Should Toddlers Ever Be Punished?

Not everything is a toddler's fault. Find out when punishment is necessary.

Most actions that a toddler takes that might warrant punishment in an older child are things that she cannot help doing. By nature, toddlers are curious about things, explore them, and experiment with them. So before you punish your one-year-old, stop to consider: Does she really deserve punishment and was it truly your child's fault?

Did your toddler break something or play with something that was dangerous? Well, how did she get ahold of it in the first place? Who left it in her reach?

Did she pull someone's hair? If so, do you really think it was mean-spirited? Early toddlers most often hurt others not out of aggression, but as part of the process of exploring other people as if they were objects. When your toddler sees anything new, including a new person, she will want to explore it: She'll push it, pull it, poke it, scratch it, bang on it, kick it, and of course, bite it—just to see what happens. In all likelihood, your child did not intend to cause harm—and in fact, may still be incapable of intending much of anything, including hurting someone.

Until your child more fully understands the dynamics of cause and effect, of actions and their consequences, punishment and fear of punishment will do nothing to promote good behavior or deter bad behavior. And in the final analysis, is it fair to punish your toddler simply for being a toddler and behaving like one?

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