Discipline Advice

Okay, this is something I was sort of dragging my feet on researching anything about, and now suddenly the time is here. When my MIL picked up Stella from daycare on Tuesday, the daycare provider let her know that Stella had been hitting the other kids. HITTING. I mean, I know it’s her gentle pats and they end up not being so gentle, but that’s how it starts, right?

As a caveat, I am not a spanker. I wasn’t spanked. I don’t believe in hitting to teach that violence is not the answer. Violence begets violence.

BUT, I’m also not sure what the appropriate correction is for a child Stella’s age. When we were older kids, Mom and Dad would tell us how disappointed in us they were, and we were sent to our rooms to think about what we had done wrong, why we had chosen to disappoint them, and how we would change our actions in the future to not disappoint them again. This was brutal as a kid, and it totally worked. By the time we came out of our rooms to apologize and explain WHY we had chosen to disappoint them, you had better believe we did our best to not have to go through that again.

However, I have no idea what to do with a 12-18 month old. I mean, I’ve heard the “1 minute per year of age” concept for time outs for kids… but does that work with a 14 month old? At daycare, since we had never discussed any personal preference I had on the issue, they have been removing her from the situation and setting her on the bottom step of the stairway (which apparently enrages Stella – LOL). Miss Jen then holds her hands still and lets her know in a firm voice that hitting is not okay, and that hands are for being gentle. She sits there with her for 30-60 seconds (which Stella hates, of course), and then they go back to the kid who Stella was hitting and offer to give hugs.

Obviously she doesn’t quite “get” the punishment yet, but does that sound like a good place to start? I just have absolutely no idea, and I just want to be consistent in stuff like this with how we chose to handle it.

What do you do to “correct” your young toddler? Help!

She looks so innocent, doesn't she?!

She looks so innocent, doesn’t she?!


  1. Hello this is a great post and question. I have a 5 year old and a 3 year old. By far the 3 year old is a lot more aggressive than then her older sister. The hitting for my younger one started at the same time (around 18 months). Although everyone says that its a phase, my wife and I took another approach… everyday when we are heading to their Montessori we go thought the “Knows Rules” drill, ie: NO Hitting, No punching, No kicking, no budding in line, no throwing food on the floor etc… after the first week of doing this consistently as a routine at the same time we found a huge difference in the little ones behavior. However since i drop off the girls everyday, the odd day my wife drops them off, sometimes she forgets to do the drill and without fail we get notified that there was an incident. One thing to note is that we first started off with just “no hitting”, that day she didn’t hit anyone but she did kick someone (LOL) meaning we had to add that to the list. Today our list lasts about 7 minutes of our drive to school, but it seems to work for our kids.

  2. Oh Also for immediate correction to something they have done wrong. Timeouts don’t work for kids that age, they just don’t get it… we get physically to their level, say “Look at my eyes” and nicely with a firm monotone voice tell them they should not do that. The important factor is that you get to their eye level and make them make eye contact.

  3. Oh man Savannah has been hitting me and other kids in the face for a few weeks now off and on. At first I kept telling her no that’s not nice then yesterday she got her first time out. We sat her in the kitchen (away from other kids but where we could also see her) and she sat there crying for a 1 minute then I went and got and told her it wasn’t nice to hit. I feel so clueless also though and have no idea what to do really in situations like these.

  4. Talk to Arch Mama. HA! Great advice there!

    Seriously, I just discussed this with my therapist yesterday. We talked about time-outs for couples when they argue, which led to me asking about time-outs for kids. The bottom line is that he says Matthew, at 19 months, is too young to get it, but that we need to start laying the foundation now. What your daycare gal did is almost exactly what he told us to do.

    * Remove your child from the situation.
    * Talk about what happened. Why did he do it? (of course, you will need to assume why she did it since she’s not verbal (like M), but Dr. Dan said to talk through it as though the child is verbal)
    * Ask the child how they FELT when they did it (again, speak for her “I’m sure you felt frustrated”) and explain how you (if you’re the one who was hit) or the child who was hit felt due to his actions
    * Talk about what you need the child to do and what they need from you in the situation (“I’m sure you need me to be more patient and listen to more of what you’re trying to say, and I need you to not hit”)
    Move along with your day!

