Obviously toddlers have different behaviours so this is not an easy one size fits all question. So I am asking generically as opposed to specifically.

Today I had to discipline my toddler for a very minor issue of disobedience. My child proceeded to have a full on nuclear meltdown, and so what started as a minor issue turned into a very serious and mutually stressful stand-off between me and him.

In these scenarios I have thus far decided that I will simply stand my ground.

  1. Dealing with the tantrum:

    So first of all, to deal with the tantrum, my Son is made to calm down fully before he is allowed to do something else. I will not engage with him either. In practice this usually involves him sitting on a naughty step until he is done. When he has calmed down, I allow our interaction to continue and provided he doesn't return to the meltdown, I go on as if it never happened.

  2. Dealing with the disobedience.

    Once the tantrum has been dealt with, I go back to the disobedience. So if the disobedience is outstanding (i.e. he hasn't done whatever it was and it still needs to be done) then he is made to do it.

Now, this is all well and good, but I have major trouble with it in practice. Usually the instant I go back to the disobedience he returns to the tantrum. So we end up in a viscous circle. Since I have previously made the decision to out-stubborn him, this can go on for a very long time and he gets into a ridiculous state.

I don't do any of this to be nasty to him. I only want him to learn the right things. I think my method stands up to rational scrutiny, but the practical effects do not.

Today it happened and, afterwards, I again questioned my technique. He was in such a state that I don't think he even understood what was happening anymore. And I don't think he learned anything positive as a result of it either.

He is only 2 (and a half) and I wonder if I am applying a discipline that is only suited to older children. Or maybe my method is no good at all.

I am determined not to be ruled by my 2 year old, or my future 4 year old, or my future teenager. He definitely has to learn. But I open up to fellow parents:

How should I do it in a way that is best for him? I define "best for him" as being that which results in the best outcome: a person with good manners, patience, integrity, etc. If that means me suffering somehow in the meantime it is irrelevant.

3 Answers 3


Your kid has reached the age where children grow independent and adults get defiant. It is incomprehensible to me why you'd decide to put stubborn a two year old. Your taking what was an interaction between an adult and a toddler, and turning it into an interaction between two toddlers albeit with a power imbalance.

I think standing your ground is terrible as a general strategy, with children of all ages. It's ineffective - as you've noticed - and it is only a limit on your options. Beware all rules that force you to pick fights you didn't even care for.

As the adult, you are responsible for making sure the interactions are constructive. If you thought it was a minor issue, there's no good reason to escalate it to a full blown conflict.

Some general ideas:

  • Children tend to do more of what gets them attention, even if that's negative attention. By disciplining, you generally risk reinforcing an undesired behaviour. As a rule of thumb, try to praise desired behaviour five times for every time you criticise the child for doing something undesirable.

  • Children at this age are developing their independence. That is positive. When possible, allow them to practice that. Yes, you'd be out the door sooner if you got to put the clothes on as you always have been up til this point, but your child isn't going to suddenly get good at it without practice, so this is something you need to get through.

  • Children rarely act at complete random. From an adult point of view, there may be obvious problems with what their doing, but there likely is a rationale driving the behavior, however misguided. The child's behavior is likely solving a problem for them, albeit in a manner that creates a problem for you. Don't just prohibit the behavior which puts them back where they started, with the same unsolved problem. Use your superior reasoning to guide the child to solutions that are more agreeable to you.

  • If you decide that the only possible solution to a problem you're having is for the child to correct their behaviour, you've severely limited your own agency in solving the problem. If you reframe the problem into something you have control over, then you regain the power to solve the issue. Perhaps the problem is not that the child is disobedient, but that you need to give instructions in simpler sentences. Perhaps it's not that your child needs to behave while standing in line at the grocery store, but that you need to limit the amount of taxing activities you put your child through in a day, etc.

  • Always speak in a personal voice. Don't say "we don't do X", because that rule is incomprehensible. Say "it makes me sad when you do X", because that ties the rule to an outcome that is meaningful to your child.

  • I think being overly authoritative comes at a great cost to the relationship. As your child gets older, remember that you don't really have control over what your child does, only (to some extent) over whether the child will trust you enough to tell you about it.

  • Thank you for your valuable answer. With respect to my decision to "out-stubborn" him, my thinking here was simple: he is a young child, and he must learn to listen to me. So I thought the best way is to never show him that he can get around me by throwing fits. My intension was to patiently repeat the cycle of sit until calm, now do as I originally asked you, until the objective was complete. And he would know that throwing a fit only worsens and prolongs what was initially a simple instruction. But you're right, it isn't working and that's why I ask the question :)
    – Q''
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 18:31
  • That's really good, but can we add something on the importance of stopping a tantrum before it goes nuclear? There are offen signs that indicate a tornado is coming and it is our job to defuse the situation (nicely).
    – abdnChap
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 9:01
  • @abdnChap sometimes it's inevitable. They need to work through those emotions. If you never feel them, you never get the chance to practice controlling them. Sometimes the best option is just to remain calm, let them work through their feelings, and be there to offer comfort and support if they are interested.
    – stan
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 17:04
  • Regarding "it makes me sad when you do X", I've found roleplay to work really well to reinforce this. If my daughter hits or throws a toy while having a tantrum, I say "it makes <toy> sad when you hit him". This way she gets reinforcement on aggressive behaviour without it resorting to parent-hitting. If she hits me, I'll add "Mama doesn't play with children who are rough" and remove my attention from her or pause the activity. I usually try to play with her in a toddler-proof room so that I can immediately step out for a minute or two if she hits me. It's really effective.
    – stan
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 17:09

In practice this usually involves him sitting on a naughty step until he is done.

