Struggling with your toddler’s temperament? Learn how to discipline a strong willed 2 year old (and why these traits may not be so bad!).
It’s when you ask him to stop opening and closing his sippy cup… but he still keeps doing it. Or when he smears yogurt on the couch and drops crackers in the carpet (only to walk all over it, trampling them into tiny crumbs).
He doesn’t care how mad you get, or whether you count to three (or a hundred, for that matter). “Punishment” and time outs don’t work, and he doesn’t acknowledge anything you say.
And you’re getting upset with how stubbornly he behaves, especially when he does the exact opposite of what you just told him.
I can’t believe I can’t handle a 2 year old, you think. It’s enough to make you feel like a total failure of a mother.
How to discipline a strong willed 2 year old
Let’s just say that you’re not the only parent who’s had a difficult time getting her child to listen. All my kids have had plenty of moments when they didn’t listen well, triggering me to launch into battle mode.
I hear you, friend.
And at 2 years old, kids this age are wired to challenge and push boundaries, especially with their parents. After all, they love and trust us enough to know that we won’t abandon them just because they insisted on hogging the toy instead of sharing it with their siblings.
The characteristics of a strong willed child also aren’t bad. Many parents would love for their to have these personality traits, from confidence to independence to taking matters into their own hands. It’s just when these traits conflict with our own agendas that we butt heads with our kids.
Still, this is also the perfect stage for you to be more aware of how you talk to your child, so that however inevitable these power struggles might be, they don’t have to be so difficult, or so frequent.
In fact, these tips have worked wonders when it comes to disciplining my kids, especially at this stage of strong will and challenging emotions. Just doing one of these can make a drastic difference in encouraging good behavior, so you can imagine when you do all five.
So, how do you deal with a strong willed toddler who won’t listen? Take a look at how to discipline a strong willed 2 year old and turn your days around:
1. Say what you want
Do you feel like you’re constantly telling your child “no” all the time?
As frustrating as it is to hover and correct his every misbehavior, imagine what it’s like to be him and have to hear that over and over. No wonder he remains strong willed and set on doing things his way.
To help him oblige, try this trick: tell what you want, not what you don’t want.
Let’s say he’s holding a cup of juice precariously, ready to spill it at any moment. Instead of saying, “Don’t spill the juice,” you might say, “Hold the cup steady.” Or even better: “Do you want to drink the juice? Come drink it at the table.”
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2. Give your child choices
Just as challenging as it is to hear “no” all the time, so too is it to be told what to do.
Of course, as parents, we often have to make the call for our kids, regardless of how they feel about our decisions. We determine the time they wake up to the food they eat, keeping their best interests in mind.
But I’m willing to bet that, throughout the day, you can find plenty of opportunities to give your 2 year old a choice in the matter.
For instance, you might ask:
- “Would you like to get into your pajamas yourself, or would you like me to help you up?”
- “We’re going to the grocery store. Which jacket do you want to wear, the gray one or the orange one?”
- “It’s time for snack. Which one do you want to start with—carrots or pretzels?”
- “We’re going to change your diaper. Do you want to do it on the changing table, or on the floor?”
Simply having the power to choose can be enough to help him not only oblige, but take ownership and follow through with his decision. The key is that the action is non-negotiable—he needs to change his diaper or wear a jacket—but now he can give his input, too.
3. Redirect your child to an appropriate activity
Sometimes we reprimand our kids for a behavior that, in another context, is totally fine.
Let’s say your spirited child won’t stop jumping on the bed, even after you’ve already told her three times not to. What you’re really saying “no” to isn’t the jumping itself, but that she’s doing it on the bed, where she can fall and get hurt.
In fact, you might have even praised her for jumping at other times, like when she was at the trampoline park or when you two were dancing. Jumping itself is not the culprit—you simply have to redirect her to a more appropriate way to do so.
Offer guidance and say, “I know jumping is fun, but you can fall off the bed and hit your head on the side table.” Then redirect her to a similar but safer way to jump: “Let’s put the pillows on the floor and jump here instead.”
4. Stay consistent
Giving in to your 2 year old’s demands can be so tempting when you’re out sheer will and patience. For instance, you end up letting him sleep in your bed, just to avoid yet another temper tantrum. Never mind that you had just spent the last hour explaining why he has to stay in his own bed for the night.
As you might imagine, he’s less likely to take you seriously the less consistent you stick to your word. One day you say no, but the next it’s a yes, adding to the confusion even more.
As hard as it is to hold your ground and stay consistent with your rules and routines, you must follow through if you want his full cooperation. You can’t let the difficulty or inconvenience of his meltdowns stop you from doing what you know is right for him.
Put the hard work in now, so that over time, your consistent response will all but stop or at least decrease the tantrums in the first place. After all, the long-term goal is to raise him into an amazing adult, including learning how to handle frustration and disappointment.
That said, you can be flexible and understanding on some matters, so long as you’re consistent with those that are non-negotiable for you and your family. For instance, sleeping in your bed might not be up for discussion, but you could allow him to watch an extra television show this weekend.
5. Respond calmly
We’ve all felt it. That urge to yell, the anger ready to erupt because your child did something so crazy that you’ve just about had it. And sometimes, it feels like reacting this way is the only thing that will finally, finally get him to listen.
Except fast forward to what happens next. How heavy everyone feels—he so frightened, you more than remorseful. Getting angry is certainly not a sustainable way to get him to listen, especially for simple, everyday tasks like finishing dinner or putting on his shoes.
Instead, respond calmly, offering comfort and empathy for the situation. Try to see the situation from his perspective. I know this is a hard ask, but in the long-term, it’s far more effective than getting upset.
For one thing, you’re modeling the very behavior you’d want him to do when he gets upset. You’re also able to use this as a teachable moment, whether it’s learning how to share with others or dealing with sadness. And you’re better able to think and make good decisions than if you were screaming or yelling yourself.
If need be, go to another room to collect yourself. No one is expecting you to go from “I’m ready to burst!” to “I’m having the best time of my life!” Even a gradual shift up the ladder to, say, “I’m still mad but I’m keeping my mouth shut” is already accomplishment enough.
Learning how to discipline a strong willed 2 year old keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it? But as you can see, simple shifts in how you respond can make a world of a difference.
Start by using positive language and say what you want, not what you don’t want. Give him choices in the matter so he feels more empowered and invested in following through with his decision.
Acknowledge the impulses driving him to behave the way he does and redirect him to a more appropriate activity. Stay consistent with your word and follow through—this will avoid confusion and set clear expectations. And finally, respond calmly so you diffuse—not feed into—potential power struggles.
No more yogurt smears or crackers on the floor, friend! By using positive parenting techniques like these, you’re setting him up for long-lasting change from the get go.
Get more tips:
- Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child
- 6 Ways to Resolve Your 2 Year Old Sleep Problems
- 7 Simple (But Genius!) Ways to Stop Diaper Change Tantrums
- What to Do When Your Toddler Wakes Up Every Night
- How to Stop Your Toddler Whining (Even When You’ve Tried Everything)
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