How to Discipline a Toddler Without Hitting Part 1: Introducing Discipline

How to Discipline a Toddler Without Hitting Part 1: Introducing Discipline

No-Drama Discipline encourages kids to look inside themselves, consider the feelings of others, and make decisions that are often difficult. . .When we’re willing to lovingly set a boundary. . .we help create neural connections that improve our kids’ capacity for relationships, self-control, empathy, personal insight, morality, and much, much more. And they can feel good about who they are as individuals while learning to modify their behavior. 
― Daniel J. Siegel

I have been wanting to address the topic of how to discipline children for some time now, but it’s daunting. The fact of the matter is, parenting is complicated! Children’s behavior is complicated. There is no quick fix. Just recently I read a post from about The One Thing to Always Say When Disciplining Your Child. (*Spoiler alert,* it’s “Next time you’ll remember.”) There are a lot of blogs and articles saying, This one phrase changed everything, or The simple trick that obliterated toddler drama, but the topic of disciplining children really needs a series of manuals on how to address the enormous, haphazard, chaotic, and diverse experiences faced in parenthood.

I like to think one day I’ll release my own parenting book, but until then, I’m going to try to simplify and address the most important take-aways on how to improve your parenting. Again, is this a magic script to perfect parenting? No. You’re going to mess up. Your kids are going to mess up. Parenting (and life) is about improvement, not perfection.

Discipline Doesn’t Mean Hitting

Let’s begin with what it means to discipline your toddler. This word is often used interchangeably with punishment, but you can have discipline without punishment. In the case of my posts, these two will never be synonymous. The word discipline derives from the Latin word disciplina, meaning instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge.  Punishment is imposing a negative penalty with the intent to decrease bad behavior. It is purposefully trying to make your toddler suffer for their actions. Unfortunately, punishment has a mountain of unwanted side effects or is downright ineffective as described here.

punishment versus discipline chart

Image taken from

Teaching your toddler is the goal that should always be at the forefront of your mind when you address misbehavior. Disobedience gives insight into which skills he is missing and provides you with opportunities to instruct. It’s important to understand why the toddler is acting the way he is, so you can decide how best to teach the lesson that’s needed. There will be plenty of tips from me on how to teach that lesson, but ultimately, each scenario is going to take some discernment from you and what you deem to be the best fit considering the personality of your toddler.

“Chase the Why”

When you dig a bit deeper into why the misbehavior is occurring, you can better tailor the lesson. For example, perhaps your four-year-old has taken another child’s toy. You might assume this indicates your toddler needs to learn perspective-taking and empathy. However, it might be that your child stole the toy in reaction to the unkind behavior of another child. In this case, it might mean your child needs to learn how to better communicate his feelings and needs to his peers to resolve conflict. In both cases, the child stole the toy, but the reason behind stealing the toy can give you information on how to address the skill that your toddler needs help with. In this example, the needs were


It is vital to strive to understand the skills they lack, whether it be empathy, a sense of danger, respecting property, etc. This takes time. This takes thinking through how best to adapt your response to the needs of your child. You will notice throughout this parenting series, I never advocate for time out, grounding, spanking, etc. These quick go-to responses do not address the specific area your toddler lacks. Strive to be a proactive parent rather than reactive.

In this series, I will be addressing the following:

Preventing Misbehavior

Understanding the Need for Control

Creating Consequences with Warmth

Having Realistic Expectations

Each of these hubs are imperative in the complicated network of parenting. My writing is from the position of authoritative parenting (also called inductive discipline or positive parenting). This means I strongly advocate for a style of high structure and high warmth. Parents need to have great expectations for their toddler and hold them accountable. Though I will discuss how crucial your warm and loving support is, I don’t advocate for permissive parenting. These parents with good intentions rightly give love unabashedly to their children but accept behaviors from their children indiscriminately.

Important Parenting Themes Throughout the Series

In reading these posts, I want you to keep the following points in mind:

1. Your example matters more than you think. How you handle conflict, treat others who are different, express anger, practice gratitude, etc. provide a blueprint for how your toddler will.

2. Children are not manipulators out to get you. They are learning how to get their needs and wants met, just as you are striving to get what you want from your child. Perhaps they are purposefully acting out to get your attention. That may happen because kids need love and attention! This is especially relevant today with increases in distracted parenting. Be sure to have a clear understanding of B.F. Skinner’s schedules of reinforcement described in part two when understanding why your toddler may be purposefully acting out.

3. Continually taking the perspective of your toddler will make you a better parent. You will notice a pattern throughout this series of imagining you are in your son or daughter’s shoes. Her big feelings are real. His seemingly ridiculous conflicts are important to him. Your child’s thoughts and opinions matter.

4. Emotional intelligence is more important than simply obeying authority. This will get touched upon more throughout the series, but you will rarely hear me focus on getting kids to obey. Rather, the focus will be on helping children internalize lessons and practice emotional intelligence. These higher order thinking skills will do more to prepare your toddler for the complexities of life and adulthood than learning to blindly follow instructions from others in power which may or may not align with their values.

With this intro in mind, I welcome you on this wild ride with me as we explore the nuances of disciplining.





Continue the series by selecting an image below.

Veronika Tait is the proud mother of two little ones. She earned her PhD in Social Psychology at Brigham Young University. When she’s not singing Broadway show tunes in her shower, she’s reading parenting books, teaching psychology courses, or starting political fires on Facebook.

Leave a Reply