Well, for one, I'd stop calling it the "naughty" step. Call it the "calm down" step.

Once the tantrum has been dealt with, I go back to the disobedience. So if the disobedience is outstanding (i.e. he hasn't done whatever it was and it still needs to be done) then he is made to do it.

Do you ever ask him why he's disobedient? Have you ever asked him to think of other alternative things to do other than compliance and yelling? If he's screaming that he doesn't want his blue shoes, can he wear his brown shoes instead? If he doesn't want his rain coat, then fine, let him go without, and suffer the natural consequences.

Have you ever tried validating his feelings? "I know it's frustrating to go when you want to play"? Or is he supposed to obey without question every time and never have his feelings consulted, or even heard?

How should I do it in a way that is best for him? I define "best for him" as being that which results in the best outcome: a person with good manners, patience, integrity, etc.

Look up what "Authoritative parenting" is. It's characterized both by boundaries and high responsiveness to the child's wants and needs. Right now, you come across as authoritarian, which is big on boundaries but also low on responsiveness. Authoritarian parenting does not lead to the outcomes you say you want.


I recommend using the Kazdin method (Kazdin & Rotella, 2013) instead of going back right after the tantrum to make the child do what you think necessary (which increases the likelihood of the tantrum). The child could still be in the "hot" (too emotional) state. Soon after the tantrum is usually not the best time to teach, offer rational arguments and explanations, etc. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this, but keep your "teachable moment" as short as possible after the tantrum. Do most of the teaching at the time when the child is happy, or at least neutral. At that time, the behavior can be more easily shaped by praising when it occurs naturally, or as a part of a game. Methods described by Kazdin are suitable for children across many age groups, including 2.5 year-olds as in your case (see Kazdin & Rotella, 2013, and links to videos below).


  • Identify the desired (positive) behavior. For example, in "doing X, instead of Y", "doing X" is the positive behavior. That's what you are trying to increase.

  • Offer praise for the desired behavior. From "Summer Review – Praise", by Alan E. Kazdin, http://alankazdin.com/summer-review-praise/ :

  • Be specific – tell the child exactly what they did that was good

  • Be close – go into the same room as the child when you are praising

  • Use touch – high-five, hug, kiss, pat on the back, or fist bump each time

  • Be immediate – praise right after the positive behavior

  • Be enthusiastic – sound super excited

  • Less punishment, since it is less effective than praise.

  • If the positive behavior does not occur by itself, do simulations or games where the child is pretending to do something you want. Praise him for this.

  • Praise small steps toward the desired behavior. You may not see the fully developed positive behavior right away, but you may see something better than usual, so praise this. If a complete meltdown, with kicking and screaming, happened yesterday, but today the child had a tantrum without kicking, praise the child for this. This sounds counterintuitive, but it actually works. Kids do not learn to walk like adults right away, but take baby steps - so it is with almost any other behavior. It takes practice:

[...] Parents are often stunned when we suggest that they praise a tantrum in any form. They want to get rid of tantrums or make them minimal, and so they logically see praise for their child disagreeing with them or making a scene as exactly the wrong approach. It galls them to reward any kind of tantrum, even one that’s notably milder than the usual meltdown. This is when I remind them that as parents they often do reward behaviors that are just little approximations of what they want. [...] When you’re teaching your child how to swing a bat or catch a baseball, you are very tolerant of imperfections along the way and praise mediocre versions of the behavior as part of the process of getting to more skilled versions of it.

(Kazdin & Rotella, 2013, pp.40-41)



Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella, The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013: https://www.amazon.com/Everyday-Parenting-Toolkit-Step-Step/dp/0547985541/


Everyday Parenting - Praise Technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK9L8r2U1XE
Kazdin method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp6khwx2zv0

Related threads:

Q: How can we get our 5 year old to behave during eating, without us nagging all the time?
A: https://parenting.stackexchange.com/a/18551/33055

Q: When my kids don't get along; what are some options besides punishment that can be effective beyond 5 minutes?
A: https://parenting.stackexchange.com/a/37554/33055

Q: How to set boundaries for a 7-month-old?
A: https://parenting.stackexchange.com/a/37629/33055

Q: How do you get a three year old to do... anything?
A: https://parenting.stackexchange.com/a/38978/33055

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .