How Early Should Discipline Start?


By Mariel Uyquiengco

Parents are often confounded by the idea of discipline for toddlers. This is because when we hear the word discipline, we often think of corporal or physical punishment to correct children’s misbehavior.

Parents naturally balk at the idea of discipline for toddlers when it is looked at from this narrow view – because how can you hurt a little child? We must then peek at the spirit behind the word and see that discipline is all about teaching.

As parents, it is our responsibility to teach and show our children how to navigate the world. For toddlers, discipline is more about teaching the behaviors expected from them.

If parents are clear on this goal, then our actions and reactions to what our children do will move towards guidance and away from punishment. In the book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers, author Tracy Hogg rightly states that “We’re not asking children to be perfect, to be seen but not heard. We’re shaping their lives, teaching them values, teaching them respect.” (p. 212)

When dealing with toddlers, it is really all about us, the parents, and less about the children. Here are 5 tips on what we can do to shape our children’s lives and teach them values and respect.

Set and follow a routine

Young children, especially babies, don’t have control over their day. They eat, sleep, and bathe depending on their caregiver. A set routine allows children to know what to expect and makes life predictable for them.

Routine makes children feel like they have control over what is happening to them. It helps them to be more cooperative, lessens their struggles, and in the end diminishes the risks of meltdowns.

Set and enforce rules

Like routines, rules help children make their world predictable. Setting the rules that we want our children to follow is not enough though. We have to be consistent in enforcing them so as not to confuse our kids.

Rules, which can be as simple as “only eat in the dining room,” help children know what is expected of them. Though we may sometimes encounter some resistance, our ability to not give in at the slightest whining will make our children understand that we mean what we say.

Offer limited choices

Choices give toddlers some form of control. When offering choices, we should limit it to two, or three at the most. Too many options can be too confusing for young kids and can lead to their own interpretation.

When offering choices, we should offer real ones that we are really willing to give them. Just offering something to make them cooperate is a prelude to betraying our children’s trust.

Stop bad behavior on its tracks

We know our children best, and we can predict what they are about to do. It is best, then, to stop misbehavior before it even happens. If your child picks up a toy and you know he’s about to throw it to his sister, take the toy from him and gently explain that you can’t let him throw toys and hurt people.

Stopping misbehavior on its tracks sends a clear message to children of what is acceptable. This is better than waiting for them to make a misstep so that we can lecture or punish them.

Be calm

Toddlers are known for having their own mind and trying to establish their independence. Our temper might flare and frustration might set in, but the most important thing that we can do for our children is to remain calm.

Being out of control will not only frighten our children but also set a bad example of how to deal with anger and frustration. If we want our kids to not throw tantrums, then we should not throw tantrums too.


So, how early should this kind of discipline start? Since the tips outlined above are really for parents to act on, we should start as soon as our children start to express and become insistent with their wishes. Disciplining our toddlers starts with us.

Mariel Uyquiengco hopes to inspire parents to be their children’s first and best teacher. She does this through her blog and online children’s book shop and by giving parenting seminars about early childhood development, preschool homeschool, and raising children to be readers.


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