Dear Crissy

Toddler discipline or mom vs. the tantrum

Toddler discipline is becoming one of the most talked about topics in our home as of late. The problem is, the answer to the question of how do we discipline our toddler is never one my husband or I can answer. When Evan launches into an epic toddler fit, my husband and I just sort of look at each other with our respective jaws on the floor. There is a silent dialog that we share in that gaze when the fit is erupting. What is this madness, and how do we make it stop?

Now, doesn’t that picture look just terribly pitiful? Well, rest assured, Evan was only shielding his eyes form a ray of sunshine, and was about two blinks away from a giggle. However, our days are now peppered with tantrums that end up making everyone, not just the toddler, pretty cranky. How in the world do you discipline a toddler?

Toddler discipline methods I have employed

  • Saying, “that’s a no-no!”
  • Saying, “that’s a no-no!” in a loud voice.
  • Saying, “that’s a no-no!” in a really loud voice.

Guess what? Not doing the trick. He looks us right in the eyes, and while a grin may not actually pass over his lips, I can see it in his sparkly, ornery little brown eyes.

I keep seeing visions of Supernanny in my head, dragging a screaming toddler back to their naughty chair sixteen-thousand times for a three minute time out. That’s 45 minutes of dragging, kicking, and screaming for a 3 minute time out. Don’t get me wrong, I see the necessity here, and I know that there has to be some consistency and follow-through, but I sincerely doubt that my 18-month-old is ready for a time out. In fact, Babycenter says:

Time-outs can be helpful, but few children understand the concept until they’re at least 3 years old. For a younger child, time-outs are confusing and frustrating. If your child is old enough to understand time-outs, use them sparingly and limit them to three minutes or less — just long enough for your child to get control of himself. Put him in a “naughty chair” instead of sending him to his room — you don’t want him to associate his room with punishment. Consider sitting with him. He’ll probably calm down faster, and you could use the break, too.

The last time I blogged about toddler discipline and tantrums, a lot of you told me that I should ignore the fit. Ignore, ignore, ignore, in fact. Well, my little fit-thrower is pretty persistent. Today when I tried the ignore tactic, I ended up with small person guy clinging to my leg like like an angry monkey as I tried to walk through the house with an extra 26 lbs. on one thigh.

I was resorting to putting Evan in his crib to cool down during tantrums, but according to the same quote above that’s a bad idea too. Let me reiterate, what is this madness, and how do we make it stop?

So, what can I do differently? How do you handle toddler discipline in your home?

Leave a Comment


  1. Necta N. — February 18, 2011 @ 4:05 am (#)

    one thing i was told also like you stated is ignore yes you do have to ignore them when they are in time out because if you listen to them or feed into them you have lost control of the situation. i have learned to tone him out to the point that it doesnt bother me, my hubby on the other hand comes to the rescue today i put a stop to it and told him we have to be on the same page. ignore him and you’ll see he will get over it. so just go about doing the dishes and let him know when time out is over.


    • Crissy — February 18th, 2011 @ 11:57 am

      I agree, being on same page with hubby is important. It’s hard for one of us not to want to just scoop kiddo up and hug him.

  2. Philippa — February 18, 2011 @ 7:05 am (#)

    When my 17 month old starts I have to remind myself that this is a response if him not being able to get to something he wants (needs in his mind) and try to think how life would be if I was constantly dependent on someone else to provide stuff. For a moment I feel sorry for him. I try the ‘sit and be patient’ talk which works for about two minutes. But if it takes me longer than that he feels I’m still ignoring him. Next I try giving him a substitute to his needs that I can reach at the moment. That works also. If it is something I just don’t want him to have I love on him for 2.2 seconds then say ‘sorry but that isn’t happening’ put him down and let him cry it out. We’ll just have to see how long this last.


    • Crissy — February 18th, 2011 @ 11:59 am

      Philippa, you’re so right, they do thing they NEED it. I also do the “sorry, this isn’t happening” thing. I guess it is just going to be a matter of consistency. Thanks so much for commenting.

