Positive and Creative Discipline

Turning Tears into Laughter: Creative Discipline for the Toddler and Preschool Years

My book ‘Turning Tears into Laughter: Creative Discipline for the Toddler and Preschool Years’ Books is a bag of useful and inspiring tools for those trying moments that naturally occur with all young children. These techniques can transform challenging moments; whilst parent and child remain connected together. There is still a desired behaviour that is achieved or a negative behavior that is stopped, but how you find your way there is a matter of ‘creative’ choice. There are many pathways in disciplining; I am choosing the one that empowers both parent and child, is fun, understanding and loving (well most of the time anyway!).

Ask ‘Why?’

When toddlers display inappropriate behaviours, the first response – rather than pointing a finger – can be to ponder the question ‘Why?’ Behaviours are a means of communicating. Are they tired or hungry? Do they need their pace slowed down and special time with you? Too much excitement can lead to undesirable behaviour. Are children in fact being creative and inquisitive, and their loudness or messiness is not purposely disruptive? If behaviours tend to repeat themselves, keep a daily diary of when events happen. Asking ‘Why?’ allows you insight and compassion into your child’s life. It stops the parent from reacting harshly, giving time to respond in a compassionate way. The question ‘Why?’ a wonderful question to ask!

After asking ‘why’, the following Creative Discipline tools can be tried: change the environment, re-direct, praise, give a choice, say ‘no’ in a different way, be a positive role-model, and, if all else fails, the quiet removal.

Change the environment

Changing the environment, not the child can develop a sense of increased fun, understanding and compassion. The following scenario is one example where changing the environment can change the young child’s challenging behaviour.

 Scenario: your child does not want to go to bed

Change the environment by making sure they are not overly stimulated by TV or games at bed/bath time

Introduce a lovely rhythm which is fun and special, a piggy back ride to the bathroom, a funny game where each tooth speaks and says his favourite part of the day

Bathwith your child by candle light!

Sing a lullaby

Stroke your child’s head and say kind words

Say goodnight to three things in the room, let your child choose which toys

Make sure you are connected with your child at these sacred times and be consistent with a fun and loving bed time rhythm.

Scenario: a child does not want to get into the car seat

Assess how much time is spent in the car. Plan at least one or two home days a week

Have a special tub of treats (healthy of course) that can be offered for car journeys

Change the environment in the car: hang a new mobile, buy some special car pockets to place favourite toys and hard covered books inside

Let the child play putting teddy or dolly in the car to share the car journey together

Play simple car games: sing a song, tell a story, and spot coloured cars out of the window

Listen for the seat belt to say, ‘çlick’. It is now time to blow a few bubbles for the toddler to catch, before starting the engine.

Keep a diary of difficult times and then brainstorm how you could creatively change the environment for a positive, connected outcome.


Children’s spontaneity and ability to be in the moment allows for the art of re-direction. Isolate the action a child is displaying and re-direct it into a safe and positive play idea.

Scenario: a young child is throwing wooden blocks inside; they do look great flying through the air!

Place a basket near by, “You throw a ball, not blocks or toys, let us throw the ball together. Throw the ball into the basket, goal! Balls are for throwing, well done!”

Re-direct to a whole new activity, when continual trying moments occur. Re-direction can also quickly change a child’s mood.

Re-direct to teach the solution

All too often parents fall into the trap of reacting to an inappropriate behaviour by saying – often in a raised voice – “Don’t do……… or No………. or Stop it!” With this type of sentence, the child hears what to not do, but with no real guidance of an appropriate way of behaving. Each time your child displays a negative behaviour is an opportunity to teach your child how to live in this world. The most commonly used method reinforces the negative verb: do not hit; stop crying. Instead empathise the positive verb; be gentle; calm down. Try to stop yourself from giving a negative response but state instead what you expect the child to do. This correct behaviour can then be role-modeled together.

Scenario: a child is pulling a cat’s tail.

“We stroke a pussy cat like this” (demonstrate). “Let us do it together” (place the child’s hand on the cat and stroke together). “He loves to be treated kindly and softly, this is the way to stroke a cat. Great, you are doing such a good job, being gentle. He loves that, well done!”

Scenario: a young child is hitting a playmate to get a toy.

Say ‘hands down’ in a firm manner, re-directing the child to keep his hands to himself.

Re-direct the child to use words to ask for a turn, or to say, ‘Stop! I do not like that’. Find a similar toy to play with. Re-direct the child to help you get a timer to play a turn taking game when the bell pings!  Model an apology and demonstrate ‘gentleness’ with friends.

Explain gentleness throughout the week with toys and chat about what makes a good friend. ‘Sam does not like to be hit, it makes him sad’ (explaining simple emotions). Praise positive behavior.