room.
But if kids hear "no" to everything, then they will be frustrated and this can lead to tantrums. Make sure that your home and her day is set up for "yes." When your older kids were this age, there weren't so many tempting things that were not for her age because they didn't have older siblings. Keep her busy with things that she can and should do. Have the older boys keep as much of their stuff in their room(s) and make sure that there's a latch so that she can't get into their room (s).

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I had a pack n play set up in the living room for that age. I used that as a time-out spot.

Some people will say that timeout for a 1.5 year old doesn't work, but I disagree. No, they will not sit and think about the consequences of their actions. But, they do know that they are being removed from a situation and that is not what they want so it does work as a discipline.

I used the rule of thumb of about 1 minute per year of age. So for your daughter, 1-2 minutes in the pack n play for throwing a tantrum is enough. Put her in while saying "no screaming", walk out of the room, wait for 1 minute or whenever she stops crying, whichever comes first. Then go and pick her up. She'll get the message pretty quickly.

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answers from New Orleans on

Oh my goodness, that third kid is such a wildcard right!? My third is 2 and I still see him as the 'baby'! I think that time outs work well my lil' guy HATES them. I have him sit in a chair and I don't let him get up for a minute or so, he is very ready to say sorry at the end of that! As far as tantrums, I usually just say 'excuse me, I don't think so' and he will say 'sowy mommy!' But if he kept tantruminnig I would probably go with time out. Other than that I try to be super consistent with manners in general, he can't say 'give me my cup!' I make him say please, if not, no cup. When he does say please I give him a big show of giggles and approval which he loves. I totally get what you said about how you feel like yo should know what to do after 3 kids! But they are all different! Good luck, and also if you have a strong willed kiddo there, it will just be more challenging, but you will get thru!!

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answers from Denver on

1-2-3 Magic and Parenting with Love and Logic

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answers from New York on

With my 15 month old I mostly just redirect. I do let him have a liitle tantrum sometimes. My theory is that if he does it at home and gets nothing for it he will learn there is no point to it. Then maybe he won't do it in public :)

I do try to help him communicate as well, between his 4-6 words, pointing and baby sign language (only 3 - hungry, more and done) we manage. I am working on a few more signs as well, water, milk etc. Common things in his life.

Good luck

Oh and if you have an iphone get a lifeproof case - my phone is one of his favorite toys and the perfect tantrum distraction :)

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answers from Williamsport on

You are 100% correct, this is prime discipline time. If you are diligent from ages one to three it will make a WORLD of difference for the 3s 4s and beyond. My kids are 7, 5 and 4 now. I'm a single M. and they have always had to accompany me on every errand. It was not an option to "leave them home" from things 'til they were 4 or to constantly redirect and prevent everything or ignore tantrums out on errands. I, like you, believe in setting self control at a very early age in order to allow for more positive experiences and freedom later. My kids started martial arts and music lessons by 4 and have attended lots of things as toddlers they would not have been be able to (classical concerts, meals in non-kid restaurants, parties where they needed to behave, libraries, the list is pretty endless) if not for their early conditioning and discipline. Now they're all fairly easy (though still spirited) kids, even my 3rd who was born with an extremely difficult personality. She asserted deliberate aggression BEFORE age one. A stern warning is usually sufficient for my kids now with no consequence necessary so I can be fun, goofy M. most of the time. I had the luxury of non-tantrummers but only because I disciplined tantrums.

18 months is pretty typical to start terrible 2s tantrums. Nip them now and you'll be very glad. You're right, she knows it's wrong and she is absolutely old enough to understand discipline. It's too bad that "norm" in modern advice is to avoid discipline in the most volatile time it is needed to easily nip stuff before it escalates. I have cousins-some with as many as 10 kids, and they concur that if you don't start discipline by 18 months, it's a very rocky road until age 5 for spirited ones.

My son never tried tantrums-he was more into general stubbornness, but my daughters both needed discipline at the very onset of any screaming or tantrums (my youngest needed more consistency than big sister). Don't allow it. Calm warning at the beginning of the behavior, and firm consequence if it continues for even a few more seconds-even in public (because they quickly learn you're helpless in public, but if you discipline there too right away without flinching, they'll get it). I removed the child to a bathroom once or twice, but once I had to swat my oldest (when she was 2 1/2) right in the cosmetic aisle of a department store. Strangers probably didn't approve (oh well) but it was her last public tantrum and she had gotten in the habit of throwing one every time we went out (only in public of course-kids are SMART). The longer you allow her to scream and carry on, the harder it will be for her to nip the habit.

Be calm, non-angry, and consistent after ONE CLEAR warning so she doesn't learn she has tons of warnings to rein it in. If she's already in the throws of a vicious cry-fest, let it go, don't discipline, because she probably can't stop herself at that point, and you want the child to learn to stop the impulse as it starts, not punish it after the fact. Wait until you catch the beginning of one and be consistent. The public factor is a bummer here because you will have to let some tantrums slide which hinders consistency, but you will prevail if you are consistent whenever you can be and ALWAYS at home. If you ignore it or allow it, it could last years. My daughter has a friend in second grade who still throws crying fits.

The book Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson is great.

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