  3. Nichol — February 18, 2011 @ 9:03 am (#)

    It’s difficult, hang in there mama, it will get worse, but then better. I’ve tried everything with Zoe. Timeouts, cribs timeouts, saying no etc. The only thing that seems to work for her is sitting her down, alone with myself(we usually do this in my room) and telling her to calm down. I talk to her nicely and ask what makes her mad. Evan is only 18 months so this is difficult for you. He is learning so much right now, and because of not so many verbal skills they get easily frustrated. It’s how toddlers get all their anger out. Ignoring never worked for me. Sorry I don’t have much advice for you:(


    • Crissy — February 18th, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

      Aw, Nichol, thanks for the advice and support. It will get worse? oh no! LOL.

  4. Heather — February 18, 2011 @ 10:37 am (#)

    Ok, there’s a couple different methods you can employ. #1-Read John Rosemond’s New Parent Power. -that’s non negotiable.

    #2-replace what ever you are taking away with something epic-ly cooler. Rather than saying no, say Oh, look what Mommy has for you!!!! (EXTRA EXCITED VOICE!) trade. (You then say (please-may-I-Have-it and then thank you to help teach manners.)

    #3-he’s only got a couple ways of telling you how he feels right now. He can’t control the situation, he LIKES what he was doing, and there’s usually (with mine) something ELSE, too. Tired, hungry, bored, etc. So I don’t really let them get to the point that the perfect storm exists. You may want to try breaking his routine into smaller chunks and redirecting him before the problem arises.

    But yes, if the actual temper tantrum does occur, remove him from the room entirely. Tell him he makes such good tantrums he has to have a special place for them, and when he’s done, he can come back out. I go with bed for this, and it never goes more than three minutes.

    it’s a sucky three minutes though.


    • Crissy — February 18th, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

      Thanks for the great tips, Heather, and I’m going to check out that book, I promise!

  5. Lolli @ Better in Bulk — February 18, 2011 @ 10:58 am (#)

    I do believe that I have blocked the toddler years out of my brain. What I do remember is the importance of making eye contact with my kids. For some reason, holding them still and talking straight into their face (not necessarily in an angry way) made a huge difference. Good luck!!


    • Crissy — February 18th, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

      Thanks Lolli! Hoping we can reduce the frequency or at least intensity of the fits soon.

  6. robin — February 18, 2011 @ 11:16 am (#)

    I remember thinking that the book “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” was extremely helpful. But my go-to tactic was always to do something weird. Like, say something completely off the wall (“I seem to have misplaced my bananapants!”) or start looking at something nonexistent with great interest or singing a nonsense song. It worked a lot of the time, distracting the kid from the tantrum (but then I was usually asked for a thousand repeat performances).

    The rest of the time… I ignored. Sorry :)


    • Crissy — February 18th, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

      Robin, thanks, I like the say something random idea :)

  7. Alicia C. — February 18, 2011 @ 11:17 am (#)

    Not all tantrums are just ornery little boy acting out. I try really hard to figure out why he’s having the problem in the first place. Many times he gets frustrated because he just can’t make his toys do what he envisions or he can’t communicate to me what he wants or needs. I try really hard to figure it out first.
    If it’s really just a full-blown tantrum, we still have our little activity bouncer for our 28 month-old. It’s where he goes when he has his tantrums. He doesn’t go in it for punishment, just to calm down. I put him in, kicking and screaming (him, not me!) and then ignore until I notice a change. Usually, the all-out tantrum changes into just plain crying. Then I’ll ask him if he can talk about his problem. If not, I’ll ask him if he can be a nice boy and not throw his toys/hit/get into whatever he was getting int/etc. As soon as I get a message that he’s ready to try again, he’s out of the bouncer. Altogether, he spends about 1 minute in it. Now, whenever he starts into tantrum mode, I warn him with, “Do you need to go in the bounce?!” Usually, the behavior magically resolves itself. Sometimes, we have to go through the melt down and recovery. The more he can talk, the better it’s been for everyone!


