How to Discipline a 2 Year Old

Welcome to age 2! Discipline can get harder at this age as you’re officially in the toddler years, but I’ll teach you how to discipline a 2 year old.

"How to discipline a 2 year old?" with mom and daughter Barbies

Some might call it the terrible twos, but I always liked when my professor told us they’re really the TERRIFIC twos while I was studying Early Childhood Education. At two years old there is so much to learn and explore, but toddlers are also looking for independence and you might be in full on tantrum territory. As you are figuring out what it’s like to be a toddler mom you might want to know how to discipline a 2 year old, and that’s what we are going to explore.

First of all, I have a general post about how to discipline a toddler that you could check out. These are the top tips I offer for disciplining toddlers:

  1. Redirect
  2. Identify their feelings
  3. Say, “You wanted…”
  4. Clearly state why a behaviour is not ok
  5. Warn your child as you gently remove them from the situation
  6. Follow through with warnings
  7. Offer better alternatives to their behaviour
  8. Remember that “No,” is a command, not an instruction
  9. Allow emotions to be processed before talking
  10. Be a good role model
  11. Move on after the fact

In the post, I go into detail about each if you want more information. It’s good to have a variety of tricks up your sleeve when it comes to discipline.

(This post might contain affiliate links, which means if you happen to buy a product I love then I may get a commission – at no extra cost to you! For all the Ts and Cs go here.)

How should children be disciplined?

There are different parenting styles out there. Permissive parenting is distant and allows children to do whatever they want, authoritarian parenting is very strict and controlling.

I opt for Gentle Parenting, which can also be labelled as peaceful parenting, positive discipline, etc. It falls in the middle between strict and permissive.

You might be trying to decide how to discipline your children, and if you’re not sure what approach is best for you here is a question to ask yourself: What is your goal for discipline?

Do you want your child to desire to do the right thing? That by the time they’re an adult they will be emotionally stable and be able to make good choices even if no one is watching?

Then you’re in the right place!

Going forward with disciplining your 2 year old, keep in mind that you have long term goals for discipline.

I encourage you to use the KNOW YOKE GROW system when it comes to discipline.

The Know Yoke Grow System of Gentle Parenting

I put a huge emphasis on growing personally when it comes to patience and controlling our own anger as moms, developing a trusting relationship with our children, and then working on correction and what we usually think of as “discipline.” Emotional stability in ourselves as moms, and trust in our relationship with our child will go a very long way.

Child should be disciplined with

  • Patience
  • Understanding
  • Gentleness
  • Positive words
  • Forgiveness
  • MORE patience

Gentle Parenting is a long term approach to discipline. Discipline a 2 year old with the above traits might not result in immediate obedience, but don’t let that be your goal. Set a new goal for yourself, desire to see your child WANTING to do the right thing.

It will make discipline so much easier.   

So how do we discipline a 2 year old?

Start with yourself & your relationship with your child

It always needs to be said, but we need to work on our own patience and anger issues first if we want to see effective discipline take place.

If you need help with anger issues check out this post, or if you need to learn to use more positive language with your child try this post.

When you are able to be patient with your toddler and to not get frustrated quickly things will go smoother. And when you have a solid relationship between the two of you they will feel safe and secure with you which will make correction much easier.

How do you discipline a 2 year old?

But when it really comes to correction, what do we do?

We teach.

We want to teach our 2 year old right from wrong, and what they can and cannot do. Show them a better way to do things without getting mad or punishing them. Remember, your goal is not to control your two year old, but that they would learn to choose to do the right thing. This takes patience because it’s a long term approach.

There are 4 basic steps when it comes to disciplining a toddler:

  1. Connect and address the feelings
  2. Address the behaviour
  3. Offer a better way to behave
  4. Move on

We are going to look at a couple typical toddler scenarios and discuss how to discipline in that moment.

Scenario #1: Two year old is screeching for more food rather than using their words

  1. Connect and address the feelings

Get to their eye level if possible and say, “Wow, it sounds like you really want more food.”

  1. Address the behaviour

“Screeching is too loud and makes it difficult for me to know what you want.”

  1. Offer a better way to behave
    “Next time, just say, ‘More please’ so I can know exactly what you want.”
  2. Move on

“Here is more food for you.”

There are a few things I want you to notice about this approach

  • It’s simple and to the point
  • It is not controlling
  • It teaches the child what they should do instead
  • It’s respectful to the child as a person
  • It does not shame or embarrass the child

These things are important for discipline, whether it’s with a 2 year old or 17 year old.

Scenario #2: Two year old hits you

  1. Connect and address the feelings

Get to their eye level if possible and say, “You seem very angry at me for not doing what you wanted.”

  1. Address the behaviour

“Hitting hurts my body.”

  1. Offer a better way to behave
    “Next time, use gentle hands and your words to tell me how you feel.”
  2. Move on

“Let’s go read some books.”

It’s simple, it’s to the point. And it works.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

This discipline strategy is very simple, and you can check out the post about discipling toddlers for more tips, but in the end, discipline doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to be gentle and consistent.

Repetition is so important for children to learn, well for anyone to learn anything repetition really helps. In school they don’t give the final test on a subject the same day they teach it, it takes time and experience to master a subject and for your 2 year old it is the same way.

Allow them to experience the same thing over and over again. The more they hear you say, “Hitting hurts my body,” and they realize that you won’t allow them to hit you they will eventually learn that that’s not something they should do.

It might be tempting to just ignore the hitting and not address it at all, but that won’t teach your child not to hit/better ways to communicate their feelings. It also might be tempting to send them to time out or to hit them back to teach them “pain” but this can negatively affect the trusting relationship you are trying to build together, while also encouraging your child to only do the right thing out of fear.

Discipline your toddler so they will choose to do the right thing, which will take patience and repetition. It will pay off in the long run.

This is just the beginning of how you can use Gentle Parenting to change your family for the better, it works with children of any age. If you have been looking for a different approach, a better approach, then Gentle Parenting is a great place to be. Sign up below for my Gentle Foundations for Parenting course to help you build a solid foundation when it comes to using positive discipline in your home. If you want motherhood to be a calm, joyful experience then this can really help you out.

Related: The Full Guide to Toddler Tantrums

Do you want to know how to discipline a 2 year? It can be simple and gentle to discipline a two year old, without yelling, timeouts or punishments. Click here to read how. #gentleparenting #toddlerdiscipline #toddlers #positiveparenting

11 thoughts on “How to Discipline a 2 Year Old”

  1. My daughter has an issue with biting and hitting her friends, even with redirecting her and getting on her level, we are still struggling with it. What should be our next step going foward?

    1. What do you think is her reason for doing it? Is she doing it when she wants to get a toy from them, or just going straight up to them and doing it? You can start to model gentle touch for her, showing her “This is how we play,” and just continue and continue to redirect. Maybe she needs some more skills like knowing how to ask for a toy if that’s the reason she’s doing it. Some kids also can like the reaction they get that it can basically be a sensory seeking situation.

  2. I am currently trying to practice gentle parenting but my husband is very “old school” as they say. It is a constant fight between us on “the right way” to discipline. He implies often that I’m a newbie at parenting and he’s experienced because he has an older child (18) but I’ve been around since he was 10. We now have a 2 and a 4 month old. As “new” as I might be I try to educate myself on understanding my child and respecting his emotions while at the same time teaching him what is right and wrong, similar to how you stated. My husband is the “do what I say first and then we’ll talk after” discipline. Most of the time! I think he tries in moments to gentle parent based on what I do but gets inpatient. And feels like I guess I’m passive sometimes or gives too many chances. This is actually the first time I’ve read your posts and it’s the most straightforward explanation I’ve seen!! How would you suggest I share this with him, without coming from an angle of I think I know better than him, but rather we should explore/ practice this together? Or is it best to show him by doing versus trying to get him onboard with all of my reading and research? I hope that makes sense. I’m honestly at a roadblock with our disagreements about discipline, it’s draining to fight each other constantly on the others parenting choices. I need advice! Thanks!

    1. Hey thanks for sharing. I think that everyone learns differently and some people can be resistant to learning new things. Books and articles might work for you but maybe not for your husband. I think sometimes it is helpful just to ask questions like, “Why does it matter if they listen to you the first time?” and maybe they’ll say respect and ask questions again like WHY is that important. Make him get to the real root of it I guess. And I find another thing that is helpful for people to understand is when we take an example of how an adult is treating a child and then ask if we would want that child to be ok with a significant other treating them that way. Do we want our kids to just do what someone says without understanding why? Do we want them to be ok with someone they love never saying sorry (because some parents never apologize even when they’re wrong). Stuff like that. I hope that helps.

    1. No, I would say that’s not appropriate as it could hurt that child and also wouldn’t teach them what you actually want them to learn. If you want them to learn to listen to you then it means we also must listen to them and respect them. Hurting or scaring them will just create child who only obey when they’re scared to get in trouble, or children who will rebel constantly because they see no reason to do the right thing if they stop caring about the punishments.

  3. Very true am. I had a similar experience with my son when he was only 2. He was very active at that time (still is). I had scenario 2. My family members were very angry but I did the same as you had advised in the text. I told him to hit me slowly and ask politely what he wants. From that very day he stopped hitting me.

    1. That is awesome! It’s so encouraging when things work out, but it can be extra stressful when family members are watching!

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