Our Take on Respectful Toddler Discipline a.k.a Boundary Setting

Hello! Today I thought I would talk about the hot topic of conversation in my household and also among my mummy friends, respectful discipline or boundary setting with toddlers. As Michael and I still spend a lot of time talking about how we can appropriately set boundaries for Lizzie we obviously haven’t cracked it, but we have come a long way. I thought I would share somethings that have worked for us and somethings that really haven’t.

I think it would be helpful if you knew a little more about Lizzie, she is a charming, funny, playful, at times reserved, sensitive toddler, she is the utter light of our lives, but like all toddlers she can be very stubborn, at times defiant, she is basically finding her feet in this world and at times that can be trying on us.

My aim is to set the boundaries for Lizzie which help her to feel confident in safely exploring her world and supporting her to develop good social skills and morals. I read an analogy explaining the importance of setting boundaries and it said to imagine a bridge, if the bridge has no sides we feel very anxious about crossing it, whereas if the bridge has sides we feel much more confident in crossing it. That is what I believe clear and consistent boundaries give children – confidence.



Here are our do’s and don’ts for a happy toddler life.


  1. Have realistic expectations. Lizzie isn’t going to sit in her pushchair for three hours while I go clothes shopping, I am just asking for a tantrum. As far as humanly possible I try to organise our days around Lizzie. If I am having lunch with a friend in London, they all know they are going to have to work around Lizzie’s schedule and that means a nice long walk so that she can get a nap in her buggy, a stop at somewhere she can have a run around (the Southbank Centre and Tate Modern are great for toddlers to let off a bit of steam). Michael used to make fun of my planning of our days out, now he is a total convert, as he has seen what happens when our days aren’t planned to incorporate the above.
  2. Ensure she is well rested and fed. Ensure that she has had the correct amount of sleep and nutritious food. This isn’t always possible, for instance over Christmas we were in a number of places where she wouldn’t nap, so we went against one of our parenting rules and let her have some downtime watching TV. If she has a poor night’s sleep I ensure that the next day is chilled out and she is at home for a good, long nap.
  3. Use logical/natural consequences. For example when Lizzie is playing with her toys, if she has finished with her Duplo and would like to do some painting, I will ask her to tidy up her Duplo bricks before I get her paints out. If she doesn’t tidy up her bricks then I follow through and don’t get the paints out. If she gets upset I will always comfort her and give her a big cuddle but I stick to the consequence that I gave her. This morning Lizzie wanted to have some of my hand cream so I gave it to her, she then proceeded to smear it on the mirror, I informed her that I didn’t want her to smear it on the mirror and that if she did it again I would remove the hand cream from her, she did, I did, she cried, we cuddled, the day went on and I proved again that she can trust in what I say.
  4. Stay calm. Easier said than done. Lizzie decided to throw all her vests and pajamas out of the cupboard, I was having a long, hard day and I could feel myself getting angry so I very consciously calmed myself down before dealing with the situation.
  5. Give her ownership of what she shares with her friends. Before play-dates we always give Lizzie the opportunity to put away any toys that she doesn’t want to share with her friends and we make an agreement that any toys that are left out she is willing to share. Obviously this isn’t 100% effective and there have been times when a toy that Lizzie thought she was willing to share becomes one that she really isn’t willing to share. When this situation arises I give her three options: play with the toy together, take timed turns with the toy or the toy goes away, interestingly so far she has always chosen that the toy gets put away. I suspect that at her development stage cooperative play with one toy is difficult and her concept of time is in its infancy.
  6. Stick with no means no. A while a go I was listening to a panel of diverse experts in parenting give advice to parents on Radio 4, they disagreed on many topics but this was the one they all agreed on. I think there are two parts to this, the first being think before you say no, is it really that important?  We were in the supermarket the other week and Lizzie saw the Ella’s Kitchen smoothie pouches and wanted one. I was about to say no, thank goodness we don’t have to buy these hideously expensive things anymore and then I thought she’s been a star while we walk around this supermarket, it can’t be much fun for her, if she gets upset will I give in? Probably, so I said yes.
  7. Explain the reason behind a rule. For example, with tidying we talk about knowing where her toys are, that we don’t hurt ourselves by falling over toys that have been left on the floor and how the importance of tidying. We never explain a rule in the middle of a tantrum or when Lizzie is upset, what’s the point? She won’t be able to take it in or offer a meaningful contribution. We discuss the reasons behind rules at meal times or other calm times, sometimes we have books on the subject that support our discussions. These discussions are pretty short and I’m going to be honest Lizzie hasn’t shown that much interest in them, but we persevere.



  1. Use empty threats. As I said in a previous post every weekend Michael and Lizzie spend quality time together, now sometimes Lizzie can be quite difficult to get dressed and Michael has been know to tell Lizzie that if she doesn’t hurry up then he will go to the park without her. Obviously he isn’t going to go to the park without her and no matter how many times he repeats this, she knows that this consequence is not going to happen.
  2. Be scared of emotions. I breastfed Lizzie for 21 months, we co-slept (well I didn’t actually get much sleep), I attempted to meet her every need instantly and now because I am saying that we need to leave a play-date she is sobbing her hear out. This is hard and I keep having to tell myself Lizzie needs a strong and consistent mum. I also realise that somethings that seem trivial to us adults are genuinely heartbreaking for toddlers, like saying goodbye to a friend or not getting a toy that you like the look of in a shop, so I always comfort her and as a true south Londoner say “let it all out girl”. I always try to empathise and comfort. I’m not a big fan of distraction, if I was truly upset I wouldn’t want anyone tickling me. It can be hard to be around raw toddler emotion, but I feel that is when my daughter needs me the most.
  3. Shout. Unless they are about to hurt themselves or others and then just to get their attention. As a teacher I quickly realised that the teachers with the worst behaved classes were the teachers that shouted the most – their students just tuned them out and I believe children do this with their parents as well. As well as being ineffective I don’t want to be part of a family who shouts at each other, its just not the atmosphere I want.
  4. Use timeout. Never used it, so I can’t comment on whether it works or not, but isn’t the underlying message of timeout “do what mummy and daddy want or we will exclude from our family unit”? This isn’t a message I want to send my daughter.

So there is our method for boundary setting, are we totally off track? What have you found that works?

Emma xxx


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