Disciplinary Techniques That Work for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Discipline your younger children effectively.

In this article, you will find:

Social rules

Disciplinary Techniques That Work for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Part of a child's development involves learning social rules. It's your job as a parent to teach your little child how to be well behaved.

Many of the problem-prevention techniques and disciplinary consequences designed to help you raise a well-behaved child, and described earlier in this book, are also effective with little kids, with a few adjustments for their age group. I'll describe nine techniques that work especially well for toddlers and preschoolers. Some of these you've seen earlier (geared for older kids), and some are here for the first time:

  • Stop the action
  • Look for the positive intent
  • Educate
  • Set clear verbal limits
  • Set physical limits
  • Provide choices
  • Natural consequences
  • Use active listening and the “sportscasting” technique
  • Time-out techniques
  • Redirecting the action

Stop the Action and Look for the Positive Intent

Say Helen shoves Mira off the swing. First you stop the action. “Helen, stop pushing. What's going on?” Once you have the children's attention (and this may mean providing a physical limit, too; see below), you can look for the positive intent. No matter how terribly your toddler or preschooler expresses her feelings (whether curiosity, anger, or whatever), it's important to honor the positive intent and impulse behind the behavior as a part of how you respond to her. That does not mean only acknowledging that it's there. The misbehavior is not okay, and you need to deal with it, but until you let the child know that you understand why the misbehavior happened, any consequences will not be fully effective.

What's Helen's positive intent? Helen may be feeling angry at Mira and unclear how to best express it, she may be trying an experiment to see what happens to Mira when she falls, or she may simply want the swing.

“Helen, it seems as though you want Mira off the swing,” you might say. You don't know exactly why she's pushed Mira, but you're honoring the fact that Helen has a reason, or an emotion, behind her behavior. When you look for the positive intent, you're trying to find an impulse or a need in your child that you can support, so that your correction comes from a place of empathy.


Your little one also needs to know the impact of her actions. “Helen, when you push Mira off the swing, it hurts her.” Helen may simply be unaware of how strong she is, too. Giving her information about the consequences of her actions is part of teaching her to make decisions on her own.

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