How to Discipline a Toddler Who Doesn’t Listen

Frustrated when your child disobeys on purpose or pushes your buttons? Learn how to discipline a toddler who doesn’t listen or ignores you.

How to Discipline a Toddler Who Doesn't Listen

“It’s cleanup time! Can you put the cars back in the box?” I asked my toddler. But nope, he stayed rooted in place, playing with the cars. Not only that, a smile spread across his face, as if the whole thing was a big joke.

Dealing with a toddler not doing what you asked him to do can be challenging, even for the most patient parent.

The defiance triggers a raw anger you never knew you had, making you wonder what it’ll finally take to get him to listen. Nagging, timeouts, and trying to reason with him don’t work.

Later, you feel terrible when you realize how petty the initial “argument” had been: talking when he should’ve been napping, not coming to the bathroom as you asked him to, and yes, refusing to clean up his cars.

You know something has to change, especially when you’re losing your temper with your toddler more often than you’d like.

Thankfully, you can turn things around, especially when you take a different approach than what most parenting advice tells you to do. Below are several techniques to reduce these power struggles and get him to listen. As these parents said:

“Great food for thought. Thank you!” -Ellen Herrera

“Very helpful! We are struggling with defiance right now and it just drains me. Thank you for the tips!” -Marina Helsel

Redefine “discipline”

Most of us think of discipline as what we do after our kids misbehave—the consequences that happen when they don’t do as they’re told.

But I’ve learned that discipline is something different. Discipline is teaching. We’re teaching children how to behave and helping them understand and express their emotions.

As I say in my book, Parenting with Purpose:

“Discipline is nothing more than this: teaching and helping your child to behave. It’s a new way of thinking about discipline, isn’t it? Discipline isn’t just punishment, consequences, or what to do when kids misbehave. Discipline is teaching our kids how to act.”

This is why time outs don’t work or why you get suckered into power struggles with your toddler. But when you see discipline as teaching, you’re forced to ask yourself what she needs to learn instead.

What teachable moment can she gain from this? What new habits, values, and consequences can she learn from this challenging behavior?

Toddler Power Struggles

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Toddler Discipline Strategies

Find your toddler’s intentions

Defiance seems to be everywhere. You see it when your child refuses to eat or when she should know better not to jump on the bed (especially after you’ve asked her to stop many times before).

But if I had to guess, she’s not misbehaving to make you angry. Go further and you might see that she was trying to fix a toy right when you asked her to come to the table to eat. Jumping wasn’t rebellion, but excitement over her new bed.

Pause before reacting and be curious about why she’s behaving the way she is so she feels like you’re on the same side. Before laying out consequences, acknowledge and show empathy with how she feels and why she’s not listening.

Maybe she felt tired from a long day, needs your company, or wants the same toy her brother is playing with. Dive into her mindset and look for the reason behind her actions—she’ll comply when she feels understood, not attacked or scolded.

And avoid unfair generalizations. For instance, don’t say, “You never listen to what I say,” or “You always misbehave.” These phrases not only label her instead of the action, they’re also untrue (she doesn’t always behave this way, 24/7).

Create an environment suitable for your toddler

I realized I had grown tired of constantly telling my toddler to stop touching the remote control.

Why can’t he learn?! I thought.

That is, until I realized that a better option might be to put the remote control out of his reach to begin with.

Your toddler has done a good job in learning what is and isn’t okay to do, and often through constant reminders. But sometimes, it’s easier not to “tempt” him at all and make sure his surroundings help him listen.

For instance, have easy-to-access storage boxes so he can quickly clean his toys. Put markers away if you’re tired of telling him not to draw on himself. Baby proof certain parts of your home so he can explore with more autonomy.

Helping him thrive includes setting up the right environment that can help him do just that.

Give and follow through with consequences

Have you ever told your toddler he’d better behave… or else? Not only are empty threats ineffective, but they’re also rarely implemented.

Saying empty threats or wild statements weakens your authority. “If you don’t pick up your toys, I’m going to throw them all out!” bears little weight when you don’t follow through with it.

Following through with consequences—especially those that tie to his behavior—allows him to learn from the experience and establishes the limits he needs.

And keeping your word reinforces the trust he places in you. While you may not win short-term favor, you’re gaining his trust when you follow through consistently. Otherwise, he learns that he can continue to misbehave because the consequences you claim will happen never actually do.

Give your toddler a choice

Giving choices can curb a potential meltdown and encourage your toddler to listen. Offering choices:

  • Encourages her to own the task. Putting on a jacket won’t seem like Mom’s Terrible Idea. Instead, she gets to decide between a green or gray jacket.
  • Reduces conflict. Avoid many tantrums by drawing attention to the choices she can make, not the task she’s resisting.
  • Feels empowering. Making choices allows her to voice her opinions and follow through with them.
  • Shows you value her opinions. You make most decisions for her, but you also care and respect the ones she makes.

Fair warning: Offering choices can backfire when not done correctly. She might demand choices when she has none (especially when you offer them too often) or pick an option you don’t like.

The trick is two-part. First, limit how often you give choices (some choices aren’t hers to make). And second, offer a choice between two parent-approved options, either of which you’re okay with.

Let’s say you’re going to grandma’s house, which is the non-negotiable. You might say, “We’re going to grandma’s. Which jacket do you want to wear—the green one or the gray one?” Don’t say, “Do you want to go to grandma’s or stay here at home?” especially if you don’t plan to have her stay.

