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Disciplining Toddlers

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 15-month-old daughter is becoming stubborn. When she misbehaves, and I tell her to stop, she acts like it's a game and won't listen. I don't want to resort to spanking her. How do I make her understand that she must do what I ask?

A: Your toddler will increasingly test her autonomy and independence. These "tests" are a healthy dimension of her overall developmental growth. You'll need to be more vigilant as she explores both your home and outside environments, stepping in to distract her and remind her why her intended actions were unsafe. Additionally, the more independence you grant her, like allowing her to help you with some simple household chores and choosing what she will wear in the morning, the more she will consider herself someone who is being encouraged.

It's inappropriate to expect her to internalize a sophisticated sense of right and wrong at this age. She's not neurologically hard-wired to do that now. Instead of telling her "no" or spanking her, remove her from the situation and present her with an alternative activity or distraction. Then calmly explain to her that the behavior was inappropriate. She'll begin to get this message without being blamed for "being a kid." Make sure you remember to offer her lots of encouraging words for her good choices. Always try to be more positive than negative. Positive Discipline: The First Three Years by Nelsen, Erwin, and Duffy is an excellent resource for you.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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