I had a “play on words” session with a mom of a sixteen-month-old today and she asked about discipline. She said she hasn’t changed the volume of her voice yet and mostly “re-directs” her son when he is doing something wrong such as going for the electrical outlets or the fireplace

I told her there is no reason to raise your voice because your tone can send the message. I was recently with a fifteen-month-old and his parents and I was amazed at their consistent and effective discipline with their little boy. When he started to do something dangerous they simply said, “No, sir” in a calm but firm voice. Now, mom is from the South which explains the gentile manners, but her quiet manner was very effective and consistent.

Here are some tips on using language to manage behavior when you have to discipline your toddler:


  1. Don’t overuse “no” but save it for issues of safety and disobedience. The word will become less effective if it is overused.

  1. Simply state your child’s name and “no” followed by a simple explanation such as, “Lily, no, the stove is hot.” Or “No, Sam, we don’t touch the fireplace, it burns.” Young children can’t comprehend a long explanation and it is better to have effectively related the concept of “no.” Since their attention span is short, they may go right back to the forbidden object, so you will need to repeat yourself. As your child’s understanding of language develops, she will begin to connect danger or “no” with the simple consequences that you have linked with your use of “no”: outlets—dangerous, fire—hot, stove—burn etc.

  1. Re-direct your child to something safe and interesting to play with. Offer a few choices and then join in her play, letting her decide what toy to play with.