    He said NOT to set him in a physical time-out just yet, that he won’t understand it. He also said that the time-out that we think of is not really a time-out. A time-out is all the things I outlined above, and setting the child aside in a “naughty chair” is just a ground rule of the time-out process. That is simply step one – you need to do all the rest to make it a real time-out.

    We are starting this today in our house! I needed this given that Matthew hit (unprovoked) for the first time two days ago, and I was at a loss as to what to do . So I scolded him in front of his friend, which is the wrong thing to do.

  5. I was so interested to read the responses to this as we are getting to a similar point with Alidia. She is very rarely around other kids so not exactly the same but she has been hitting us a bit and biting on purpose (although this seems to have stopped this month). I think your daycare provider is doing a good job in my opinion. I like her idea. And really like Courtney’s comment of advice above. I think taking them away from the situation, talking to them about how THEY feel and talk about what can be done next time. I am going to try this with Alidia from now on. If the situation is upsetting Stella when she is removed, then it seems like she at least knows she is doing something wrong. Good luck!!!

    And that photo of Stella… how could that little princess ever cause any trouble?!? 😉

  6. I agree at this age you need to remove them from situation and get eye level with them when you say ____ is not allowed/acceptable or whatever word you choose.

    Eye level, firm but void of emotion voice and consistency at this age works wonders.

    We did this with my now 4 year old and it really worked well. Getting to his eye level to speak to him still works best even if our discipline tactics had to change a bit.

  7. mcmissis · · Reply

    Has you read Happiest Toddler in the Block? I thought it was great for that problem as that age. Admittedly, we only read the red light behaviors at that time bc we were trying to stop the hitting. It says it’s for 1-4 year olds So I was nervous about reading to deal with someone do far at the bottom end of that spectrum (she was the same age as Stella now), but it really is written for that age group. I trie looking at it again recently for a different issue and it’s already to “young” for her at age 2. There’s a lot of info in there that isn’t what’s normally talked about and doesn’t make sense for me to rewrite here. It also talks about timeouts. It suggests the oneinite per year thing, even saying 18 months means 90 seconds. It says the lack of attention from you, while on timeout, is the punishment. Not ridiculing them by putting them in a naughty spot. One thing we got from there that worked for us was the Time In concept. Idk how that would work at daycare though. I’ll probably come back with many more comments bc we had to deal with this in a big way. Otherwise, email me if you have specific questions.

  8. I think you are supposed to be teaching them right from wrong at this age and not necessarily consequences. They don’t really understand consequences until closer to two. Does she understand that hitting is wrong?
    -from a non-parent

  9. mcmissis · · Reply

    Also, I worried a lot about disciplining her when she was too young to understand. I did it anyway bc I felt like I had to. What are you going to do when you’re at a Playgroup with a bunch of other moms and your kid blatantly hits their’s? And I’m glad I just pussd through and did it (disciplining when I thought she didn’t get it). At first, they don’t get it; it’s pretty clear. But eventually (and sooner than you think) they do get it. And if you haven’t been disciplining up until that point, then try to start, it can be very confusing. Why are they all of a sudden getting in trouble for hitting? It hasn’t been that big of a deal before. Also, as parents, we underestimate what kids that age understand. Once they start talking, it will BLOW YOUR MIND what they say, understand, and yes, remember! It’s crazy 🙂

  10. I’m starting to get to the point of thinking about these kinds of situations myself. I haven’t seen my girls be aggressive toward each other, but one of them has started trying to slap ME when I’m trying to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do. For now I’ve been gently holding her hands so they can’t hit and using a simple, quiet but serious toned “hands are not for hitting.” Then I don’t give the behavior any more attention. I have NO idea what the right strategy is but I don’t believe at this age they can really comprehend much more than that. My response and tone are enough for her to form the link between the behavior and “not okay”.