Explain the reason

Research found that people are more likely to comply when they hear a reason.

The same is true with your toddler. In a world dominated by adults, she can feel resentful of being told what to do all the time. Imagine following rules you don’t always understand or doing things you don’t feel like doing.

Rather than hearing what to do or not do, she’ll be more motivated to comply knowing why she should.

The next time you ask her to do something, follow with a reason: “Don’t jump on the bed—you might fall and hurt yourself.”

Giving a reason takes you out of the equation and focuses on the task that needs to be done. You’re not the “mean mom” who bosses her around just because you can. You’re letting her know why she needs to do what you asked her to.

With a reason, you won’t sound bossy, especially when your words carry a respectful tone as you explain the reason behind your request.

Focus on what your toddler should or could do

A day in the life of a toddler isn’t always easy, especially when you think about how many times they hear the word “no.” We tell them not to run, to stop fidgeting around, or that they can’t climb the bookshelves.

All well-meaning advice, but after a while, hearing limit after limit can feel draining.

Instead, use the power of positive language and talk about what your toddler can or should do, instead of what she can’t or shouldn’t. Tell her to walk along the hallway, sit facing the dining table, or get down from the bookshelves. Same intentions, but said in a way that makes her more likely to comply.

Using positive language means phrasing your words in something she can do, not something she can’t. It’s the difference between “Walk” and “Don’t run.”

Better yet, praise her with positive language when you catch her doing good. Let’s say she isn’t running away in public. Praise her and say, “Look at you walking!”

She’ll respond better to positive language because no one likes being told what not to do. Plus, she’ll also believe that she can behave well. When you say things like, “Don’t you even think about…” you’re not showing faith that she could handle these instructions.

Praise your toddler for listening

Kids thrive on attention, whether good or bad. Unfortunately, arguments, yelling, and scolding are attention they’d rather have than none at all.

The best way to counter misbehavior is to praise your toddler and give her attention when she is behaving.

Maybe you saw her treating her little brother kindly. Point that out and say, “You’re so kind—you made your brother happy when you shared the blocks with him.” Or give her a high-five after she puts her dishes in the sink, all without you asking.

Deep down, kids want to please their parents. They want our approval and are crushed when we’re disappointed or angry with them. Use that to your advantage and praise her when she behaves well.

Don’t “ask” the instruction

Have you pleaded with your toddler to follow an instruction? If I had to guess, he shrugged it off and tuned you out.

Avoid “asking” the instruction or negotiating when you can’t. When you say it’s time to take a bath, make sure you’re not ignored or met with silence. Don’t let him continue to play with his toys or remain rooted where he is.

Instead of “asking” him to do something (“Can you take a bath?”), you should stand your ground and state the task in unavoidable terms (“It’s time to take a bath”).

Listen to your toddler

How often have you not listened to your child when he wants your attention?

My kids can be clawing for my attention, but my mind is wondering whether I have enough basil to make pesto. My usual response then? “Uh-huh…” as I feign listening to their stories.

Not exactly on my A-game there.

Listen when your toddler talks. Yes, his stories can get incessant and make no sense half the time, or you’d rather be doing something productive or relaxing.

But listening to him builds a strong bond and earns his trust and love. And above all, listening is respectful. We can only expect to be treated the way we treat others, right?

And sometimes, seeing the situation from his point of view can take a literal meaning. One of the simplest ways to better communicate is to get down to his eye level when you speak to him.

He can feel “talked down to” when you’re physically speaking to him from high above. Kneeling to his level forces you to speak more respectfully and address his needs. He feels heard, less defensive, and more likely to oblige when he can see and talk to you eye-to-eye.

Talk after the tantrum has finished

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Kids are past the point of logic once they’ve begun a tantrum, say Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson in The Whole-Brain Child. It’s similar to how we feel during road rage—no point talking to us during one of those episodes.

Instead, wait for the tantrum to subside. Pull your toddler in for a hug and empathize with his emotions. Be there through his outbursts and allow him to settle down.

Once he’s calm, only then can you talk and expect him to listen and process what you’re saying.

Pick your battles

Spending time with your toddler can feel draining, but more so when every interaction leads to a fight. You watch him like a hawk, ready to correct him at the first sign of misbehavior.

Sometimes though, you need to pick your battles and decide which behavior is critical to correct and which ones aren’t as important. Not everything has to be a battle. While consistency is key, you also need to allow for flexibility and make room for the nuances of life.

I once fought long and hard with my toddler because I wanted him to wear jeans while he wanted to wear shorts. It makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Ask yourself how important the issue really is to you and your family. Does what you’re arguing about truly matter, especially in the long run? Hitting others deserves your attention, but leaving his socks in the bathroom may not.

Another simple way to let things slide? Help him “save face.”

Let’s say he’s supposed to wash his hands after eating, except this time, he refused to. Rather than erupt in anger, playfully walk him to the bathroom together and say, “Here, let’s walk to the bathroom and get those sticky hands washed off.”

Keep your tone lighthearted and calm instead of bossy and “mean.” He won’t drag his misbehavior and sour mood further when you’re willing to pick your battles.

Conclusion

Disciplining isn’t about being strict or doling out punishments. Instead, it’s teaching your toddler to behave, manage his emotions, and cope with difficult situations.

