Positive Discipline: Ages 1 to 5

Mother & Child

There are many joys of parenting, but let’s be real, it can be also be tough to be the parent of a young child, especially a strong-willed one. Just ask our nurses and doctors at Hospitality Health ER who are raising “highly-spirited kids” of their very own. We’ve seen it all: meltdowns in public places, bite marks, sibling head bonks, refusals to clean up, and so much more. Oh what fun! But by knowing the expected set of behaviors at each age, we can prepare ourselves for how to react and discipline in the most effective way possible. Every child is different, but here are some positive discipline strategies you can try. Use the ones that work the best for your child.

Positive Discipline at Age 1

What’s Exciting About this Age: Your child has a lot of energy and is beginning to explore with curiosity. He is moving around a lot, possibly even walking.

Challenges: From age 1 to about 4, these ages will require the most patience (outside of the tween and teen years, of course). As your child explores, he will be doing things that may be unsafe, destructive, or not in line with social norms. Your child is just beginning to understand language, so it’s highly likely he does not understand what you mean when you correct him. He has a very short attention span and no sense of norms, so redirection and consequences should keep that in mind.

Discipline Tips:

  • Your tone of voice and facial expressions are the most effective in disciplining. Be firm yet positive. It’s okay to take away things he shouldn’t have.
  • Demonstrate proper behavior, but don’t force it.
  • Address tantrums by comforting and diverting attention to something else positive.

Positive Discipline at Age 2

What’s Exciting About this Age: Your child is more aware of her surroundings and will begin to form more words and even some sentences.

Challenges: Although she understands more language, there is still a lot she doesn’t comprehend. She will test her limits with the people around her. And because she is still figuring out her emotions, her behavior will often be irrational, often times acting out in tantrums.

Discipline Tips:

  • Avoid yelling and power struggles. Remember, she is testing to see how you will react. Sometimes, tantrums are used to grab any kind of attention, whether positive or negative. Stay calm but assertive with matter-of-fact statements like, “We don’t throw food. We keep food on the table.”
  • Give her choices and even an incentive to cooperate.  
  • Ignore negative behavior like tantrums, but don’t leave her to act out on her own. Leaving her can make things worse because she may feel abandoned. Instead, give her some time then redirect her towards positive behavior.

Positive Discipline at Age 3

What’s Exciting About This Age: Your child is feeling more independent and is able to communicate and understand more clearly. They understand and can carry out instructions, like washing their hands after using the potty.

Challenges: They are still figuring out how to handle their emotions, so there is a propensity for whining and tantrums. Although he can carry out instructions, he may not carry them out consistently.

Discipline Tips:

  • Instead of scolding your child for not following instructions or norms, gently remind him. You can even demonstrate the desired behavior and help with a task, whenever possible.
  • Use simple instructions to teach a task. Even if he doesn’t complete the task correctly right away, use positive reinforcement whenever he puts in the effort.
  • Make learning fun, so your child associates the chore or task with a positive emotion. If your child is learning how to put toys away, tell him he’ll get a high five for every toy he puts away.
  • If he continues to act unfavorably, you can take away a privilege or put him in a short time out.

Positive Discipline at Age 4

What’s Exciting About This Age: Your child has a longer attention span and can carry out instructions more consistently. Her social skills are developing and she is more independent.


  • She has a better grasp of what she wants and doesn’t want, and she will communicate this through sulking or whining.
  • She may have difficulty transitioning and will disobey instructions, especially when she is having fun in what she is focused on.
  • She may innocently fib or cheat to get her way.

Discipline Tips:

  • Give your child advance notice about transitioning. If she’s fully engaged on an iPad game but you know she’s had enough screen time, tell her ten minutes ahead of time that she has five minutes left to play. That way, you are prepared to give a few more minutes if she kindly asks for more time. If she acts irrationally, tell her you will talk to her once she calms down.
  • Don’t address whining. Ignore it or simply respond as though your child is asking for something in an ordinary voice. Refuse or agree to the request as you normally would.
  • Don’t guilt trip your child about lying and cheating. It’s to be expected at this age. Just explain or demonstrate proper behavior without emotion, so she won’t be afraid about telling the truth in the future. Give examples to make her understand wrong from right.

Positive Discipline at Age 5

What’s Exciting About This Age: At this age, you may have a little helper on your hands. Your child can follow rules and do some chores, like making their bed and cleaning up their room. He is also learning how to empathize with others at this age.

Challenges: As with any age, he may still do things to test his limits. If he doesn’t get his way, you may have to deal with outbursts or answering back.

Discipline Tips:

  • Because your child is beginning to empathize, you can explain how his behavior affects others.
  • Use a behavior chart and let him post positive stickers to his chart when he demonstrates good behavior.
  • After you’ve made your request with no success, counting to 5 really helps to either stop bad behavior or initiate the action you want. Whether you want him to stop whining, get in the bath, or clean up his toys, tell him he has 5 seconds to -fill in the blank- or else he loses a privilege. Then begin counting. This strategy can also help with some younger children, even as young as 2 year olds.

Hospitality Health ER: It Takes A Village

Because we see so many families and children of all ages at Hospitality Health ER in Tyler and Longview, we want to support our parents in raising responsible, independent children. Beyond taking care of boo-boos, broken bones, and the sniffles, our goal is to help build a strong, healthy community of families and citizens. And that starts with education and modeling effective parenting skills. As the old saying goes, it really does take a village!

Remember, the most effective discipline comes from an intention to teach rather than emotion-based reactions. So if you’re feeling frustrated or frazzled, take a moment for yourself before you react. Your child will respond better to positive discipline and you’ll feel better knowing you exhibited self-control in the situation.