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Toddler Discipline: Toddler Defiance and Why Mothers Nag

Toddlers are notoriously forgetful.  I think it is important to remember this when it comes to disciplining a toddler.  It can be extremely annoying to have to constantly bring a toddler up short for the same misdeeds.  It may seem that he isn’t listening to you or acknowledging your authority.  Or worse, you might even assume he is deliberately defying you by making repeat offenses.

But the thing is, toddler’s have a short attention span and they forget things easily.  Gavin forgets that he hid his trains in between the chairs.  When you ask him where he put it, he’ll shrug his shoulders and look at you with a perplexed look.  He’ll happily get down on all fours with you and look under all the chairs and tables for his trains.  He forgets that he hid one of his Thomas coal balls in a nook of one of Ah Mah’s Buddha statues.  He forgets that he squeezed Salty in between the cushions of Ah Kong’s lazy chair.

That’s not all he forgets.  When he’s learning, it takes time for him to correct mistakes.  He still slips and says “fiveteen” instead of “fifteen”, although I have heard him use “fifteen” on very rare occasions.  When he repeats the songs he learned from school, he occasionally stops short when he forgets some of the words even though he sang the entire song through only moments earlier.  He forgets that “h-e-a-d” spells “head” even though I’ve flashed the card for him more times than I can remember and he has remembered it himself on occasion.

If he can forget all these things and we can be accommodating enough to repeat them for him to remember, then shouldn’t it be the same for the acts that require disciplinary measures?  It is evident from past events that he does eventually learn NOT to do certain things because it is inappropriate and it makes Mummy and Daddy mad.  I’ve also often heard him repeating “lessons” I have taught him about correct behaviour after having repeated them to him over and over.

So how do you differentiate forgetfulness from open defiance?  Well, thankfully that part is still quite obvious to me right now.  Gavin has a certain look in his eyes when he is deliberately refusing to listen.  But the good news is that he’s also keen to keep me happy because he often asks me, “Mummy, are you happy?”  Especially when I’m frowning and he knows it is because of something that he did.

So those open acts of defiance are usually quite few and far between.  Whether they will become more frequent as he begins to test the boundaries remains to be seen…  But in the meantime, it looks like it is necessary to be patient and play the “broken record”.

And that is why mothers nag – after having to repeat ourselves so frequently and constantly, it becomes a force of habit.


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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