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  • Tantrums Don’t Mean You Have ‘Bad’ Kids. 5 Ways To Discipline Without The Guilt

    There are many reasons why a toddler acts out.
    by Kitty Elicay . Published May 20, 2021
Tantrums Don’t Mean You Have ‘Bad’ Kids. 5 Ways To Discipline Without The Guilt
PHOTO BY Shutterstock/MIA Studio
  • Many parents worry when their toddler suddenly goes from adorable angel to a tantrum-throwing child. While this is a normal part of child development, they cannot help but think that if they don’t curb this ‘bad’ behavior now, their kids will take these behaviors into adulthood.

    Janet Lansbury, an early childhood expert, author, and host of the popular podcast Respectful Parenting, reminds parents that there are no bad kids. There are many reasons why a toddler acts out: they might be craving attention, feeling sleepy, or testing their newfound independence.

    “He has the overwhelming impulse to step out of bounds, while also desperately needing to know he is securely reined in,” Lansbury writes in her blog. “As infant expert Magda Gerber said, ‘Lack of discipline is not kindness, it is neglect.’”

    How to discipline without the guilt

    “The key to healthy and effective discipline is our attitude,” Lansbury says. Toddlers look to their moms and dads for guidance. They need their parents to be firm and set clear, consistent limits.

    Here are some ways you can discipline your children without feeling guilt — and without shaming them.

    1. Establish a routine and realistic expectations.

    Toddlers thrive when they have a daily routine to follow. Experts say that behavior can improve when children know what to expect, and what is expected of them.

    “Children need reasonable limits to feel safe, and having a routine is part of setting limits,” says Dr. Victoria Ang-Nolasco, a developmental pediatrician at Cardinal Santos Medical Center.

    2. Don’t take it personally.

    Your child is not testing your limits on purpose. They do not wake up in the morning just to make you miserable.

    “When little kids respond to something with a big emotion or behavior that contradicts what they’ve been asked to do, they’re actually looking to their parents or caregivers to help them handle their feelings with empathy and understanding,” says Lisa Milligan, a child therapist at Strides Toronto.


    While it’s hard, Lansbury reminds parents to keep their cool and extend their patience. “Instead of labeling a child’s action, learn to nip the behavior in the bud by disallowing it nonchalantly. If your child throws a ball at your face, try not to get annoyed.

    “He doesn’t do it because he dislikes you, and he’s not a bad child. He is asking you (toddler-style) for the limits that he needs and may not be getting,” she writes.

    3. Take charge.

    When disciplining toddlers, it’s important stay calm but firm. Your child will notice if you’re unsure or anxious when you correct him, and this might prevent him from taking you seriously.

    Lansbury’s advice is to think like a CEO and look at your toddler as a “respected underling.” She says, “Our child needs to feel that we are not nervous about his behavior, or ambivalent about establishing rules. He finds comfort when we are effortless in charge.”

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    It helps to react and correct the behavior immediately and matter-of-factly. Try saying, “I won’t let you do that. If you throw that again I will take it away,” while blocking the behavior with your hands, according to Lansbury.

    4. Don’t discipline your toddler for crying.

    We often end up frustrated when our little ones throw a tantrum that we cannot help but tell them to “Stop crying!” or “Don’t cry.” But what we are forgetting is that they need help processing events and emotions, and crying is one of their ways to do so.

    Saying those two phrases can send the wrong message to your toddler — they will think that you don’t care about understanding their feelings or that they don’t matter to you. “Children need rules for behavior, but their emotional responses to the limits we set should be allowed, even encouraged,” says Lansbury.


    Instead, give your children freedom to express their emotions. You can talk to them and help them identify what they are feeling, using phrases like, “I bet you really felt…”, “I can see this is hard for you,” or “I know you’re feeling [blank] and that’s okay.”

    5. Give them affection.

    Some parents tend to ignore or give their toddlers the silent treatment as a reaction to their naughtiness. But Lansbury points out that using this as a form of discipline “teaches a child that our love and support turns on a dime, evaporating because of his momentary misbehavior.”

    This type of “conditional parenting” can make your child resent, distrust, and dislike you, says Lansbury. He might feel guilty, ashamed, and lack self-worth.

    Your child needs your unconditional love, so don’t hesitate to be affectionate after you discipline them. “Our children deserve our direct, honest responses so they can internalize ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and develop the authentic self-discipline needed to respect and be respected by others,” says Lansbury.


    “Loving our child does not mean keeping him happy all the time and avoiding power struggles. Often it is doing what feels hardest for us to do…saying ‘No’ and meaning it,” she adds.

    Click here for more positive parenting techniques to handle misbehavior.

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