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The One Thing to Always Say When Disciplining Your Toddler

Disciplining Your Toddler

This is the one phrase we use all the time in our family, a phrase that helps empower kids to change their behavior.

The original meaning of the word discipline comes from the Latin disciplina, meaning “teaching, learning” and is related to the word disciple.

As parents then we are teachers — teachers who are still learning ourselves.

Our goal is to teach our children how to behave in social situations so they can form deep and meaningful relationships with others throughout their lives.

When we discipline our children we want to empower them to change their behavior.

Disciplining Your Toddler

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So when your toddler is running off, biting, kicking, screaming, hitting, pushing, grabbing, or generally being defiant, you want them to change that behavior (that’s an understatement!).

They will naturally begin to outgrow these behaviors as they gain more self-regulation.

In the meantime, we have to help them get there as well and guide them towards optimal social behavior.

Research shows that kids who master social skills are set up for success in many areas, including academic achievement.

Growth Mindset and Empowerment

Children live in the here and now and young children, in particular, think in a “fixed” mindset meaning that they don’t naturally assume things can or will change.

We have to teach them that they can change their behavior, that they can grow.

For example, when children realize they have done something wrong they feel failure, and to them, it feels permanent.

Our job as their parent is to guide them in other ways to handle situations and to give them the tools to handle their emotions as well as empower them to change their behavior.

But how do we get from a feeling of failure to a feeling of empowerment?

How to Empower Children to Change Behavior

When your child does something you want them to do differently,  like grabs a toy from another child,

-Correct the behavior (say no and stop the grabbing)

– Identify the problem (you would like a turn with that toy but Sarah is playing with it now)

-Engage them in perspective taking (how would you feel if someone grabbed a toy from you?)

-Offer an alternative (can you ask Sarah if you can have a turn after she’s done with the toy and then you’ll give it back to her?)

Read more –>3-Step Guide for Positive Parenting Toddlers and Kids

Then it is the time to empower them to change and diffuse their negative feelings.

The One Thing to Always Say When Disciplining Your Toddler

Before you let them go on to the next thing, you simply say:

“You’ll remember next time.”

That one simple phrase communicates so much to children.

It tells them that their failure today isn’t a permanent failure and that they can change. 

It gives them something positive to focus on, “You’ll remember next time to use your words.”

It also helps them resolve their current feelings (I feel bad now, but next time I can do better) and gives them a sense of relief and a desire to try next time.

If they do remember next time they might even point it out to you “I remembered Mama! I used my words!” with their eyes shining with pride.

And you’ll respond with a “Yes, you did remember! You used your words!” just as excited as they are.

When they do that you know it happened — they were empowered to change their behavior from within.

That pride is a reflection of the empowerment. And it wasn’t about you controlling their behavior, but about them learning a better way and internalizing it– they changed from within.

This phase really works, but it isn’t magic. The problem is little kids don’t remember easily. Changing toddler behavior takes practice and opportunity and if you empower them along the way they will internalize those behaviors.

I’ve found this works best for 2 and 3-year-olds, depending on the child’s maturity.

My son is 4-years-old and uses this phrase on his own now — “next time I’ll remember.” But I have to reinforce that, especially if it’s something he really already knows.

“Yes, you will remember because you already know that. What can you do instead?”

Adding in natural consequences to behavior can bring home the need to change the behavior, but even with older children, you want them to know they can change and how they can approach the situation differently next time.

“I know you’re upset now, but next time you’ll remember.”


How to Discipline Your Toddler: A Three-Step, Easy to Remember Strategy (that works!!!)

The Secret to Your Two-Year-Old’s Heart (and gaining their cooperation!) 

Inside The Secret Mind of a 3-year-old: Why they defy you even though they know better and how to handle it with one magic tool

how to use positive parenting with toddlers



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  • Sheere Fox-Mudge
    July 20, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks. This was very helpful.

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      July 21, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      Thank You Sheere!

    • Gerusha
      April 25, 2016 at 10:17 pm

      Hi there

      Lovely site!
      Thanks so much!stay blessed n inspired!
      We appreciate u!

  • Jenn
    December 21, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    I love this – it really got me thinking! I have so many “go to” phrases, but have never thought of using this one. I can tell this phrase will be one that becomes another favorite. 🙂 I think that it would mean a lot to my boys to hear this sometimes, and I can definitely see how it would change their behavior in the future. Sharing this on my Facebook! 🙂

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      December 22, 2015 at 7:05 am

      Hi Jenn,

      I’m always looking for more go to phrases too, I’m glad you like this one. Thank you for sharing on your Facebook page!

  • Amanda Watson
    February 25, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    I like this! It was really helpful! A phrase we use most is “Were you thinking?”. Not in a belittling way. But, as a family, we talk a lot about thinking before we react or act; instead of plowing forward, letting our feelings guide us. Many times, our kids catch themselves before making a mistake. Or, it helps them realize their mistake and seems to encourage them to understand the pain/problem that their action caused, rather than them being prideful about a consequence.