    • Crissy — February 18th, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

      It’s the full blown tantrums that are the problem. I’ve got to find a time out area that is not his bed, for sure.

  8. Anastasia B — February 18, 2011 @ 11:22 am (#)

    I just recently wrote about how we avoid tantrums ( I’ve discovered that if I follow all of my own advice, tantrums just don’t happen. Not always easy and perhaps easier for me because my toddler generally behaves well, but it may work for you too! :)


  9. Melissa R — February 18, 2011 @ 11:23 am (#)

    Me and my Hubby have the same issue with my 15 month old… it is as if you were in my head!! It is so HARD to ignore a screaming child!! I really try to stay calm and calm her down by talking to her, but sometimes that just doesn’t work!! We are really trying to figure out what discipline will work best for Alex!


  10. karen — February 18, 2011 @ 11:28 am (#)

    With us, a firm “NO” seems to work best. Z understands he is wrong and will stop when he is firmly told. We started Time Out about a month or two ago, and I usually sit with him as BabyCenter recommends. Our time outs are maybe 30 seconds, just long enough for him to cool off and move on to a different activity. He does not yet know how to say “sorry” or just won’t yet, but he will happily give a hug and kiss to apologize for what he did.

    I find that with Z, misbehavior is usually a result of 1) Not understanding what the child wants/needs and the child is unable to get their needs across, or 2) which goes along with the first, the parent being absorbed in something else & not realizing that the child is in need of something.

    For example, I didn’t realize that Z was getting bored coloring and really wanted me to put on a tv show. He banged his cup on the entertainment center which I scolded him for. Then I realized he wanted to watch Max & Ruby and he is perfectly content now. His misbehavior was just a matter of mommy not being as attentive to his needs as I could have been!


  11. Amanda — February 18, 2011 @ 11:34 am (#)

    Ugh, I hear you!! We do time outs in our house. My son is going to be two in a few days, and we’ve done them for about 6 months now. I think they work, mainly because it allows him time to cool off and distracts him. I know people thought that he was way too young when we first started, but we only put him in there for a minute and it just allowed him a bit of breathing room. It worked for us-we started because Orion would go over to the tv stand and shake it, and whatever we tried, he would just go back and do it again. But after a day of time outs (probably ten times in one day!) he never touched it again. It works for us!


  12. Holly Campbell — February 18, 2011 @ 11:38 am (#)

    Stay home!! lol.. never go out. OK I am obviously just kidding, but me and my husband tease that we are just going to stay home until our little 21 month old grows out of her toddler fits. It is really hard and I guess that is why they say “terrible 2’s” even though it starts before 2 and seems to last much longer. I am sure EVERY child is different and its good to not give them so much attention when they are throwing a fit. I always tell her, no we don’t act like that, ignore her if she keeps going (Which she will do the same, grab my leg and follow me around the house crying) and I understand she wants my attention. As soon as she stops (even for a second) I pay her attention adn try to be postive and figure out what she wanted or why she was throwing the fit. Usually by then she is over it. If she throws a really bad fit (this has only happened twice, but yes my daughter sweet special BABY spit at me…. do kids even do that at 20 months?? I was horrified… thought I was the worst parent ever, but kids all act differently) I put her in her crib because obviously that type of behavior is not tolerated. I just left her in there for 2 minutes and she was better, hugged me and I really do think understood (HOPEFULLY) that spitting was NOT ok. Ugh anyways toddlers are a real struggle. She is my first and I think its just important for us to not stress or take it out on our spouse (lol). Everyone is always going to want to give advice but do what you feel is best. No No really loud sounds good to me :)


  13. laurke — February 18, 2011 @ 11:40 am (#)

    I did time-outs anyway, starting around the age Evan is now. It gave me a break to calm down, and removed him from the situation. Of course, that only works if he’s not thrashing around like a caged animal! If that’s the case, move him to a soft safe place until the fit is over and then get down on his level and explain (simply) that its not acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the words to talk about his feelings at his age, but you can do it for him, and provide something physical to do as an alternative do tantrums – for instance: you see the melt-down coming and say, I see that you are upset. Let’s go to place X and scream into the pillow and punch it until you feel better. Or whatever. That may not work until he’s a bit older either, but its worth a try!