And yes, you’ll have off days, like everything with parenting. He might behave one moment, only to deliberately disobey once again. There’s no magic bullet—we’re all human and prone to bad days, including kids.

Discipline is helping him learn from the experience—even as he sits and smiles, refusing to place the toy cars back in the box.

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74 Comments

  1. Courtney, LOL! I hope it’s not because he ran out of cucumbers.

  2. There really isn’t a definitive age for toddlerhood is there? I figured once they go into preschool then they’re technically preschoolers maybe?

  3. Haha we do that too Rabia! When our eldest is sluggish or complain-y, we’ll say he can do XYZ or take a nap. He never does but at least it does frame the situation differently.

  4. Glad to hear that giving her a few more chances to do it has helped. We do something similar like if my kids don’t want to get out of the bath, we’ll say, “Okay one more pour!” and they’ll do one more pour of water out of their stacking bowls, then they know it’s time to get out.

  5. Great article! My almost two year old has quite the mind of his own and these are great tips. I always give choices and I am big on saying why, but in some instances with him I don’t think it even crossed my mind to tell him why. This is also the second article I two days that I’ve read that talks about empathy and validation, I think it’s a sign lol!

    1. Thanks Amanda! And yes, empathy and validation are huge game changers. You can see your kids just relax and feel so much better instead of defensive. Works like a charm!

  6. Completely agree 100% with absolutely everything here. I do all of these, but I rarely have to go past #2. Just acknowledging their feelings and explaining why things need to be done a certain way is often enough to get them to do what you want them to do. No screaming involved. It nurtures respect and communication. Yes, it takes a lot of self control, yes, it would be nicer if they were robots and just obeyed instantly. But if you do all that’s above, things are much easier overall.

    1. Yup Julie, and I think that’s what’s important to remember: them acting like obedient robots isn’t the option we want. Acknowledging and explaining go a long way!

  7. I work with the toddler age and it is so frustrating when they ignore you. Getting down to their level and following through on your word is key. There are times l almost loose it but I manage to remain as calm as possible if the child can talk and they say to me in a “sassy sarcastic” tone ( yes even as young as 2years) “Oh whatever”, when they are asked to do something or you are wanting their attention. Toddlers are button pushers for sure and we as adults need to remain calm but firm with what we expect of the child. In my experience over the past 16+ years working with children they respond to you better if you are persistent with then in a calm but firm way. Children thrive on consistency and need guidance to see things through at this young age.

    1. I love all of this, Natasha! Wise words indeed. We definitely have to be calm and consistent. I’ve noticed a huge difference when I don’t raise my voice and instead speak calmly and firmly.

  8. This is solid advice. Do you have any suggestions for what to do if you have three children and one won’t clean up? We can’t take toys away from one without penalizing the other two.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks! I’ve run into this problem as well. Usually when I need to follow through with consequences, I try to find something only that child holds dear and take away that privilege until he cleans up.

      I would also give more attention to the other two who *are* cleaning up. Kids gravitate towards positive attention, and that one child may be more likely to clean up if they know that’s where the attention is going.

      And lastly, when you do catch your child helping out even in the tiniest way, praise them a lot. That way, they know this is the kind of behavior you approve.

      I wrote a post about getting kids to clean up after themselves. You can check it out here: https://sleepingshouldbeeasy.com/clean-up-after-themselves/

      Hope that helps!

  9. Then what do you do next? Respecting us,is an issue with my 2 1/2 yr old.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Kristi,

      Continue to address your child’s behavior in a calm but firm way without placing blame on him. So, without getting upset (hard, I know!), you can say, “I know you’re upset because of this-and-that. I’d be pretty mad too if I were you. But we don’t hit. You can tell us you’re mad or come to us for a hug if you’re upset.”

      Then if you need to take something away or have another form of consequence, make sure to follow through. Try to tie it in with his actions as much as possible. For instance, if your child threw a heavy toy he (or she?) wasn’t supposed to, take the toy away for the day, explaining he’s not ready to play with it yet.

      Another useful tip is to catch him when he’s behaving well. Kids do much better with positive praise as a preventative measure. Connect with him as often as possible when he is behaving so that he knows this is the behavior you support.

      And lastly, this is all normal. I also have a two- almost three-year-old who is almost every day a grump, doing something right after we just told him not to. So I totally understand the frustration and when they don’t seem to respect us. There’s no magic formula that makes it go away suddenly. Instead, we just keep parenting with empathy and trying to catch them when they behave and generally giving them the guidance they need when they’re going through a rough spell.

      Nina

      1. Hi I found your website after slight battle and teaching my 26month old! She is totally disrespectful to me and was not listening! I try to keep calm I try to speak to her and explaining that not listening and not helping mommy to pick up toys makes mammy upset ! Although she says sorry for making me feel sad she still will do it again. So I asked her does she likes mummy be sad and answewas yes!! So I am baffled! What to do! I said I will give her toys away she even suggested the boys name whom I should give!! Well I said fine !! So not sure what else to do I left her room and tried to find some info how else I could teach my toddler respect me and listen!! I am patients of steel and normally carry out cocequencies and if I say no that’s means no! She knows that !! I tried to speak to her at her level she just ignores me and laughs!! I have few minutes and daddy was supportive and said that mummy is sad that you not listening and to pretend I started to cry so she got upset and did not wanted to see mummy crying!! She apologized and said she would’t do it again and will listen to mummy!! Will help! I also apologized and give lots hugs and kisses !! She was quite good and after few minutes she started to asked to give her favorite toy . I reminded her that she gave away!! So she said I am a good girl. I am sharing my toys!! I said yes it’s very kind of her do we will ask the child to give back if she will listen mummy!! So I am slightly baffled what else I can do just wait and hope it will pass and she will be more meanable and Lear to listen? I feel I need to teach her early to respect her yoys and adults.

