toddler limit

8 Expert Tips on Setting Limits for Your Toddler

Setting limits for a toddler is something that’s quite tricky for a lot of moms, including me.  I mean, how do give them boundaries without spanking them?Will they follow you without bribes or threats? Are timeouts effective?

Toddlers constantly test our patience — throwing tantrums at the most inconvenient times and wanting things done their way! I understand that testing boundaries is a healthy sign of independence  but it’s still kinda stressful for me when my little girlie does this, especially in public.

So, I looked for reliable sources to help us for those pressured moments when we need to decide if we’ll let have our toddler have his/ her way or  set limits to their behavior. Most of these ideas are based on Janet Lansbury’s Elevating Child Care website and the book, “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen”, that have been translated into my own experiences as a mom.

Ready? You can do this.

While these tips are based on my readings and personal experiences, kindly note that they are not a substitute for expert opinion. As always, please do what you feel is best for you and your child.

Put your best hat on.

I know it’s tempting to fix the problematic situation ASAP but let’s face it, it’s not that easy. I learned that we need to be calm and confident ourselves before we can help them.

It’s a tall order, right? But Janet says we can do this by thinking of ourselves as leaders or CEOs. If I might add, even a superhero even just for this moment.

Sometimes, all we need is to breathe deeply.  Imagine yourself in these powerful roles  with our little toddler as our follower. You can do this.

The truth is, it is difficult to be my best self when I’m really tired and stressed out from everything else going on. I just want to scream. Get back to my day. Have a quiet moment for myself.

But, as much as I possibly could, I pull myself together. I try to remember that my little one needs me to teach her how to do things — or how not to. Let of anger and doubt and just do it.

I read somewhere, ” Don’t discipline when you’re angry.”  Let’s all remember this.

Be clear, specific, and firm in putting limits

It feels really nice when she says, “Mommy teach me”. I think last week, she asked me how to open the door. So, I told her to  put her hand on the knob and twist it to right.

I try to do the same when setting boundaries.

When  I ask her to pass something and she throws it, I use the words “ I need you to hand me the toy please, instead of ” Don’t throw your toy at me”.


Because it gives her a clear and straightforward statement of what I need her to do. Saying, “don’t hit or no biting” limits her behavior but doesn’t tell her what is expected. It was a light bulb moment for me reading this in the book I mentioned.    

Sometimes words aren’t enough

Now, let’s talk about other negative behaviors like biting, hitting, spitting or pushing. Janet recommends that we limit not only with words but take swift action when needed.

Her exact phrase to use is ” I won’t let you/ I don’t want you to” while blocking or stopping your toddler from doing the negative behavior.

She also advises removing anger from the words because it will draw attention to the behavior that we don’t want repeated. 

Moreover, she doesn’t think using, “okay?” at the end of the limit. It makes your limit tentative like your toddler is supposed to agree with it. 

Your toddler doesn’t like limits.But he/she NEEDS them.

For instance, with setting screen time, saying, “We’re turning the TV off, ok?” isn’t a clear limit. But perhaps confidently stating, ” We’re turning off the TV in five minutes  or at 5pm” will make her understand better.

But don’t expect her to just agree with you.

Welcome feelings but not behavior

toddler crying tantrum

I grew up thinking that crying is something bad. I mean, older folks would stop children from crying by saying, ” Crying will make you look ugly.” or  even bribing , ” I’ll give you chocolate if you stop crying.”

Maybe that’s the reason why I sometimes suppress my emotions.

But crying is  actually a good thing.  Just like vomiting is for the body, it purges us from things that can make us sick. Research tells us that crying improves our mood and gives relief. 

I think we don’t like crying children because we think we can’t handle it.

It is certainly not fun to have a toddler bawling her eyes out, especially when you’re  exhausted and  overwhelmed  but Janet believes we should allow our child to cry when he or she’s upset.

Don’t punish your child for showing emotions. Don’t tell her crying will make her look ugly or bribe her to stop.

Having and expressing feelings is healthy. There is no negative feeling in my opinion. Possibly only negative behavior.

Every feeling serves a purpose, just like in the movie “Inside Out” which my daughter loves to watch. Sadness brings people together. Fear keeps you safe. Anger fights for Fairness.

And disgust saves you from broccoli. Just kidding. Disgust avoids unpleasant experiences.

Crying is good but hitting or kicking somebody while crying is not acceptable.  

Check your expectations

Are they realistic? Are they appropriate for their developmental stage?

At 2 0r 3, we can’t expect them to know right from wrong. We do expect them to assert their independence, to explore things they can do themselves.

I notice my little girlie wants to do learn how to do things by herself — know how to put clothes on, pick clothes to wear, etc. It’s really amazing how fast she’s growing up and learning!

So I guess, saying “NO!” all the time is just another way of saying, “ I want to stand on my own little feet!” 

Be personal but don’t take it personally

While we often use Mommy and Daddy, Janet encourages us to speak using ” I” when talking to our toddler because it is more personal and more straightforward.

I used to say, ” Mommy wants you to ” but now I say , ” I want you to.”

By the way, according to the book, it’s also a good idea to let your children know what you don’t like (in first person, of course)  and offering choices.

For example,  your toddler wants to draw on the wall. You could say, ” I don’t like seeing paintings on the wall. Where would you like to draw? On this paper or  that cardboard over there?”

You could try that– but I just let her paint on the wall. I think I have an artist in the making.

Now, we shouldn’t take it personally when she doesn’t want your choices and feels upset. Her feelings are her own and don’t have to do anything with you. Her toddler brain just can’t reason with you yet. You can do this.

No timeouts for your toddler please, but have some for you

timeout toddler mom

There was a time when timeouts were considered trendy parenting but Janet argues that timeouts distance children from what is happening.

She has a good point, right? Imagine a toddler standing in a corner, “reflecting” on what he or she did.

I mean, will she really do that? She’s probably just gonna sulk and feel more upset. She may also keep asking herself, “ Why am I here? ” Plus, she doesn’t learn anything.

Timeouts are for us, to keep us SANE! You can do this.

Anticipate needs and give time to transition

I think it was in the book that I read how important it is to be prudent when it comes to our toddler’s needs. Why?

Well, it’s more difficult to set and impose limits when a child is hungry, anxious or tired. Also, when needs are not met, she’s more likely to have tantrums.

As for transitions, I usually let my little girlie know beforehand if an activity will end and what we’ll do next.

For example, if we’re in a play place and there’s only 10 minutes remaining for play time, I tell her. She actually doesn’t know how long 10 minutes is but what matters is she knows that playtime will be over soon.

By doing this, I was able to “limit” her play time more smoothly. If she gets upset and cries, then let it be. I’ll stay with her until she’s ready for the next activity.

Anyway, I think setting limits to a toddler is definitely tough love. I can’t give in to her wants all the time but I need to give her what she needs– limits — even if means handling a tantrum.

They say discipline isn’t about punishment, it’s about connection.

Love, courage and confidence. You can do this. 

I hope these help.

How bout you, how do you deal with setting limits?


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