Punishment and Toddlers: What Doesn’t Work

While the baby years are filled with cuddling and cooing, graduating to toddlerhood can be a huge shock for parents, especially those with little experience.

Punishment and Toddlers: What Doesn't Work
Punishment and Toddlers: What Doesn’t Work

Toddlers suddenly have a personality all their own, with behavior problems to match. It’s important to head off negative behaviors, even though it can be quite a challenge to discipline a toddler. What works and what doesn’t?

Emphasizing Cause and Effect

While older children can understand the results of their behavior – cause and effect – a toddler is not cognitively developed enough to put things together in a consistent way. In fact, a very young toddler doesn’t even comprehend that behavior holds a moral meaning at all. The child does what he wants, regardless of whether the behavior is considered to be good or bad. Because of that, bargaining, bribing or lecturing does not work to change the behavior of a toddler.


Now that you understand that your toddler is unable to comprehend the difference between right and wrong, it should be clear that spanking is not an effective punishment for a very young child. While a child is certainly aware of being hurt, there is generally not a mental connection between the pain and the fact that he has misbehaved. Spanking is confusing to a toddler, is likely to increase negative behavior while causing the child not to trust you. The parent-child relationship is damaged.


While time-out is considered to be one of the most popular and effective forms of discipline, it may not always be ideal for a toddler. You can certainly train a child to sit in time-out even as a young toddler, but it may not result in the hoped-for changed behavior in the child. For long-term results, time-out may have varying results.

Positive Reinforcement

There are certainly things you can do to encourage good behavior in your toddler. Young children respond well to positive reinforcement. If your toddler knows that you are pleased with something she has done, she is likely to repeat it to get that positive attention. In addition, it’s critical to understand where your toddler is developmentally and to have your expectations match that development.

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