“Discipline Without Distress”: Discipline Tools for Toddlers 1-2 Years: Action

Judy Arnall starts this chapter with this observation that I  see all the time, “Parents believe if they don’t nip many behaviors in the bud at this stage, the behaviors will grow and become monstrous later on and their children will be destined to become criminals because they were too lenient when they were toddlers.  NOT TRUE!”

The toddler stage does not involve reasoning.  There is no reasoning yet.  Toddlers are just realizing they can’t always get what they want, and this leads to temper tantrums.  Your toddler is “doing” and the best you can do as a parent is to childproof, supervise, redirect, distract, provide substitutions, pick up your toddler and move them around with your gentle hands away from danger or situations that they shouldn’t be into. 

Toddlers can sometimes follow two word commands.  On this blog, I write from a traditional perspective and also a Waldorf perspective.  The Waldorf perspective on this would be to engage the child’s body and not expect a tiny child to follow a verbal command only.  You cannot parent a toddler from the couch. 🙂  GET UP!

A toddler is going to express negativity. “ No”  has power, “no”  has meaning.  Toddlers often use their body to express their negativity – hitting, biting, pushing – because their words are not totally there yet.  Even the ones that are “verbally” advanced lose their words when they become upset!  They want to be independent (the “me do it” stage), but still need help.  They don’t play with other children yet, they have fears of things such as thunder or animals or vacuum cleaners.  Their thinking really is “this is here, this is now” without much  memory involved.  They do, however,  IMITATE what YOU do!

Saying no frequently is not helpful in guiding your child – tell them what you would like to see, and better yet, SHOW THEM.   Childproof your environment so you don’t have to say NO fifty times a day.  Also, Judy Arnall points out that “parents have no control over eating, sleeping, toileting, and learning.  The parent can facilitate those processes, but not force them.”  This is something important for a parent to come to grips with.

She lists a page of discipline tools for toddlers including staying with your no, changing the environment, planning ahead, having routines, holding and carrying and restraining the child as needed, giving encouragement, ignoring some things if you can, time-in (see my take on “Time In for Tinies” here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/12/more-about-time-in-for-tinies/  ), saying no another way, letting the child have their feelings (my note is that you can’t “fix” how another person feels!  Let them have their feelings!), supervision, parent time-outs, modeling, redirection, holding, hugs and many more tips. 

The author recommends anticipating problems ahead of time and planning ahead.  She also says “avoid play places if you know they get frustrated and hit other children.”  Provide toys whilst changing a diaper or change the diaper standing up or in front of a mirror.  She talks extensively about the fact that toddlers love routines, and also gives examples of some “routines” that small children can do – for example, hanging towels after taking a bath, putting clothes in the basket, everyone carrying their things in from the car.  Essentially, you are laying down the house rules and chores that will become embedded in the existence of a three and four year old.  A three and four year old really knows and understands how things work in your house!

Judy Arnall has sections in this chapter regarding toilet learning, handling emotion, toddler sleep problems, why toddlers don’t understand rules, separation anxiety and how to deal with it, picky eating, toddler aggression and tips for handling this….Another great chapter!

This book deserves a home on your shelf!  Check out Amazon for a copy!

Many blessings,


13 thoughts on ““Discipline Without Distress”: Discipline Tools for Toddlers 1-2 Years: Action

  1. thank you carrie….
    ive put this book on my wish list….
    you give amazing reminders.
    i have a two year old boy, i spent the weekend telling my mom how i thought he was a criminal in training! I was so sad!!
    But we’ve had a lot of problems with hitting…
    where in the world could he learn this?
    but its like you said, though they can be verbal….they cant express their feelings.

    • We can expect way too much out of our two, three and four year olds..
      I am glad this was helpful to you!
      Many blessings to you and your sweet boy!

  2. Dear Carrie,

    I just came across your site and you have completely captured me! My oldest daughter is my challenge child, and I have been trying so hard to find different ways to discipline her without yelling and screaming. As I embark on the gentle discipline journey, I will be sure to keep up with your posts. It will be a great to read your wonderful words everyday! Thanks for writing, you definitely have talent, as it shows in your words!


    • Thank you Dawn for being here! Gentle discipline is one of my passions, so I am glad you are here!

  3. I just wanted to add another tool that mothers can use during those especially difficult times…nursing!!! One of the many benefits of breastfeeding beyond the first year.

    • Tanya, Absolutely, and if you read this blog you know I am very pro nursing for children for very extended time periods.

  4. Thanks Carrie – I bought this book after reading some of your reviews. I’ll be really interested to read your take on the media chapter.

  5. My 18 month old boy is incredibly aggressive and seems to take great delight in hurting any and every body. The strange thing is he doesn’t do this in temper, he will sit there having a cuddle and suddenly head butt you very hard and look for your reaction He’s not my first in fact I have 3 girls older then him and I don’t remember any of them being like him.

    • Hi Lucy G! That is challenging..I am sure you have gone back to the basics of food, food allergies, sleep, outside time and rhythm. Is it truly aggression or is it sensory related or is it just being 18 months old? Difficult to say, but perhaps some careful observation as to when this occurs and what is going on in your daily rhythm will help assist you in helping and guiding your toddler.
      Many blessings to you!

  6. Carrie,

    I am in a fix. I googled the words tantrums and waldorf and found your page (I have read wonderful blog earlier too).

    I have a 3 yr old daughter, who’s a diva! She loves dressing up – especially earrings, shoes and lots of bangles. I did indulge her and bought her a lot of stuff except earrings, which I only hook on to her really tiny gold loops. My problem is wants everything I wear – my lipstick, my earrings, my bangles. While it is okay for her wear them at home, I hate it when she throws a tantrum demanding me to remove what I’m wearing and give it to her just when we are about to step out. She’s even started doing this when we are out. I am such not a very dressy person but sometimes when we the occasion demands it, I do accessorize. I know feel I have lost my freedom to dress up. All I wear are boring tiny earrings and lip gloss. I cannot even wear lip gloss without sharing it with her. Another thing is that in India we have this practice of applying Henna on our palms on special occasions. Having developed a liking for it, she wants it all the time – she just now remembered out of the blue and created a scene. Taking the effort to carry her and distract her all the time is exhausting. I love my baby and I don’t like being nasty to her. I know I might be the cause for her developing this habit but…how do I fix this now?

    Please help.

    • Priya,Welcome to this space! My beautiful sister in law is currently living in India! I am so glad you are here!!
      I think you know the answer to this one yourself since you found this page and this blog, you have such wonderful intuition regarding your daughter! She has her own things, and her things are her things and your things are your things. It is not up to her to demand or set the rules because you are her sweet mother who loves her. So, the answer is to hold the space in a kind, gentle, loving but firm way with as few words as possible, distract, change the scenary, let’s see if you put these on (her own things) if we can have a fairy tea party, do you think the fairies will like your earrings or the court of the kingdom or whatever flies in your house…

      You are at the point to set a boundary around this I think and although it may not be pretty the first few times you do this, it is at the point to be done now. Screaming and demanding is not a pattern that one wants to encourage as a way to respectfully deal with anyone, and this sounds like the type of issue that even if you let her do these things when she calms down and asks nicely that it just will keep snowballing into bigger and bigger and more and more frequent demands. If you really just set the boundary that she wears her things and you wear yours, then the henna (which I love!) and the other things can come out for special times at your discretion. 🙂
      Thanks for writing, you will have to let us know how it is going! Hang in there! This too shall pass….. When they are older, then the whining and begging and demanding is for other bigger things. 🙂
      Many many blessings, thank you for reading all the way from India! I love my foreign readers — I think now I have the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Russia, Italy, Mexico, Taiwan, China, and now India! How exciting!

  7. Hi there. I would love your feedback/suggestions for challenges I often face with my 26 month old son who doesn’t like getting into his car seat. Most days, if time allows, I’m ok to sit with him for a while and wait it out until he decides to sit and we can go, but on mornings when I need to get him to dayhome and get to work on time myself, I can’t afford the time. I really dislike using force to make him sit, amid great protest and tears, and buckle him in, but have resorted to this a couple times in desperation. Some people say I need to keep doing this to “be the parent” and show him I’m in charge, but I’m wondering if there isn’t a gentler way of not giving in to him but not exerting force, leaving us both feeling upset, either. Suggestions?…. Thanks so much!

    • Lara,
      It is so hard because of course children don’t have an urgent sense of time the way an adult has..they do not view time in the same way. I think one thing is to be sure to allow extra time as much as you can plan into your schedule, and then to have a bag of distractions on hand — favorite toys, healthy treats. I know for many children that won’t even do the trick, and I am sure you have tried that. I think you could energetically also empathize with him in your heart…no one likes to be restrained, if he knows the routine he knows it means separating from you and that can be hard, maybe he would rather not be in daycare today but outside on a beautiful day…so I know that empathizing in your heart with him sounds hokey, but I think there is some truth in connection between mother and child. I think singing, making sure things are as light and fun as possible is another key — rushing, tense, hurry, worry I think causes an immediate stiffening and resistance. Are there other family members who could make a big deal about coming out to wave and save goodbye or show off how wonderful the car seat is?

      I believe whole heartedly in loving guidance, in loving and authentic leadership, but I don’t believe in that whole “I am large and in charge attitude.” I don’t believe in it in business nor in parenting. One can still be a gentle and authentic leader and get things done in a spirit of cooperation. Granted, a co worker can be easier to rationalize with whereas with a small child we cannot rationalize, they don’t understand! but that spirit is there!
      Many blessings,

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