How Do You Discipline a 2-Year-Old Who Doesn’t Listen?

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How Do You Discipline a 2-Year-Old Who Doesn’t Listen?

To guide a toddler is not a piece of cake for parents. This age is full of challenges, so adults should be aware of the best teaching techniques that promote good behavior. Toddlers start to recognize their power, so they try to test the set rules. However, they do not have enough social skills and experience to act appropriately. Parents’ reactions to their behavior can either discourage or encourage it. Do you know that upbringing mistakes negatively influence child’s development? So, there is a strong need to learn the ways to discipline a 2-year-old. The rules will help your children to behave according to social norms.

Try to prevent misbehavior

Be aware of kids’ physical needs

The best way to discipline a toddler is to prevent and minimize triggers that can cause misbehavior. For instance, a hungry or tired child can be easily frustrated, so there is a need to create a safe environment. If a kid’s basic needs are met, then a child feels secure and calm. Accordingly, you should learn to understand and predict the child’s needs and propose snacks and sleep in time.

Follow routine

Children feel safe if they can predict the events during the day. In other words, a logical schedule allows kids to understand the consistency of actions. So, there should be time for sleep, meals, nap, and free play. It will help you to make your children feel secure. You can involve a child in setting the routine as well. For instance, kids can help to create a poster about their daily routine to understand and follow it easily. Parents should discuss the routine and explain the schedule to their two-year-olds in simple words. According to Susan Dickstein, the routine positively influences children’s integration into the family. Consequently, it is better to make children aware of the family’s schedule and rituals.

An organized environment is not possible without routines. Furthermore, a predictable schedule helps children to feel safe in case of illness or other changes[1]. The feeling of belonging also positively influences a child’s behavior. In case a child has a feeling of belonging, they strive to act according to their parents’ expectations.

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Predict child’s needs and plan ahead

Warning your children about some changes will help you to minimalize uncertainty, which often causes misbehavior. For instance, if you want to go to the birthday party with your 2-year-old, do not forget to warn them before. You can tell your kid: “Today we are going to your cousin John’s party. There will be your aunt, uncle, and cousin. You will play with them, then eat some cake, and after that, we will go home to have a rest”. This message will help them to understand the changes in the routine and feel safer. Do not forget to introduce some manageable household chores to your child as well.

You should understand that a toddler needs to explore the world through their actions and senses. A child strives to be independent, but the lack of knowledge and experience often leads to frustration and tantrums. The main task of discipline for a 2-year-old is the prevention of aggressive and inappropriate behavior. Also, a child needs to be aware of possible consequences of their actions. To discipline a child, a parent needs to talk to their children and explain what type of behavior is appropriate. Furthermore, there is a need to listen to your toddler to understand their demands and feeling in order to manage their behavior.  A child should learn how to name and express their feelings.

How to set the limits?

Stay consistent

It is efficient to set clear and specific rules that are easy to understand for your child. Kids need to know which behavior parents expect from them. Do not try to create too many limits as they can discourage a child. However, there should be a strict “No!” for dangerous actions. For instance: “Do not bite your sister.” Try to give simple arguments for your rules that help a kid to understand the logical consequences of misbehavior. 

On the other hand, do not be too strict with your kids. Take into account that the child’s brain is eager to explore the world. So jumping in muddy puddles is an exciting experience for them that should not be forbidden.

At the age of 2, a child begins to see the connection between their actions and people’s behavior. So it is crucially important to be consistent with the limit. In other words, if you do not permit to jump on the bed, then you need to stop your child every time they want to start jumping. Responding the same way will help kids learn your rules. Accordingly, you should choose your tactics and limits and follow them consistently.

Make short and simple rules

If your child misbehaves, give them simple and understandable explanations. Do not try to provide too many details because they can distract a kid. A toddler’s brain is not ready to perceive and analyze long sentences. Short and simple phrases help to attract their attention and prevent misbehavior. Also, if there is a need, you can repeat your rule several times. As an example, “Do not climb a table, John! It is dangerous. No climbing, you can fall and hurt yourself. Do not climb a table!”.

According to Robert E. Larzelere and Jack A. Merenda, verbal descriptions help to discipline toddlers and explain to them the connection between their behavior and parents’ reaction[2]. Moreover, reasoning and verbal explanations positively affect a child’s independence. Your child needs to learn that certain things in their life are non-negotiable. For instance, a kid should have meals, sleep, take a bath, and brush teeth. Accordingly, it is crucial to create and follow the rules related to these activities.

On the other hand, some issues are not worth fighting. It is natural for your daughter or son to jump in muddy puddles instead of walking quietly. Your task, as a parent, is to provide a comfortable environment, where a child can learn and develop. Namely, in case of rain, wear your child in appropriate clothes that allow them to feel free. In time, it will be easier for you to learn the right behavior.

