Toddlers are tiny, but they have big emotions. From picking the wrong colored cup to slicing the grilled cheese sandwich when they wanted it whole, your tiny tot lets you know when they’re unhappy. They might even yell, hit, and kick.
And when you’re a tired, busy parent, yelling can be an automatic response. Same with warnings and threats.
But you don’t want to yell. You don’t want to match the intensity of your child’s emotions and add fuel to the fire.
So you wonder, are there better ways to discipline your toddler without yelling?
Here are 9 positive strategies to help you manage big emotions and unwanted behavior with your child without yelling.
But first, what do you mean by discipline?
What Does It Mean To Discipline?
Discipline can have different meanings depending on who you ask.
A Google search of ‘discipline’ defines it as:
“The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.”
But you don’t want to use punishment or lose your temper. You want to teach your child right from wrong and how to regulate their emotions without yelling.
So focus on the original meaning of the Latin word, ‘discipline,’ which means “to learn.” Changing your perspective on discipline helps you reframe your view on how you control your child’s behavior.
Now you’re ready to teach your child healthy ways to cope with negative emotions – sans yelling and raising your voice to Level Scary.
How To Discipline Your Toddler Without Yelling
Deep breathing relaxes your parasympathetic nervous system and helps you feel safe and think clearer.
The next time your child triggers you to yell, stop what you’re doing, take a mental pause, and breathe deep. Make sure you’re expanding your rib cage and not only breathing in your chest to get the most fresh oxygen flowing through your body.
Ground Yourself With A Pep Talk
Another way to respond to your child’s bad behavior without yelling is to give yourself an uplifting pep talk in your head, just like a dear friend would.
As a parent, it’s almost effortless to be extra hard on yourself.
“My toddler’s behavior is appropriate for his age. I am the adult, and I am their rock. I am calm. I am here for my child. I will guide them through their emotions.”
Saying it out loud works too!
Hold Space For Their Feelings
Toddlers can be calm one moment and throw a full-blown tantrum the next. Sometimes you don’t even know why.
Whether you can pinpoint the reason for their tantrum, pause and listen to what your child is saying instead of defaulting to yelling.
What happened? Are they upset, angry, or frustrated?
What do they want or need?
Then, acknowledge that you heard them.
“It sounds like you don’t want to brush your teeth.”
Validating in the moment how your toddler feels teaches them it’s okay to have these uncomfortable feelings.
Try this trick the next time your kid is misbehaving, and you’re about to blow a top: speak softly.
A gentle voice soothes your child’s parasympathetic nervous system, helping their body relax and their uncomfortable feelings pass sooner.
Plus, your child will need to tune in more to hear you – they’ll likely be intrigued!
Snap Them Out Of It With A Game
Instead of yelling, create an impromptu game out of your toddler’s “bad” (albeit age appropriate) behavior burst.
For example, if your tot refuses to brush their teeth, pretend you’re T-Rex Tooth, and they stole your teeth and are brushing them clean, to your dino dismay!
Or, if they demand to stay in the tub, give them a choice: do they want to (safely) race to get out of the tub before you count down from 20 or finish singing the ABCs?
You’ll be surprised how a simple redirection can bypass a tantrum and yelling.
Jokes work too!
Be There For Them
If you can’t redirect your toddler by being funny, be a loving pillar of warmth and support.
Tell your child, “I will wait right here until you’re ready to get out. I’m here if you need a hug.”
Stay quiet and neutral. Don’t engage with your toddler in back-and-forth arguments. Your toddler may refuse for a few more minutes, so remain mum and calm.
Eventually, they’ll get out on their own – and you’ll be there to wrap them in a big hug.
Kids understand when they’ve done “wrong,” and that is punishment enough. So be there and remind your toddler how amazing they are and how lucky you are to be their parent.
Redirect Hits & Kicks
A hitting, kicking, and screaming toddler can get any parent’s blood boiling. But, you must teach your child that it’s unacceptable to hit out of anger. Feelings are fine, but violence is not.
The next time your toddler comes swinging, gently hold or move their arms and legs away from your body. Be as calm and quiet as you can be, except for:
“I can’t let you hit me. You can hit pillows.”
Focus on deep breathing and keeping yourself and your child safe.
Explain What They Should Do
There likely isn’t a toddler parent out there who hasn’t shrieked, “Don’t do that!” or used threats.
From the dont’s, shouldn’ts, can’ts, and won’ts, there are quite a few things your toddler can’t do.
But then what should they do? Your toddler is still figuring out how the world works and how to behave, so he needs a little more guidance and warm words.
“Remember to aim in the toilet, not on the floor.”
You’re teaching your child that everybody makes mistakes.
So when the urge to yell strikes, remind yourself to remind your toddler of the rules and expectations.
One of the best ways to discipline your toddler without yelling is to reconnect with them after their stormy feelings have passed.
Talk with your toddler about what happened and how they’re feeling. Apologize if you yelled because you became frustrated. Tell them how much you love them no matter what!
While it’s not okay to yell at each other, you’re modeling that big, uncomfortable feelings are normal and that reconnecting is a healthy way to repair a relationship.
When children see the entire cycle of discipline (doing, pausing to feel, learning from mistakes, reconnecting), they learn to practice the cycle on their own.
Because discipline is not about consequences but about learning from doing.
Toddlers are tiny champions at pushing the boundaries. That’s because their curious brains are in rapid development! And while it’s easy to respond by yelling, that doesn’t make anybody feel good.
Remember to breathe deep, speak softly, and hold space for however they feel.
Try a fun impromptu game to break the bad. Reconnect after the storm has passed.
How do you curb your yelling? What other strategies do you use to encourage good behavior?