        1. Nina Garcia says:

          Hi Vikris,

          I can definitely understand the frustration of your child doing the same thing after you had just asked her not to. I’d stay away from making her feel guilty, especially with pretending to cry. Instead, use the moment to teach her why you need her to pick up her toys. And yes, follow through with consequences, though if you don’t want to part with the toys completely, even confiscating it for the day is enough I think.

          Another thing is to ask yourself how you would feel if you were in her shoes. That way, you can be in a better position to figure things out like the best tone of voice to talk to her, the best time to ask her to clean up (maybe not right when she’s in the middle of playing, for instance), and perhaps phrasing it in a way as her helping you as opposed to simply being ordered or asked to do something.

          I hope that helps!

  10. Jennifer Stenquist says:

    Hi, I am a mother to 4 boys and one girl. A grandmother to 8. I have don home child care for 32 years. I know your frustrations with asking children (really of any age) to do something and being ignored.

    The one thing that I have found to work really well is the two choices. You mentioned your son sitting really close to the other and wouldn’t move. I would ask the child who won’t move if they want to sit in this spot that is just a little ways away from brother, and the other choice would be across the room. They are given a chance to still be in control of themselves, but the two choices especially for toddlers is really good.

    Sometimes the 2nd choice can be not so fun and the other the one you really want them to choose. BUT, it is still giving them the chance to be the boss of their choice. Motherhood is so very challenging, so glad we are all in it together to help each other!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Jennifer thank you, that’s a great tip to add! I love that they have the chance to be in control of themselves, especially when presented with a choice. I’ve also done what you suggested about giving them a choice between a “fun” option and a not so fun one. Sometimes it’s really the only choice they have. For instance, if they complain about not wanting to take a bath, their choice is to take a bath, or go straight to bed without reading books.

  11. I’ve been practicing this for awhile now with my 4 year old and I get mixed results. Some days she complies others she continues on and its infuriating. Still trying but not that successful with mine.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Richelle, One thing I’d like to point out though is that there will always be off days. So she may behave more but also go right back to deliberately disobeying. Look for trends and see if they’re less frequent or less intense. Otherwise, shoot me an email with more details and hopefully we can get to the bottom of it more 🙂

  12. Thank you for posting this advice! I’m new to this momma thing- never even been around kids much. My daughter just turned one and has been in this “testing” phase for some time. It’s very hard not to show my frustration, and I know I need a better way. There are many different theories on this, but yours seems to make the most sense. I am eager to try it. Thanks again!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Kristen! We’re the same—I was never around kids before my own. I’m even the youngest haha. Let me know how it goes. It’s always good to remember that they’re definitely normal and curious about their world (and not always trying to make us mad 🙂 ). ~Nina

  13. Carrie Willard says:

    Wonderful advice! I’m a mom of 7 (oldest is 18) and it seems that sleep deprivation makes me forget all the wonderful things I’ve learned about toddlers. LOL.

    I love the “guide” tip. Sometimes they really do need us to take them by the hand and lead. Punishment is rarely needed, ACTION is what’s often required. 🙂

    I’m going to share this with my peeps tomorrow. Thanks.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks so much for sharing, Carrie! And yep—more often than not, they just need us to help them get through their frustrations, not fight with them about it.

  14. Great article Nina! Your heart for your children is evident in the way you guide them, especially through discipline. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sharing this article with others.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Chris, Thanks for your kind words, and for sharing the article! I really appreciate it 🙂 Nina

  15. Yeah, hopefully I can start implementing some of these tips for our 11 month old. He’s already defiant. he thinks its funny to turn his bottle upside down and let the milk drip out onto himself, the table, his shoes, whatever. He’ll take and deliberately drop his bottle or cup or even food off the table or his high chair tray. I mean I don’t mind the dog eating whatever fell naturally off the floor, but he’s starting to take a piece of food and just straight up hand it to her. She knows better, but takes advantage of the situation because she knows that HE doesn’t know better. Or maybe he does because he laughs when you correct him. He REALLY thinks its funny to dive for the edge of the bed. Especially when he sees me running from across the room to catch him before he cracks his skull open! That just cracks him up. He thinks its a game! His new thing is swatting his hand and grunting, or making this little screech/yell sound to let you know he’s mad at you when he can’t get his way. I’m waiting on him to start walking better. I just know he’s gonna be a stomper, and that will be it for me. I swear he’s a preteen girl caught in an 11 month old baby boy’s body, just dying to get out!! It’s so hard not to just get down on the floor and throw a tantrum at the same time he does. I grew up in the days of “where you did it is where you got it” and “don’t embarrass me, because I will embarrass you.”

