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Toddler Discipline: Cause and Effect in Present Time

Here is a realisation that hit me about effective toddler discipline last night…

Gavin was misbehaving last night and refusing to listen to us when we asked him to do something.  Instead, he kept on playing in his little pop-up house.  Since we were planning to go to Singapore the next day, hubby told him that if he did not do as he was told he would not be coming with us to Singapore.

We knew he wanted to go to Singapore so it was assumed that it would be an effective threat to bring him in line.  Unfortunately, it failed to bring about the desired end results.  Although Gavin kept insisting that he wanted to go to Singapore, he still wasn’t listening to us.  After a while, he even told us he didn’t want to go to Singapore.

After a while, I remembered one of my previous posts about toddlers at this age living in present time and I realised that taking away the privilege of going to Singapore didn’t really have the impact upon Gavin that we wanted because it was a loss he could not experience right now.  By the next day, he would have forgotten all about the previous night’s misdemeanours and the meaning of the punishment would have been lost upon him.  If we were going to threaten him with a loss of privilege, it had to be something he could feel then and there.

So I tried a different tack.  I told him I would confiscate his pop-up house unless he did as he was told.  I even made a move to start packing up his house which elicited a strong protest from him.  He didn’t like the idea of losing his house so he obeyed.  However reluctant he might have been, it had achieved the desired end results.

I believe the reason why this was more effective than the threat of not going to Singapore was because it was a loss he could experience in the present time.  Singapore, on the other hand, was in a future too far away for him to comprehend.  By offering a relationship between cause and effect that was something he could experience immediately, it helped him to react more appropriately.

Just as we have to accept that we cannot ask a toddler what he wants tomorrow, we also have to realise that he will not remember the significance of a punishment that is carried out the following day.  If you want to remove privileges for misbehaviour, it has to be something that is felt immediately or the link between behaviour and punishment will not be felt or understood fully.  The failure to effectively communicate the reason for the punishment means the lesson will be lost.

Until your toddler can fully relate to events that will happen later and make the link between what happens now and what happens tomorrow, it is important to keep everything in present time.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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