  14. Charlotte | Life's a Charm! — February 18, 2011 @ 11:43 am (#)

    What helped me with my now 4-year-old Matthew when he was Evan’s age to calm him down from a temper tantrum, was diverting his attention to something I know excites him – like:
    – changing the channel to some shows he likes,
    – playing his favorite movie,
    – I’d say excitedly, “It’s time for a bath.” even though he already had a bath.
    – putting on some music, or increase the volume
    – turning on and off the lights
    – playing with his toys, soon he’ll join in

    But on the aspect of discipline, for toddlers as young as Evan, very few to none works to make them realize what they are doing is wrong. On the aspect of discipline, my Matthew started to really understand at the age of 3; started to listen and understand that there is repercussion to every bad behavior.


  15. Erika — February 18, 2011 @ 11:55 am (#)

    I’ve actually read in other places that time outs can be started at 18 months if your child communicates with you well in order to have what they did explained and apologize to you afterward a la Supernanny. (I LOVE Supernanny!) We have the House Rules and Time Out steps on a bulletin board in our dining room above the spot we hope to soon put a naughty stool for our 16 month old when she gets closer to 2 and communicates better. She just now says her first word so she’s not on the same level with that as Evan. We haven’t started using them yet, but have started introducing her to the rules when she misbehaves and stuck with the old toddler method of distraction when she gets fussy about wanting something she shouldn’t. For us it works pretty much every time. On the occasion she gets really persistent, I stand my ground with making her walk away, distraction, repeat until she gets over it. No matter how long it takes. And now she fusses for a few seconds and moves on because she knows fighting it is completely pointless.

    A few months ago she started doing the random screaming tantrums (I think because she couldn’t communicate on top of being tired/hungry/etc.) and I ignored her. She could cling to my leg, scream, cry all she wanted. I ignored every bit of it for as long as I had to. She doesn’t do it anymore. The whole phase lasted maybe a month. Also, I’m a scheduler. Routines are my thing. Anya has a very predictable schedule almost down to the hour. I always have the next thing ready to go in her routine and can get it to her before she even needs to complain for the most part. I never have her out at nap time, and I always have a snack, drink, and toys with us in public. I’m realistic about what she’s capable of, and if she has a melt down because I kept her up or didn’t feed her on time that is not her fault – it is all mine. I don’t punish her for that. Instead I try to make sure it doesn’t happen by sticking to the schedule she knows and thrives in.

    I know that she wants breakfast as soon as she wakes up and will want her first snack approximately an hour and a half to two hours after. So I have it ready at the earlier time and give it to her the second she starts to whine or go into the kitchen pointing at the cabinets where we keep the snacks. I know that about three hours after waking up for the day, and about an hour to an hour and a half after her snack, she will be ready for lunch. So I always start preparing it 15 minutes ahead of that time so it’s ready by the time she starts to get hungry and ask for food. I know that exactly four hours after waking up for the day, she needs her nap. Even if I don’t see a single eye rub, she’s ready. She goes right to sleep. I wait any longer and she’s overtired. I know she’ll want her second snack when she gets up, and I know she expects dinner around 6PM, bath at 7:30, and bed at 8PM. We rarely if ever deviate from that and plan accordingly if we go out or anything like that. It has made all of the difference in her behavior. As long as she rested and fed on time, she rarely misbehaves. As for the random upsets? She’s learned to get over it because Mommy and Daddy don’t reward that kind of behavior. It doesn’t get her what she wants so she doesn’t bother doing it as much anymore.


Have something to add? Leave a Comment »

you are beautiful. hope to see you soon!