Mental Health Blog

Client Q & A: Loving and Disciplining Your Young Toddler

Posted by Emily Chandler, MS, MFTI on

A client asks "Any advice for 2yr old correction/discipline? He is intentionally being destructive (e.g. breaking stuff and repeatedly doing pretty much everything we ask him not to do). Oh, tough age!"

I also have a strong willed, high energy child who is now 4.5 years, almost 5. I feel like I'm just getting a handle on her energy. Language did add a lot to our being able to talk through feelings but it is still very hard some days. Our second child (almost 2) is turning out to have many of the same issues including low impulse control, long and extreme tantrums, and difficulty transitioning (e.g. if a plan doesn't work out, from wakefulness to sleep and vice versa).  We're starting early with him.  Here's a few things that we've learned along the way.



Helpful family tools
  • Have a calendar for weekly activities that she can read (all in pictures) and can anticipate the more "stressful" things and plan ahead (stressful includes good stress from unusual things like birthday parties or family visiting us).
  • Keep the day/week/meal time/other routines as similar from day to day as possible.
  • Have a chart for her to follow (brush your teeth, get pjs, find a bedtime book) for morning and night and a reward if she can do it.  We reward in the morning with a 20 minute video and at night with an extra bedtime story.


A lot of the emotional outbursts we saw early on were around those transition times. Yours sounds more around boundary setting and objects but it's the same idea, from a big picture perspective they are testing object permanence to see if you will love them, set the same rules, and engage with them every day. It's torture in the moment but I think it's setting some amazing foundational work. I found when I scheduled a lot less for my family, had fewer responsibilities and felt more recharged, that her stress went down dramatically. Another amazing thing was weekly "dates" usually squeezed in for an hour or two on a Sunday and it could either parent. Our daughter really wanted that time to be alone with a parent and to be heard and not interrupted by baby chaos.  Make sure this time is not dependent on "being good" that week, just a time to be together and have fun.


I guess looking back the best thing I could say about the whole process is that nothing could change her temperament; she is going to be a more intense, willful and assertive person for her whole life and will need to learn how to use that in a socially appropriate way. Twos and threes are at the beginning of that life long lesson and it is a very challenging season for the parents and caregivers.


All that to say, don't blame yourself. Set good boundaries, get time to yourself to recharge (because you can't fight the battle every day if you start off feeling worn out), and schedule some special time together.  Blessings, mama!


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