  11. I don’t have any advice, but I’m very curious to read the comments and hope you do a follow up post. We haven’t had the hitting problems, but Taylor does bite us sometimes and we’ve started disciplining by putting her on her bottom and VERY sternly saying “Mama says NO Bite”. She cries a bit (because of my tone) and once she calms down I try to tell her that biting hurts people and you don’t want to. Not sure if she is getting it, but the biting has become less and less an issue. Good luck and keep us posted.

  12. What her daycare teacher is doing is the absolute right thing for a kid her age. She is doing the right thing by sitting with her in “time out” explaining to her what happened and having her give hugs. She definitely is too young to really understand just yet, but she will soon understand. Right now it’s just going through the motions of it. Some people to say with kids this young to just redirect them to another activity or just move them away from the kid they hit. But I honestly think what your daycare provider is doing is the most effective thing for the long run 🙂 And the kids at this age learn by testing their limits. The cause and effect of “hitting” someone and the reaction. All part of the learning process. Totally normal.

  13. When Ethan “hits” the dog (as in pets too hard) we hold his hand and help him pet the dog nicely and say “soft hands” over and over. It seems to work well, because “soft hands” can be put into use with all things.

    Nope on the time-outs. Stells is too young to get it, and it will just make her more frustrated. But, if with repeat offenders (and if “soft hands” doesn’t work), removal of the situation is good.

    Also, over concern for the kiddo that Ethan hit works great too. OH MY GOODNESS, little girl, I hope you are ok!! Wow, look at these toys we can play with together (while ignoring Ethan for a minute.) Ethan then joins in w/out continuing to hit.

  14. We haven’t had too much of this either since Chloe isn’t around many kids, but it’s more her getting into things she’s not supposed to. Sometimes she will swat at us if she gets frustrated and I grab her hands and show her how to touch nicely. I’m usually holding her when she does this (the reason she gets mad is b/c I’ve picked her up) so I’m already at eye level with her. If she is getting into something she shouldn’t, I go to her and tell her no in a stern voice. This is an area I can work on after reading some of the advice you’ve gotten here. I also try and distract her with something else. I’ve realized the yelling, hitting, getting mad only makes her want to do it more, so if you stay calm and act like it’s no big deal (this isn’t in reference to hitting or biting, only getting into things she shouldn’t like electronics or something) she seems to respond better. I’m not looking forward to the day I have to scold her out in public.

  15. If you know people with older toddlers, try to set a little get-together and watch how things work, how the parents respond, how the kids respond, etc. It’s so hard to see little ones that age as growing older and more defiant, but they do – SO QUICKLY. Gracie was the toungest one in our old Playgroup so I had lots of time to see different situations with kids about a year older than her. One kid specifically was always the aggressor and I quickly decided to NOT respond the way his mom did. It really helped me to see the just a little bit older kids acting like you expect toddlers to act and realizing that no matter how I thought about Gracie’s angelic babyhood, things were bound to get hairier. It’s natural and normal and needs response. That is how they learn.

  16. Oh god, we’re there, too. He’s been biting me and being less than gentle with his “hugs.” I’ve been saying, “Don’t bite your Mom!” but I don’t think he knows what I’m talking about. I’ve started to put him in the pack ‘n play for a minute when he bites or tries to hit, but he has no idea what’s going on. Maybe as the pattern emerges he’ll figure it out. My husband and I are cringing to think what will happen when I go back to work and he’s in daycare. I don’t want to be the biter’s mom!

  17. I immediate take Luke out of the situation. Take him to the side and tell him that we don’t use hands to hit, and I keep talking to him for a while until he calms down. Not a time out, really, but I do remove him and have him sit for a while as we chat. Then I let him play again. Usually the fight is over a toy with L, so sometimes I end up removing the toy or giving him a different one. He doesn’t quite get what I’m saying yet. but I hope with time and repetition he will get it.

  18. mcmissis · · Reply

    Ok one more comment, then I’m putting a ban on myself 🙂 apparently I should just make my own post about this since I can’t shut up.

