I am a single dad of a two year old and one of the things I struggle the most with is how to properly discipline her (for lack of a better term).

For example, today while we were getting ready to take her to her preschool and for me to go to work she was being unusually difficult and kicking at me when I tried to brush her teeth or get her dressed. I would sit her down and talk to her calmly trying to tell her we had to do this, I needed her help, kicking is bad, and all that kind of stuff but nothing helped.

I know there is only so much a two year old can understand but when I constantly tell her not to kick me and she keeps doing it I just don't know what to do. I don't want to discipline her in a way that isn't helpful as I just want to promote good behavior through positive reinforcement but in these situations it is really difficult for me to remain patient. I don't always have the luxury of just sitting her down and waiting for her to calm down as there are times where I have to go to work.

Also, she is typically a very easy kid to handle and these kinds of things are really rare but it is also something that I feel I need to work on with her (for her sake and my sanity) and I want to do it in the most constructive way possible.

  • You don't just want to work on these things for your own sanity, but also for her ability to develop into a functioning adult. That is your goal as a parent. One tip is this - don't prioritize getting out the door for work over the proper application of discipline (which i'll leave to others to answer below). If you take your time and focus on her and also on her behavior she will learn to respond correctly.
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 16:34

4 Answers 4


This is very typical behaviour of a toddler. Giving yourself more time would help massively. I allow for my child to start kicking up a fuss and always have done.

I prepare everything the night before (iron shirt, make lunch, sterilise bottles etc) so that in the morning I don't have to worry about anything like that. I get up before my child, get myself washed, fed and ready for work all before they are up. I then give myself a solid hour and a half to get the child ready.

One thing that may work is a chart. Add everything that you need the child to do in a morning before preschool onto this chart and work through it together:

  • Shower / wash
  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • etc

For every one she does she gets a star for it but only if she does it without kicking up a fuss. If they kick up a fuss I would give them a timeout by sitting on a step for 1 minute (or whatever you deem appropriate). This is the difficult part. You need to explain to them why they are being given timeout but don't shout at them. Just explain. Every time they get off, put them back on and up the time a little bit or reset depending on how you want to handle it. It's very repetitive and very boring but it works.

At the end of the week or however you want to play it you count the stars and she gets a reward for them. You can decide how many stars make up the reward but you get the idea. These charts are simple to make up or you can even buy ready made ones were you fill in the activities.

The crucial part is making sure you do this every day and working through it together in the same order making it very routine which will go in your favour.

  • 1
    Thanks this is really helpful. For the most part I have everything ready to roll in the mornings, I just don't leave that extra buffer room (and typically it's not an issue). I think this approach will work a lot better in a few months as right now I am not so sure she will really grasp the concept. There are so many theories out there on proper discipline it is just hard to make sense of it all. Thanks again. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 18:25
  • 2
    @user1723699 there are a lot of theories on discipline. However, no matter which one you go with always remember to do it in love and remember that the goal should be a well adjusted and functional adult.
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 20:05
  • 1
    I used to blame everything on the clock. I got a clock with easy-to-read numbers, and made a chart that showed what the hands would look like when something specific had to happen. Then if they were balking about getting something done, I would say something to them like "I know, I wish we didn't have to hurry right now, but the clock is saying that we are late." It really seemed to help--I think that my kids were trying to learn how they could have power over me and my behavior, but when neither one of us could control the clock, we became allies and things went more smoothly.
    – magerber
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 17:17
  • 1
    This is great advice. I also like your point @magerber of telling the kids that it is outside of your control. That prevents bargaining behavior.
    – user28011
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 12:26
  • 1
    I don't think a chart is going to work for a 2 year old. This is all well and good for older children though.
    – user20343
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 20:25

I have toddlers and struggle with similar things, but the times when I've succeeded most are when I can recognize that there is usually something behind the aggressive or contrary behaviour.

It's unlikely that your daughter is really opposed to brushing her teeth or getting dressed; what's more likely is that she is opposed to what they represent. Once she's ready, you will take her to preschool and leave her. She will be separated from you for a significant amount of time.

From what you say, it sounds like she copes with this separation fairly well most of the time, but I imagine that there are some circumstances that make it more difficult:

  • Maybe you've been busier than usual lately and haven't had as much time to spend with her, so she misses you.
  • Maybe she's going through a rough time at preschool (could be bullying, boredom, lack of friends, losing a friend) and the thought of going back there makes her upset.
  • Maybe she's just emotionally distraught for reasons that only make sense to a toddler ("woke up on the wrong side of the bed"). Maybe she can't find her favourite comfort item, or the flowers she picked yesterday are wilting, or the sun is shining in the window at the wrong angle. Sometimes it doesn't take much to upset a toddler.

One thing that I've had some success with is trying to ascertain and then acknowledge the feelings that are going on. Often the toddler won't know or won't be able to describe what they're actually feeling, so you can try to give them words for it:

  • "It seems like you might be sad and missing Daddy because I've been working late. Why don't we plan a special time together on the weekend?"
  • "I know it's hard to be apart, but I'll see you after work, and you can tell me all about your day."
  • "It's tough when you can't have the things you want. I understand that. Why don't you give me a big hug and then we'll finish brushing your teeth?"
  • "Here are some things you can try when something upsets you. I'll try to help you as much as I can."

Like others have mentioned, time is crucial, since toddlers just won't be rushed when they're feeling this way. But with some careful acknowledgement and addressing of the child's feelings and concerns, you should be able to get them back on track with a minimum of fuss. Sometimes. (With toddlers, nothing is certain!)


Lots of things are raised in other answers that are great advice. From my own situation, I'd say:

Take a deep breath, remember she's only a toddler. If you can(you mention having to get to work) it gets that she is really upset, where you can't console her, you might have to wait for her to calm down and then give her lots of cuddles. If you can't do this due to time, you might just have to accept that she's upset and leave her to go to work(with childcare of course!), which will be heart breaking, but she will remember all the positive times you have with her far more.

I hope this phase passes(because I also have a toddler who is brilliant most of the time!)


For me this age is all about giving myself about 50% more time than it should take and choices. Do you want to brush your teeth or do you want me to do it? Do you want to put your shirt on first or your pants?

And you can ask your dentist, but I was told with my kiddos at this age that once a day is good & make it before bed, as that is the worst time. A child who has otherwise good teeth can skip a morning brush if it's more fight than it's worth. So far in my kids the youngest anyone has ever had a cavity is 10 years old & that is with no serious pushing on the teeth. I do get them to brush eventually, but there are phases & stages where the fight is just not worth it I think. I am not saying don't try every day, just don't make such a stress for either of you if you have an off morning & just can't deal with it that day. They do that sort of reaction & then I now have a 3 year old that has a bathroom toothbrush & then another she carries around all day for random brushing. She loves nothing more than brushing her teeth. A year ago, she acted like it was torture.

My absolute favorite author for practical advice on how to handle such struggles at this age is LR Knost. I hope I am able to link (new enough here I am not sure how that works). This book is excellent for how to gain cooperation with toddlers. That really is the main focus on how I parent. I am not trying to make my kids do anything. I am trying to elicit in them a want to cooperate with me, because I want them to understand we are on the same team & my goal is to operate for their best interest. If a child has that sense, you get a lot less push back. You will still get push at times though because they are little humans & humans have to make their preferences known from time to time. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00G0A0W02/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

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