    And it doesn’t help with the parents who want to be their child’s friend vs a parent watching your every move and ready to call the cops soon as you even verbally correct you own child. He came to my job and a former manager was holding him and he was pulling her hair, I told him no, and she’s like oh its ok, he only a baby. In my mind, I was like when is he suppose to learn then? when he’s grown and in jail because oh, he’s just a toddler, or oh, he’s just a kid, or oh, he’s whatever. Meanwhile, if he pulls my hair, I pull his back, very lightly I must say before someone has a coronary episode, just enough so he sees it’s not fun. 3 or 4 times and he hasn’t pulled anyone else’s hair, yet. Same with biting, broke my little sister’s biting habit that way.

    Rather get it all under control now, before he starts school and I’m getting phone calls every day.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      That 11-month-old stage is definitely very precocious! It’s a balance of getting it under control now while also allowing for flexibility and being aware of age-appropriate behavior. It can be infuriating when they do things that seem to amuse them more when we see us upset.

      When they pull those stunts, I’ve found that being matter-of-fact is the way to go. When we get angry, it’s almost like the reaction they want to see. And I don’t recommend the “let me do that to you” bit (e.g. pulling the hair) because I don’t want them to think it’s okay at all. They should know it’s not okay to pull hair because parents have taught them that.

    2. He is a baby and doesn’t realise he is hurting others pulling their hair or realise he could get hurt. Never pull a child’s hair.

      1. Nina Garcia says:

        I agree, Melanie. At that age, kids are more driven by curiosity. Same thing when parents smack their kids’ hands or bottoms so they know how it feels. I find it’s more effective to understand their age and stage and deal with the behavior itself.

  16. Jeannette says:

    What you say is all well and good, but my child (3 years old) doesn’t care about consequences. If I say I’ll take the toys away if she doesn’t put them away. She’ll respond “ok, take them”. Now she’ll even say “take my toys away” whenever i ask her to clean up.
    If we’re sitting at the dinner table eating dinner, she’ll climb up on the table, throw her plate on the floor, intentionally spill or spit out her milk, wipe her mouth on the chair or curtain. If I tell her I’ll send her to bed, nap, room without that meal. “Ok”
    There is not a single aspect of our day that is nice, maybe he one minute of our day in the morning, after I wake her up (if she slept in).
    We can be having fun, then she’ll switch all of a sudden, it’s like, oh I was doing the right thing and listening; I better break or destroy something. Or do something wrong.
    I have no more patience anymore, it’s the same thing every single day, all day. I’m 34 weeks pregnant, I’m all alone. I’ve tried every method to get her to listen. Going down to eye level. Whispering. Reward charts for good behavior and doing things without too much difficulty;like coming home from school, getting dressed, eating, having a bath, etc. nothing works.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Jeannette,

      First, *big hugs* Being 34-weeks pregnant with a three-year-old is no easy feat (happened to me too when I was pregnant with the twins!). It was actually around that time when I began to lose my patience way more than I ever had in all my eldest’s first three years. It’s not easy, for sure. And if you’re alone with him on most days, it makes it even harder. You are doing a great job for even trying so many things to see what works. That in itself is admirable.

      It’s also likely that your daughter is acting up *because* you’re expecting a new baby. It’s not uncommon for kids to switch gears and test our patience during the later months of pregnancy, right when they can see a noticeable difference, when we’re making changes around the house like setting up the nursery, or when we’re at our most tired.

      The first thing I would suggest is to change your mindset from threats and punishments to helping her cope and learn from the situation. I find that when I’m in “threat” mode, I’m angrier, less patient and therefore the kids just act up even more. Think of yourself not so much as the “police” but as a “consultant” who will help her figure out ways to behave more appropriately.

      So for instance, let’s say she stood on the table, spat her milk and threw her food on the table. Instead of saying, “If you don’t stop that right now, you’re going to room without any dinner!” you could say, “Looks like you’re not ready to sit at the table yet. Let me know when you’re ready to eat at the table. In the meantime, you can stay in your room until you’re ready.” You’ll want to say this calmly, without threats or anger, almost like you’re just saying a fact. Think of it as her problem, not yours—don’t make it your problem or take it personally.

      And it seems like she’s testing you, especially those days when she realizes she’s having fun and seems to want to disrupt that. It’s normal, but definitely not pleasant. It’s important to set those boundaries she needs, and follow through with them. If she refuses to clean up her toys and you said that means she’s not responsible enough yet to take care of them and will remove them, then you need to remove them and put them away where she can’t get them for, say, the rest of the day. She needs to know you’re going to hold your ground, not because you’re the boss or the adult, but because doing so will help her learn her boundaries. Again, the point isn’t to establish a police-type of relationship, but one where you’re both on the same side trying to help her reach her goal. Think of yourself as the teacher and she the student. A teacher wouldn’t try to “win” or best the student, she wants the student to succeed and will help her do that.

      And finally, the biggest thing I think we can do is to show empathy. It’s soooo hard, when we’re so mad and they’re misbehaving like crazy. But it’s actually those times when they need us the most. So when she’s throwing food, give her a hug and say, “I know this is hard for you, too. It’s not easy to feel mad. I would be mad too if I were you. Mama’s here to help.”

