Teaching Toddlers to Obey

How do I get my toddler to listen to me and do what I say? He's right in the middle of the "terrible two's," and his favorite word is no. It seems he knows exactly what it takes to drive me up the wall. How should I handle this?

Parents of toddlers frequently contact us seeking advice on how to teach their young children to obey. The task of administering discipline can be frustrating and unpleasant, but it is a crucial element of parenting. Somewhere between the ages of 18 and 24 months children need to begin to recognize, understand, and respect parental authority.

This basic lesson should be taught with wisdom, discernment, and creativity. It must also be administered in an atmosphere of genuine love. The key to the entire process is the skillful use of consequences, both negative and positive. Children have to understand that different types of behavior produce different results – some pleasant and some not so pleasant.

On the negative side, a time out – two minutes for a 2-year-old, three minutes for a 3-year-old – can be a useful method of extinguishing willful undesirable behavior. A spanking or a slap on the hand may also be effective, as long as it is applied with love and restraint. There are also some occasions when the best way to discourage flagrant disobedience is simply to ignore it. When a child is acting out in order to gain attention, his naughtiness tends to disappear as soon as he loses his audience.

On the positive side, it’s a matter of the utmost importance to model what you teach. If you want your child to learn kindness, be kind. If you’re attempting to extinguish aggression, it doesn’t make sense to be harsh and aggressive yourself. You can also have a powerful impact on your toddler’s behavior by inventing ways to recognize and highlight his positive actions. We’re not thinking here in terms of rewards, which can promote selfishness if offered in excess, but rather of family celebrations. A good way to do this is to place a glass jar in a prominent place and allow your child to put a marble in the jar every time he does something you want him to do. Then, when the jar is full, you can celebrate by taking the entire family out for ice cream or another fun activity.

If your child is extremely rebellious or disobedient, it might be worth asking yourself a few simple questions. Is he well fed? Are you making sure that he gets enough rest? Is your own schedule so hectic and chaotic that it’s placing stress on the rest of the family? It may also help to engage in a bit of self-examination with regard to your own expectations and the motivation behind them. To a certain extent toddlers must be allowed to be toddlers. Parents who want perfection from kids at this age are often dealing with emotional issues of their own.

If you feel a need to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of our staff, we’d like to encourage you to contact our Counseling department for an over-the-phone consultation.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

The New Strong-Willed Child

Have a New Kid by Friday

John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership

Toddler Misbehavior




You May Also Like