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      February 25, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      I like that — especially in the way that you use it. In the Whole-Brain Child book they talk about using your upstairs brain or your downstairs brain. It is the same idea of stopping and thinking before acting. What you are also teaching you children when you use that phrase is self-regulation. The ability to control impulses. I am going to use this with my son– thank you for sharing!

  • galeema
    March 12, 2016 at 5:17 am

    thank you.

  • Amy
    March 12, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Thank you for sharing. Sure wish I could have done this when mine was little…he needs help with impulse control now as a teenager! Do you think this would work for a teenager? We are looking to change several behaviors and bad choices that our son is regularly making…without much success. I feel all we do anymore is constantly punish him with little or no positive results. My go to phrase is I give two choices…then say “you choose which you would rather do/have happen” and in that moment he usually chooses the correct one but our issue we are having are the choices he makes when we are not with him. Any advice is appreciated at this point! Thank you.

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      March 12, 2016 at 9:41 am

      Great question. I haven’t gotten to the teenage years yet myself and I also specialized in younger children in my research. However, I do know this: Research shows that 11-year-olds actually have better judgement than 15-year-olds because of the changes the brain is going through at this age. The brain is reorganizing and the second biggest growth in executive functioning is happening. During this growth spurt the brain is more disorganized and as a result, you can see more impulsiveness. I like your strategy of giving him two choices — you are illustrating good decision-making skills. I also think educating your son about the development his brain is going through can help– learning to make good choices is a natural part of his development right now. Harvard has some great resources and also executive function exercises for kids based on age: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/activities-guide-enhancing-and-practicing-executive-function-skills-with-children-from-infancy-to-adolescence/. I also think positive discipline works at any age and while I don’t have specific strategies off the top of my head for teens, I recommend this book: http://amzn.to/1LiDNZ3

      • Amy
        March 12, 2016 at 1:07 pm

        Thank you so much for your input. It is good to hear some reasons behind his impulsiveness. I have heard that the male brain doesn’t fully develop until they’re 25. Yikes!!! ? If this is true we have a long road ahead of us, but are in it for the duration!! I will definitely be checking out the link and book you have shared with me. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know!! 🙂

  • Misty
    March 13, 2016 at 11:12 am

    This worked for me when I taught my daughter to say excuse me instead of just rudely interrupting. She gets so proud of herself when I acknowledge her now that she forgets what she even wanted. She says “see mommy that was polite right”!

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      March 13, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      That’s awesome Misty! I’m so glad to hear it worked for you.

  • Geoff Havenaar
    March 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    That is a great link to move the child forward. I will try it tomorrow….. if ‘I’ remember!

  • Melinda
    March 25, 2016 at 12:58 am

    My almost 4-year-old, Ruby, has been engaging in negative self talk, always following a negative consequence (natural consequence or otherwise). Today, she made a series of poor choices at the grocery. Once it the car, she started crying, verbalize that she was upset by her choices, upset with herself etc. This is usually where the negative self talk will begin. (“Why do I do this? When will I learn! I ruin everything!” But with intense emotion.) I looked my girl in the eye and told her, “I know you’re upset now, but next time you’ll remember.” The impact was immediate! Her mouth turned upward so very slightly as her eyes studied mine deciding g whether or not she believed me. Her whole body noticeably relaxed a little and she said, “ok.” And we moved on. It was beautiful.

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      March 25, 2016 at 7:05 am


      That is beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing. It worked so well for my son at that age and I’m so glad to see it working for others. This makes my heart happy!

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  • Kassi Chapman
    June 30, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Such a good phrase to remind them that it isn’t permanent or the end of the world!
    We always say, “Momma/Daddy disciplines you to help guide your heart. I love you.”
    It helps remind them (and us!) that we aren’t disciplining out of anger or just to do it; we’re disciplining to reach their heart.

    • Ashley Soderlund Ph.D.
      June 30, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      I love that Kassi. It is — discipline is about helping them problem solve not to control them or change them. Just to guide them and “guide their heart.” I love that because it speaks to the idea that emotion regulation in kids isn’t mature yet. Their young hearts need our loving guidance. <3

  • Kris
    December 10, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Wow what a powerful phrase. I think even adults could use this reminder. (Even if it reminding ourselves…not to yell… Ok I’ll to remember next time. And to model this for our kids too. ) my kids like to point out when I do things that make them upset or when I am not being consistent. “Ouch mom when you yell it hurts my ears. Please stop yelling mama.” “Oh I am sorry honey, you’re right I shouldn’t tell. I feel frustrated sometimes and I yell. I will try and remember next time not to yell. What kinds of things help you be less frustrated when you are yelling? ” my kids have said they like to count, or take a break, or deep breathe. And encourage me to do that. I don’t want my kids parenting me and that isn’t the point, but I do like to show them that I am not perfect and that even mama slips up but that we all even grown ups can try to get better and improve.