Setting limits in the third year

Do you find that you hear the word “No” come out of Baby’s mouth more frequently now that they're making their way through the third year? How about stomping their feet and giving you “the look”? If either of these scenarios sound familiar, then welcome to the age when Baby begins to test your patience by pushing the limits and boundaries you’ve set.

By the time Baby reaches 24 months old, they have spent a lot of time exploring and learning about the world around them. And now that they are gaining confidence in their ability to communicate more effectively, they are ready to start using their vocal cords (and body language) to tell you how they're really feeling. While this phase can be a bit challenging, it can also be one of the best times to lay the foundation for rules and limits in your household.

How positive discipline can help you set limits

The key to effective limit-setting when Baby is this young is finding a balance between being firm and giving them some control. This is best accomplished when you understand what they are capable of, learn to stand your ground when it comes to the limits that are most important to you, and try to be flexible and willing to compromise on the ones that are not as critical, and include your child in the process of figuring out which is which, when that’s appropriate.

Positive Discipline, a parenting technique created by Dr. Jane Nelsen, teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults. Positive discipline involves parenting in a warm, kind, and respectful way with fair, firm boundaries and relevant, reasonable consequences. This approach is effective long-term and helps children feel a connection and a sense of belonging and significance. Proponents of this approach believe that kids can and will respect limits and behave without threats, bribes, yelling and physical punishment.

Tips for setting limits using positive discipline

  • Approach the situation with the idea that your child is not bad — it is the behavior that you want to address. “I love you, but I don’t like that (name the behavior) behavior.”
  • Take a break from pointing out what they are doing wrong and instead, notice the behaviors they are doing correctly and acknowledge them. “I noticed you picked up all of your toys and put them away. Thank you for following the rules.”
  • Be kind, but firm. Toddlers need crystal clear expectations and boundaries in order to grow, develop, and feel safe.
  • Be realistic about your expectations. Remember, your child may not have the ability to do what you ask of them. Be clear, use simple language, and use a limited amount of words when giving a direction. If you say “Baby, please put this cup on the table,” it’s important to hand them the cup and point them in the direction of the table.
  • Offer choices when possible, but make sure they are choices you can live with. “I see that you are sad because it’s time to pick up your toys and go to bed. After you clean up, would you like me to pick out a book to read or would you like to pick it out?” Not only does this take the focus off of their frustration and pending temper tantrum, it also offers them some control over what is going to happen after they clean up.
  • Always look at mistakes as opportunities to learn.
  • Focus on solutions instead of punishment. Whenever possible, involve your toddler in the decision-making process. If you can work together and come up with a mutually-agreed-upon decision, they will feel ownership over the situation, and become better at problem-solving.
  • Natural consequences are the best ways for toddlers (and all kids) to learn. As long as they are safe and not in danger, let Baby’s actions be followed up with the appropriate consequence.
  • Use encouragement instead of praise. Praise focuses on perfection rather than progress and improvement and trains children to defend on constant feedback regarding what a great job they are doing. Encouragement is an observation or acknowledgment that can be inspirational and motivating, and a gentle, supportive nudge that helps children meet important goals. For example, encouragement sounds like,“That was the first time you stacked three blocks,” whereas praise tells a child, “I’m so proud of you for stacking three blocks, you are so smart.”

About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son. 

  • Nelsen, Jane, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Duffy. Positive Discipline: The First Three Years. New York: Harmony, 2015. Print
  • “Disciplining Your Child.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved July 24 2017.
  • “Positive Discipline.” Positive Discipline. Positive Discipline, Retrieved July 24 2017.
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