Your toddler is developing new likes and dislikes, ideas and feelings. Along with amazing growth and independence, she or he can also experience frustration and anger, and seem defiant and stubborn, which is how they learn persistence and determination.

As a parent, you can guide your child with Assertive Discipline to help them become independent, learn self-control, and gain self-confidence.

Assertive Discipline: What and Why?

What: Assertive Discipline means setting clear limits or rules with your child that you firmly, consistently and lovingly carry out.

Why: Assertive discipline helps you be calm and clear about your expectations. It helps children understand that their actions and behaviors have consequences that are predictable and caring, even if your child doesn’t always see it as caring in the moment.

Assertive discipline helps your child feel safe, secure, and loved. It shows your child that you respect them. It builds self-confidence because you are teaching them you believe they are capable of meeting your expectations. With time, they will learn to feel good about meeting their own expectations.

9 Guidelines for Assertive Discipline

  1. Don’t overdo it: For toddlers, having perhaps 3 to 5 rules is enough.
  2. Be prepared: Consider which rules are important to you. Have your child use “gentle hands,” not hitting, or “chairs are for sitting,” not standing and jumping on. 
  3. Be consistent: On Monday you ask your child to use gentle hands. On Tuesday and Wednesday you let your child hit the dog without saying anything. On Thursday it will be hard for your child to understand gentle hands is important all the time.
  4. Be clear, simple and age appropriate: Say “Gentle hands, please” rather than a long explanation of how hitting can lead to poor conflict resolution.
  5. Say what your child can do, not what they can’t do: Gentle hands, please,” rather than “Don’t hit the dog.”
  6. Be calm and firm: Your voice, and even your facial expressions, should be calm, yet firm. Shouting can make your child think there is a problem, rather than a logical rule to follow. It also teaches your child that yelling is how to get cooperation or attention. If your child doesn’t respond right away or is having a tantrum, shouting can make the situation worse.
  7. Give time: Don’t fuss if your child doesn’t jump up immediately. It may take them a minute or so to get into gear — toddlers process requests more slowly than adults.
  8. Applaud positive behavior: “Throw a parade” when they follow rules, especially if they do so independently – “Yay! You remembered to be gentle with the dog. You are really understanding what you need to do.”
  9. Be a good role model: If your child sees you or an older sibling being gentle with the dog, they’ll get the picture. They might be eager to be just like mommy or imitate big brother. Your child may not always do what you say, but they often will do what you do!

The Best Laid Plans

Even if you follow all the guidelines exactly and faithfully, there surely will be times when your child will assert their independence, disobey rules and limits, or the unexpected happens. What do you do then?

  • It’s the Behavior, NOT the Child. Remember when you discipline your child, it’s about their behavior, NOT about them. Say: “Toys are for playing with, balls are for throwing.” Do NOT say – “You are a bad girl for throwing toys.”
  • Explain consequences: Make sure your child understands the possible consequences of their actions and that the action makes sense for the behavior. If your child won’t put on their shoes, it’s sensible to say “We wait until shoes are on to go outside.”
  • Natural consequences: Your child overloads his backpack with toys. The natural consequence is it’s too heavy to carry. As soon as your child gets uncomfortable from the natural consequence, offer them an option: “If we take out some of the toys, your pack won’t be so heavy and you can easily carry it. Which toys should we leave home?”
    •  Caution should be taken that your child won’t be harmed by a natural consequence. Going out in the cold rain without rain gear can be okay for a little bit, but if it lasts too long your child can be harmed.
  • Logical consequences: Logical consequences don’t occur naturally from the behavior, like getting cold if you go outside without a coat, but they are still connected to your child’s behavior. You create or impose logical consequences for your child based on what they are doing.
    •  For example, if your child is slow getting ready and you miss the bus, your child may be able to understand that because you missed the bus they won’t be going to the playground today. However, if you tell your child there is no television tonight because you missed the bus, they may not be capable of understanding how their action caused this result.  They may have a hard time understanding any “logical” connection.
    •  Logical consequences are more effective when they are related to the action – then, they make sense to your child.

 Basic Needs and Discipline

 Physical Needs

  • HALTHungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, is a good thing to remember when your child is having a hard time with rules and limits or having a melt down.  Make sure your child’s basic needs are taken care of.
  • Emotional Needs: Has your child had a hard day at the park? Is she missing her grandparents who just went home to another state? Consider your child’s emotional needs if they aren’t able to follow general rules.
  • Assert Away!

Be calm. Be clear. Be loving. Be consistent.

Use assertive discipline to set a few age appropriate rules for your toddler. And when your child doesn’t follow the rules (and testing rules is a normal developmental step), follow through with natural or logical consequences that fit the situation.

With assertive discipline, you’ll find your child will gain confidence and self-control and you’ll rest calmer and easier at the end of the day.

And when it’s the end of the day, assert your needs by connecting with other parents. Share this blog post on Facebook, your webpage or other social media and ask family and friends what rules and consequences they’re setting for their children.


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors, Tova Stabin, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at


Triple P – Positive Parenting Program

Are you interested in receiving more parenting advice? Triple P Online – Positive Parenting Program could be for you! This online parenting program allows you to take a parenting class in the comfort of your own home, at a coffee shop, or wherever you’d like!

If you are interested, submit the form below and information about next steps will be sent directly to your inbox. For more information about the program click here.