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How to Discipline Children at Their Level


​​One of your parenting articles said that we should discipline our children at their level of understanding. I’m not sure if I understand how to do that if we are simultaneously told that we should limit our talking because the more we talk, the less our children learn. For instance, if my toddler throws a tantrum in the grocery store because he wants a toy and I said “No,” what should I do?​


discipline toddler

A good rule to consider when talking with children is to use one word for every year of a child's age. For example, telling a 2-year-old, "No hitting," after he hits his sister will be more effective than saying, "It's not nice to hit, and we don't hit each other in this family." Consistently using short statements that you know your child understands will make your teaching more effective as you try to reduce or eliminate a negative behavior and replace it with a positive behavior. Conversely, when you're disciplining a 12-year-old who can comprehend more, you can use more words.

To address your example about your toddler throwing a tantrum, some preteaching before you and your child even go into the store may help head off this situation. In this preteaching, you get your child's attention and tell him you are going into the store to buy groceries but no toys. If he starts to throw a tantrum in the store, take him back to the car and sit there until he calms down. Then ask him if he is ready to go get the groceries. As you go in, simply say "Remember, groceries, not toys."  If you give in and give your child a toy because he throws a tantrum, he will repeat that behavior every time you go to the store because he knows it will get him what he wants. That is a powerful incentive to a child, one that your teaching has to bring to an end.

If you need additional assistance, please call the Boys Town National Hotline® at 1-800-448-3000 anytime, 24/7, to talk to a counselor.