Praise and imply positive encouragement

It is helpful to notice and praise the good behavior of your child. It motivates them to act according to the set rules. Parents always mention when children misbehave, so regarding good behavior is also crucial.

Also, try to be empathic to your child because it assists in understanding their feelings and motives. Positive encouragement can help reinforce the appropriate behavior you expect to see.

Considering instructions, it is more effective to tell a kid what to do instead of telling them what not to do. For instance, you can say “Please talk quietly” instead of “No crying!”. Positive directions motivate children to act appropriately. However, in case of a dangerous situation (e.g. on the road), it is better to say “No”.

Another key point is that you can imply positive encouragement before your kid starts the action. The praise should be centered on the effort, so children can understand the value of their attempts. As an example, “Show your father how can you dress” or “You tried so hard to put all your books on the shelf, I see your efforts.” This strategy will help children to feel more encouraged and confident to behave well. Moreover, you can create some rewards for good behavior.

When you see that your child behaves well, you should tell them what you feel about it and emphasize their efforts. It will be useful to say: “Johnny, well done! I see that you tried to clean up the room!” For a toddler, it is significant to praise often in order to promote good behavior.

Keep in mind:

  • You should praise your child more often than criticize.  At times it seems that a child always tries your patience, but stay positive and notice positive behavior. It is crucial to praise a child every day to give them a sense of self-confidence.
  • Be consistent and logical. Children can recognize exaggerated praise, and it will affect their behavior negatively. Accordingly, praise should correspond to the performance of your child.
  • A smile, high five, or other gestures can become efficient tools that demonstrate your kid your appreciation.
  • Try to see the efforts of your child and emphasize their value. Explain positive consequences of their actions.

Parents’ task is to teach their children that their actions have consequences, and they should be ready to be responsible for their choices. Even a two-year-old child with parents’ help can learn the connection between their behavior and consequences. As an example, if a child does not want to wear a hat, they can feel cold. Another example, if a child is eating sand in a sandbox, you warn them and then take it away. Accordingly, a parent should explain the connection between the actions ahead of time.

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Use the theory of attachment

According to the theory of attachment, at the age of two, children want to be like their parents to feel connected and secured[3]. There is a need to highlight interests or inclinations that caregivers share with kids. Consequently, you can use it to discipline your child as well. For instance, “Martha, do not eat sand! It is harmful to you. Your mama doesn’t eat sand. And your papa doesn’t eat sand. We love vegetables”. There is a high possibility that your child will decide to follow the parents and behave according to the rules.

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Redirect and distract

In case of a tantrum, it may be helpful to distract a kid’s attention. Distraction is a great and efficient technique for a toddler. For instance, if a child wants to jump on the bed and starts crying as soon as you forbid it, you can offer to dance or walk outside. The shift of activities will help a child to manage their feelings. Parents can show something unusual or pull funny faces to distract a child.

You can distract your child in different ways, for instance:

  • If your child is bored, you can offer new exciting activities or games. New toys, paints, or books perfectly attracts the attention of a two-year-old.
  • Tell an engaging story or rhymes to make the activity more enjoyable. 
  • Move and change the scene to demonstrate your child various views.

On the other hand, parents need to create a safe and convenient environment for children. In case the environment discourages appropriate toddler behavior, it is better to distract the attention and get another activity. Distraction should not be used when a child is having a tantrum because it means ignorance of their feeling. Furthermore, if a kid is upset, it is better to consider their feelings and try other discipline methods.

Teach to name and recognize emotions

There is a need to facilitate the development of the child’s language in order to promote social integration. Parents should keep in mind the main issues of language learning. Labeling the emotions that a kid is feeling at the moment is a significant stage of social development. It helps children to describe and understand what they feel. Moreover, it develops empathy – the ability to recognize others’ emotions[4]. It is crucial to propose to your child a list of feelings, which includes positive, negative, and neutral emotions.

This technique helps kids to see the connection between their feelings and their behavior. As an example, if a child’s toy has broken and they start to cry, you can say: “I see that you are feeling angry that your favorite toy has broken. If I were you, I would also be angry. Let’s think what can we do about it. What about repairing it together?”. As you can see, the child can learn the name of the emotion and possible ways of coping with it. At times, toddlers can face feelings of frustration, which negatively influences their behavior. You should learn to help your child to understand their emotions and act according to your expectations by using discipline strategies. Loving relationships with your child will also motivate your child to behave well.

