How Do You Discipline a 2-Year-Old Who Does Not Listen?

Medically Reviewed on 6/24/2021
how to discipline a 2-year-old
It can be frustrating when your toddler refuses to listen. Here are 7 tips that can help you discipline your 2-year-old

Few things in life are as challenging as parenting. And when it comes to disciplining a child, many parents wonder if they’re doing it right. Are you being too strict? Too lenient? 

Children at ages 2 or 3 are often especially challenging to discipline. At this formative age, they are beginning to develop a sense of independence. Temper tantrums and stubbornness may start to become more frequent. So what do you do when your 2-year-old just won’t listen?

Here are some tips for disciplining and setting boundaries for your 2-year-old.

7 tips for disciplining your toddler

1. Be firm

Remember how you knew you were in trouble by just the look on your mother’s face or her tone of voice? Believe it or not, this still works. When your child is being difficult, bend down to their level, gently hold their hands, and tell them sternly what you expect them to do.

For example, if your child is being too loud, explain firmly that they are disturbing others and that they need to quiet down. You may also consider giving them a “time out” as punishment where you send them to a corner of the room to calm down. Or you can try the countdown method, where you count down from 10 until they have done what you’ve asked them to do.

2. Avoid yelling or hitting

Yelling may do more harm than good when your toddler is acting out. They may just imitate your behavior and start yelling as well.

Similarly, when you hit your child to make them stop misbehaving, they will start to equate discipline with pain, which could be damaging to their mental well-being. Remember that the goal of discipline is to help them understand why they need to model good behavior and to mold their character.

3. Set a good example

Children learn by imitation. They often observe how parents deal with other people, such as neighbors, friends, and other family members. When you as a parent show courtesy, empathy, and good listening skills with the people around you, your children will likely mimic your behaviors. 

One way you can do this is letting your child observe how you and your partner interact with each other. Eat meals together and make your child feel included in the conversation. Try not to turn your back on them while they are talking. Let them help with after-dinner cleaning, even if it is simply placing the plates in the kitchen sink.

4. Spend time with them 

Often, a toddler will throw a tantrum because they crave attention or are frustrated that they aren’t being understood. So talk with your child regularly, listen to them, and bond with them.

Reading stories to your child is also a great way to teach your child what’s right and wrong. It also helps your child learn listening skills.

5. Be clear and specific

Young children often have no idea what they have done wrong. So when you discipline them, state your message clearly and be specific about what you want them to do. 

For example, just telling your toddler to “eat your food” is too vague. To help them understand what that means, sit beside them at the table, show them your finished plate, and point to their food. Tell them to eat up so they can be strong. 

Another example is when you tell your child to clean up their toys. For the first few times, do it with your child until they learn what that means.

6. Reward good behavior

Never withhold affection as a means of punishment. Reward your child with a hug, a treat, or playtime when they do listen to you. Warm words of praise and encouragement will make your child feel both loved and confident, and this will help reinforce good behavior.

7. Don’t give up

Most importantly, do not give up. Parenting is a lifelong process. Both you and your child are always on a learning curve. By being consistent and persistent, you will eventually begin to see positive changes in their behavior.

If your child shows extreme behavior such as violence, no eye contact, or complete inability to focus, talk to your pediatrician. They may help you determine whether your child has a behavioral disorder if needed.


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Medically Reviewed on 6/24/2021
Cleveland Clinic. Discipline: Top Do’s and Don’ts When Your Kids Won’t Listen.

BabyCenter. Getting Your Toddler to Listen.