    There are two sides (at least!) to every parenting idea. Some hate timeouts, some love them. Some think a well-timed swat is appropriate, some think it’s abuse. Whatever works best for your family will come out of the woodwork pretty easily. From here on out, you’re only going to be dealing with discipline more and more. Sometimes, the times discipline is required will be so frequent, you won’t have time to think about it. What comes naturally to you and feels best/most effective is what you’ll go to. Sure, you’ll try some things that don’t work (or do work and you don’t like the way it makes YOU feel) but at least then you’ll know. Trust your gut. And (far more difficult than you can even imagine) trust your husband’s. Co-parenting can get REALLY sticky in this department; you’ll have to talk about it A LOT.

  19. What?! I don’t believe it. Look at that face. It is a face of an angel.

  20. Courtney stole my response…ArchMama has some awesome thoughts on this. I’ve tried to copy all she said in her tweets the other day…going to come in handy if Raegan ever sees another child, like ever….

  21. elizabethkbaker · · Reply

    No real advice, but I have heard that you can’t really “discipline” with any real understanding from the child until they are 18 months old. I do like Al’s advice of removing them from the situation to calm them down.

  22. We’re navigating these waters too. I am doing a lot of the same things your sitter is doing/saying but we don’t have a time out spot (yet). I’m working on a lot of this when it comes to H with our dogs… gentle, be kind, give hugs, etc. He understands no so I shake my head no when I need to but wow does this make the boy mad! My plan is to just use the same words/tone/expression when correcting and add the time out later when I feel he can make the connection. But I don’t know what I’m doing! I do know that kids respond best when you tell them what they ARE doing right, so we say a lot of “good job” here! Good discussion!

  23. St. Elsewhere · · Reply

    My daughter had a biting thing going. She was not biting people. She was biting me. If I managed to put my fingers for anything in her mouth – removing the paper she was intent on chewing, feeding her, cleaning her mouth, she would put her soul into crushing my finger.

    Unfortunately, I really do not think that the suggestion of ‘asking how the child felt’ that you have got from some would actually work here.

    One thing I understand is that Figlia is very sensitive.

    So anyways, after having one crazy chomp one day that left a mark on my finger, I cried and told her it hurts, and I stopped responding to her. She understood and tried clinging to me and I let her know it was not going to work. I still would not hold her.

    She ended up crying, and I picked her up and showed her my finger and told her I was crying too.

    I have no idea if this would go into a big Parenting Fail, and whether I did the wrong thing, but I no longer get bitten as often as I used to.

  24. I found the book Easy to Love Difficult to Discipline really helpful with gentle techniques. And it helps me learn to adjust my attitude too. Simon doesn’t hit other kids, but he does hit ME, and this is not ok. It is an will be a work in progress. I don’t have any specific tips, but hang in there. This is the next stage in parenting.

  25. We’ve done the Love and Logic system of discipline, and it seems to work fairly well. I think we started sending the kid somewhere to settle down when she was somewhere older than 2 when she was being out of control, and she’s allowed to come back when she’s “steady.” As she gets bigger, I am happier and happier with the results of the Love and Logic discipline system.

  26. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this but hitting is a normal act for a 14 month old. They few their playmates as objects not people. My 14 month old is doing the same thing and I take his hand and stroke it softly and say “Soft gentle touchs ” a few times. Eventually they learn.

  27. I highly highly highly recommend the Positive Discipline series by Jane Nelsen. She has a book specific to toddlers I think, and I also like the ABCs of Positive Discipline (or something like that). I think that all of it will jibe very well with your personality and how you like to handle things – at least that is my sense from having gotten to know you virtually over the years. YOu can also google “proactive parenting” by sharon stone, another great resource as things get more challenging in the years to come. Sorry I don’t comment much any more, my crazy life has gotten even crazier as my best friend has just been diagnosed with breast cancer as well as going through a crappy divorce. So lots of my time and energy going that way… xo

  28. Harriet’s been biting me a lot…and then laughing hysterically. I agree with the comment about teaching right from wrong rather than behavior/consequence. It was really helpful to read everybody’s thoughts on this issue. And I haven’t heard of Arch Mama, but I’m looking her up!

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