      My twins are now three-years-old too so I see the same developmental behaviors as well. It’s tough! Know that you’re not alone, that in trying you’re already doing a fantastic job. I hope these tips will help in some way! xo Nina

  17. Thank you for your wonderful article! Something I’m starting to struggle with is the taking that moment for one on one discipline with my 19 month old twins. When one does something wrong, by the time I take their hand and lead them away the other one is right behind me doing the same thing. I find myself just saying ‘No!’ constantly and running around crazy trying to get them to listen. They also like to smile and run away…in opposite directions. On top of that I have a very strong willed 4 year old who takes a lot of my patience.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Tiffany! It’s definitely a struggle when there are two of them. I sometimes feel like a ping pong ball bouncing between the two. One thing that might help is to not show your frantic side. Kids get a kick when their actions incite such a reaction from us. Instead, act like you’ve got this under control, that they can’t pull one over you. I would also follow through with any consequences you give, and give consequences based on their behavior. For instance, if they keep running in opposite directions at the park, let them know that you’ll have to take a break from going to the park again since they can’t behave correctly.

  18. Twins one boy one girl 3 years old, play off each others emotions to get to me, will not listen even when I take myself to their level, way different with father who is strict rather than with me alone, two totally different personalities.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Sorry to hear that Nicole! It sounds like you may need to hold your ground with your twins more. You don’t have to be “cold,” but you do have to follow through with consequences, even if they disagree or throw a fit.

  19. These are great suggestions! I have an almost three year old and 1 year old. The thought of two toddlers is going to be interesting! What I need to work on is follow through on consequences for sure. Giving choices and warnings usually does the trick, but at bedtime it usually gets at a more extreme when he’s trying to avoid bedtime!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks, Shantall! And yes, as the day gets longer, the less our patience is. It’s so hard to follow through but definitely effective in the long run.

  20. Be consistent, when you say no never go back on your word unless there is any danger present. Practice saying no when kids are very young so they realise it’s ok if they can’t have everything they want, they learn to cope easier. As they grow, learn to say yes, a bit more. Don’t shout or scream at your children, they are not your punchbags, often its because parents are tired, frustrated or not in the mood to look after children. Don’t blame kids for your own downfalls. Don’t just expect them to eat what you give, if they are fussy eaters give them choice between 2 different dinners/luches/snacks, they will chose and feel more in control of their decisions. I have raise 3 children and done very well, they are now consistent rounded adults doing very well in the world without tantrums 🙂

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Excellent tips, Deborah! And yes, it’s so often when parents are tired or frustrated that we lose our tempers. Kids also absolutely need to hear “no” and other boundaries as well!

  21. It’s so true kids don’t defied to make you angry they do it because they genuinely feel upset about something . and I also think that when you come down to a child’s level theyre more comfortable and you seem more trustworthy and approachable.
    Love to have found another blog which practices respectful parenting.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Exactly, Kay! Glad the blog can come as a handy resource for you.

  22. My son is 1, but I know he understands more than most people think. Lately he has started biting other kids, which he doesn’t mean any harm by or even know that it’s not ok. However for the future when he’s a little older, this is a fantastic, detailed guide to working through defiance, and I’m pinning this to refer to later. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks, Hailey! It’s so true that many children who bite aren’t even aware it’s wrong.

  23. This is the best advice I have seen. Thank you for this.

      1. Is a flick of the hand advised? Isn’t this teaching the child that hitting is a way of dealing with emotions and actions we don’t like? What happens when he hits/flicks/swats his peers at daycare or play dates? Are we supposed to then tell him no hitting while we are doing the same? I’m not criticizing I’m genuinely asking. What’s the right thing to do here? I am no expert just a mama trying to understand?

        1. Nina Garcia says:

          Hi Nikki! I don’t recommend flicking the hand, exactly for the reasons you said. It’s saying one thing but doing the other. I would show empathy toward the child, regardless of the behavior, because there is a reason he did what he did. Then I would correct the behavior, showing different ways to say the same thing without hitting or getting upset. I hope that helps!

  24. My issue is that my 15 month old son abuses me and completely ignores me at times as if he were deaf and blind… I try to swat him when he hits me and I’ve tried crying when he is abusive… When I swat him he comes back with hitting me back and when I’ve cried about it he gets all sweet and kisses me then he sees I’m okay then he will swat at me again. He won’t listen to just about everything he’s told and I’m all over the internet search engines for help … Please help me find a way to get through to him and the correct way to discipline him ??

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Amalia,

      I’m so sorry you’re going through this. The first thing I would say is that don’t retaliate by swatting him back when he hits you. Contain his arms so that he isn’t able to, and hold him in a warm embrace to calm him down if he lets you. Also, don’t cry yourself when he isn’t listening (I don’t know if I’d call it abusive), as this only tries to shame or guilt him into changing his behavior. If anything, tell him how his behavior makes you feel, but not because you’re trying to elicit sympathy from him, but because you want to teach him how to have empathy for others.

      And finally, I would focus more on putting your foot down, not so much in a bully type of way, but to give your child the boundaries he needs. Follow through with consequences, and do what you say you were going to do. This way, he learns he can rely on your word, that you will be the authority figure he needs right now.

  25. My son is 15 months old and isn’t talking yet but he understands well. He has this horrible habit of hitting and grabbing faces. Especially during diaper changes. If he has a messy diaper I have my husband distract him and if needed hold his legs so I get get it all clean. He vivaciously grabs my husbands face. My husband spanks him after explaining that we don’t hurt people and that’s why he’s getting a spanking. I don’t agree with spanking to explain that we don’t hurt people. It’s hipocritical. But we do t know what else to do.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Brittany! At my son’s then-15-month appointment, I was mortified when he wasn’t compliant at all when our pediatrician was doing her best to try to examine him. She reassured me though that especially between 15-months and 24-months, toddlers are developing a sense of space and particularly don’t like to be handled, including for diaper changes, which he was also resisting at home. So you’re definitely not alone!

      As far as spanking, I too don’t spank for many reasons, including the one you mentioned. Also, it’s a short-term “solution” that doesn’t provide an opportunity for him to learn how to behave, and it relies on fear of punishment and anger to work (which, over time, will stop working and forcing you to get angrier or raising the ante). I think it’s good you guys explain why we don’t hurt, but spanking isn’t necessary to have this conversation. In fact, it’s best to have this convo once he’s calm, since he can’t listen or process anything when he’s throwing a fit (it’s similar to trying to talk logic to someone with road rage).

      The best things I found to work was to change him on the floor so you can have a better handle of him without having to worry about him falling, and get everything as ready as possible (such as having the diaper opened, the wipes out of the package, the trash open, etc). Then if need be, distract him with a new-ish item, like a toy he hasn’t seen in a while, or singing a song, talking to him, asking him questions. I’d also make sure that you’re calm to begin with and don’t lose your temper when he starts acting up, as he’ll pick up on it and retaliate with even more resistance.

      Hang in there, mama! Know that you’re definitely not alone. Work on showing empathy toward your son (“It doesn’t feel good to get a diaper change, does it? I’d be upset too…”) and drawing on all your patience to see things from his perspective. xo, Nina

  26. I am a grandmother of a 2 1/2 year old boy whom I’ve been taking care of totally for the last 6 months. Although it is quite a struggle, I’m finding it seems much simpler than when I was raising my own… More patience, more understanding? I don’t quite know what it but it is easier! I have been having a problem tho with certain things that no matter what I do, nothing is helping! In fact,I do believe it may be getting worse! He is slow at learning to talk! He isn’t even 3 yet so I am working with him very patiently. But I can tell that he is getting VERY frustrated with not being able to describe what it is he’s needing or wanting or just trying to say,vso now he’s starting to cry and point! And it’s very heartbreaking. But my question is, what do I do??? I cannot understand EVERYTHING he’s saying, AND HE IS learning new words every day. But the crying to get what he wants is seeming like it may become a habit! And I won’t have that! I refuse to give in to a toddler who thinks crying and throwing a tantrum is grounds to get his own way. But as I mentioned,vfor some things, like grandma the movie is over, he can’t communicate that yet so he crys! How do I stop this before it gets out of control without offending him like I have no interest in what he’s trying to tell me?!! Help in Ohio

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Heather! Thanks so much for your comment. That’s interesting that it seems easier to raise your grandson than your own kids, and I can see why. You have more experience, and there seems to be less stress.

      As far as his speech, it’s totally understandable that he would cry if he can’t communicate something, especially when he knows exactly what to say but can’t say it just yet. It’s like us going to a foreign country and not knowing how to speak the language.

      I would actually reach out to his pediatrician so he or she can recommend local resources you might benefit from. I know ours had recommended speech therapy when my son wasn’t saying enough words yet at a certain age, and it’s easier to “fix” the problem the younger you start. And it might not even be anything, like the case with my son—we didn’t even get to start any programs because by the next appointment he had said enough words and now talks all the time. But it’s still worth a shot to get it checked out.

      Let me know how it goes! xo, Nina

  27. Great article! Thanks for the identification of our behavior as adults that may result in further misbehavior by our children as well as methods to help encourage wanted behavior and growth.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks, Nicole! I truly believe we need to start with and change ourselves first before even thinking about “fixing” our kids.

  28. I have two daughters, 5 and 3 1/2. They are unrully most of the time and wont listen to us. They want each other’s toys, or they want more than what the other has. They cry over simpliest things like, when they want some water and we were not able to give right away. They wont come to the table when its eating time, or wont drink their medicine because they just dint want to. They fight when one has a paper to write, and the other does not have her own. I ran out of patience right away and wants to scold them. Please help me to be a good parent in dealing with such circumstances. Tnx

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Dash! It definitely does sound like a challenge dealing with that kind of behavior. It sounds like the first thing to do is to put your foot down and hold your ground, making sure to follow through with what you said you would. This doesn’t mean you have to be “mean” about it, in fact, that just makes it worse. But you can definitely keep your word while staying calm and collected, so that they have the boundaries they need.

      As far as crying over the simplest things, I like to say, “Don’t bite the bait.” Meaning, this is THEIR problem, not yours. Often, we assume that our kids’ problems are ours as well, but take a step back and see if this problem truly does affect you, and if not, let them figure it out or deal with it on their own. If they want water right away, you can almost shrug your shoulders and say, “Hm, that’s too bad you feel that way. You can always grab your cup and fill it yourself if you prefer.”

      As far as coming to the table, I find routines to work well. Have dinner at the same time every night so you don’t even have to “nag” them to come.

  29. Mark Bodenstein says:

    Some ways to encourage good behavior:

    – Set your child up to succeed. For example, to encourage putting toys away, start by keeping the environment simple. Rotate toys, keeping out only a limited number, and have clearly marked places for them to be put away.

    – Model good behavior for your child. Let them see you treating your own things with respect, and their toys as well.

    – Catch them being good! Keeping a positive mindset yourself may be the most important thing you can do to encourage good behavior.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Well said, Mark! Completely agree with you on all three points, especially the first. It’s so tempting to cast blame on the kids when they don’t listen, but a huge part of that is whether we’ve created an environment for them to do so. And I’m a big fan of praising positive behavior—I find it way more effective than having to correct them. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Glad the article helped, Anita!

  30. My son is 19 months old. (He will be two in May.) Everyday all day long I find myself yelling at him to either do something or to stop doing something or touching something; that he knows he’s not supposed to do or touch. I have a friend that said he is doing it for attention, but i am a stay at home mom and he’s an only child so far; so he has my attention all day. Sometimes he is good about helping pick up his toys and clean up, but other times he refuses too and throws a tantrum. He is always in to something and throwing stuff. You have to stay on your toes to keep up with him. I myself struggle with mild ptsd, major depression and anxiety. So finding something that can not only help me have more patients, keep from getting quick to anger and having to yell at my son; but that also gets him to listen better and understand what I am telling him, has really been a struggle. I am really looking forward to trying this out! Hopefully this helps me and him understand one another better!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Katlin! It’s definitely frustrating when kids don’t listen, on top of all the hassles and challenges we’re already going through. I’m so glad you’re eager to try these techniques, because that already says so much about you and your willingness to change and improve.

      As far as what your friends say about needing attention, I do think you ARE giving him attention, but perhaps what’s happening here is that he also realizes he gets your attention when he gets you riled up. He’s seeing that these “Let me do this and then Mom will react” instances are becoming the norm, and a simple way to get a rise out of you. I think the more nonchalant, matter-of-fact, and collected and calm your responses are (as opposed to just reacting), then the less he’ll feel compelled to do things to get a reaction. It’ll also help if you stay consistent with the consequences, whether that’s talking to him about what’s appropriate or leaving a place because he’s misbehaving, then the more he knows you’re not messing around and will stick to your word.

      Either way, let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear your results.

  31. Great advice thank you! My question is for coparents. I have applied these strategies, and they are effective. However, my two-year-old goes to her fathers on the weekends, where none of these strategies, nor any others, are used. dad gives no boundaries and no structure and, unfortunately for our daughter, he is not receptive to any type of communication on the topic. Is there anything I can do to make the changes stick when she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do every weekend? When she comes back home, it takes us days to get her back to where she was, then it all gets undone. How can I help her, I know she’s frustrated but dad is not open to any parenting advice, whether it comes from a medical professional, the court, or myself.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Lisa, I’m so sorry you have to go through that. It’s difficult when the other parent isn’t on the same page, or even open to doing what’s best for the child. While I don’t have the experience that you have, what I’ve learned is that we truly can’t change other people. If you feel like you’ve tried communicating, or getting authoritative figures like doctors or the courts to intervene, and still nothing is happening, the best you can do is to work on what you CAN control, which is how your home is when your daughter is with you.

      You might even begin to explain to her that it’s hard for her to keep track of the rules when she’s at different houses. How difficult this must be for her. Then, continue to be that anchor she needs, and provide the consistent and predictable routine and structure that will tell that, no matter what goes on in the other house, or for that matter, in the world, she has these solid boundaries and expectations with you.

      This doesn’t mean being mean or strict, but that you try to be consistent in your own home, even if her father chooses to do otherwise. As hard as it is and however much she gets upset, know that she would rather have someone who loves her enough to set these boundaries than someone who doesn’t. Big hugs, mama <3

  32. Would this work for throwing things. Like when it’s time to brush teeth. I let my 2 year old brush then I brush, but when I say it’s Mama’s turn he chucks the toothbrush. I know it’s about power here, but I am having trouble seeing how this all relates. I say I know you want to do it by yourself but mama needs to help clean all your teeth so they don’t get too dirty. We still deal with the toothbrush getting thrown every day twice a day. Is this something that doesn’t work for things like hitting and throwing, it shouldn’t be used in this instance?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Amanda! I would try a different approach and see if you could brush his teeth first, and then have him finish it off after. Then you can show him how to rinse his toothbrush and put it back in the cup (or lay it down on a towel for you to rinse, etc).

  33. Marie MacInnes says:

    I’m struggling with my 3 year old daughter she has the attitude and talks back and she is biting kids and hitting them and throwing chairs. She punches her parents any advice would be great

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      So sorry to hear you’re going through this, Marie <3 I have a few articles on the blog specifically about biting and hitting and even for 3 year olds if you do a search. Hopefully you find a solution soon!

  34. I found asking my child if he wanted to go to bed now or in 5 minutes worked like a charm. In the store where his hands were so curious, I had him put one hand in his pocket and I held the other one, well, I insisted the one hand stayed in his pocket. We were both happier when we left the store. I also said to look with his eyes, not his hands. 🙂

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Such great tips, Cee! I also am a fan of giving choices. And yes, it’s not only effective for kiddos to put their hands in their pockets, but adorable too 🙂

  35. Jessica crowley says:

    I have a 2 year old girl she tells me no all the time

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Jessica! It’s definitely tough when toddlers don’t listen or say “no” to everything. Maybe try giving her a choice between two parent-approved options so that she can choose one of them.