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Be patient and stay calm

It is not easy to see your child throwing a tantrum, especially in a public place. However, you need to pull yourself together and be calm. If you lose control, it will only escalate the situation. Ignorance can help you to stop inappropriate behavior.  Your child needs to realize that crying and screaming is not the right way to get your attention.

When a toddler is having a tantrum, they cannot handle their emotions. Accordingly, explanations or talks can be unsuccessful at the moment. When a tantrum finishes, you can try to hug your child and explain the situation.

It is crucial to understand that a toddler cannot have a tantrum on purpose. As a rule, tantrum appears when children are not able to cope with their emotions. However, do not teach your child that crying is an effective way to get your attention. So, show your two-year-olds that they should explain their needs and feelings instead of crying. It is useful to read books about parenting to learn more about child’s behavior.

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Ignore misbehavior

Sometimes, the best choice for a parent is to ignore a child’s bad behavior. You better be sure that your kid is safe and let them calm themselves. In such a way, children learn that silly behavior is not excepted by parents. As an example, when your son is throwing food at the table, and he wants to get your attention, it can be efficient to ignore his misbehavior at all. It will demonstrate that parents do not consider this behavior as appropriate. Accordingly, a kid will try not to misbehave next time.

A parent should not look at or talk to a child that does not behave appropriately. It is efficient because a child learns that parents’ attention can be attracted with good behavior. Accordingly, if a child behaves according to your rules and gets desired attention, then they will try to do it more often. And conversely, ignorance of inappropriate behavior makes it rarer.

It is crucial to understand that sometimes warnings or criticism of misbehavior can be considered as a reward for a child. So, you should be consistent, and if you choose this strategy, you need to ignore misbehavior completely. However, the method of ignorance should not become your only strategy. It is better to use it together with other methods.

Keep in mind:

o   Ignore for a short period. If in a minute your child does not stop misbehaving, it is better to imply other techniques.

o   Do not forget that you should not talk to or look at your child during misbehaving. Try to distract yourself from the present situation.

o   Stop ignoring your child as soon as misbehavior stops and be consistent in your actions.

o   Give your kids desired positive attention for their good actions and praise good behavior. It will surely motivate them to stick to the rules.

This method should not be used in case of dangerous behavior. Furthermore, if a kid harms other children or property, you need to imply different strategies. For instance, when your child is biting his sister, you should immediately stop this action instead of ignoring.  You need to be consistent in your behavior as well. Namely, if you ignore throwing food at home, then you should ignore this behavior in the restaurant or use other strategies to manage the behavior.

Use time-outs

In case of misbehavior such as hitting, biting, or screaming you can use the technique of time-out. It means that when you see that your child misbehaves you warn them that this is inappropriate and take them to a time-out area. It can be a chair in their room, for instance, where they are for several minutes to calm down. There should not be any toys or other distractions. Furthermore, a parent must stay calm and not pay attention to a child for this time.

Keep in mind:

  • Your child should be aware of a time-out in case of bad behavior; you should explain the circumstances, place, and time. As an example, “Mary, when you bite your brother, you’ll get a time-out. During a time-out, you sit in the kitchen for 2 minutes without toys.
  • Do not forget to warn your child about the consequences when they misbehave. You can say: “Johnny if you continue throwing food on the table, you’ll get time-out”.
  • When time-out finishes, it is better to start a new activity and do not mention misbehavior. A child had time to think over their behavior during a time-out, so there is no need to pay more attention to bad behavior; it may be discouraging.
  • Parents should stay consistent, so children can understand the consequences of their actions. Do not your child consider time-out as a punishment that can be ignored from time to time.  

Final Thoughts

Parents can choose the most appropriate discipline strategies for themselves and their children. Keep in mind that there should be enough discipline for a child to feel secure. On the other hand, negative discipline can discourage a natural child’s desire to act according to parents’ expectations and make them behave well because of the fear. It is better to be consistent, set clear limits, and encourage good behavior. Parents should take into account the temperament of the child and their stage of development.


[1] Dickstein, Susan. “Family Routines and Rituals–The Importance of Family Functioning: Comment On the Special Section.” (2002): 441.[1]

[2] Larzelere, Robert E., and Jack A. Merenda. “The Effectiveness of Parental Discipline for Toddler Misbehavior at Different Levels of Child Distress.” Family Relations (1994): 480-488.

[3] Ainsworth, Mary DS, et al. “Patterns of Attachment.” (1978).

[4] Adams, Emily J. “Teaching Children to Name Their Feelings.” YC Young Children 66.3 (2011): 66.

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Author

Vivian Perry

Vivian Perry

Mother of 3 kids. Enjoy reading parenting books and studied child care degree. Vivian loves to learn and write about parenting tips and help her kids to grow positively with grit mindset.

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