Disciplining your Toddler- a new approach to an old method


In this day and age, many young parents struggle with the decision of whether they should or should not resort to physical punishment on their toddlers. As each child is different, you will probably realise that there is no cookie cutter method of disciplining your offsprings. Talking to one child might be sufficient, but for another, the old adage “spare the rod and spoil the child” might be a good fit. How does one enforce the latter method of disciplining effectively?


I am not sure about you, but my mum’s idea of discipline was to cane and cane furiously without explanation and with the intention to shame- she targeted my legs and arms every time. Whilst it did make me most fearful of making the same mistake again, it created a deep rooted resentment in me as a child. I recall how some of my classmates got caned as well, but would tell of how their parent then applied calamine lotion to their cane marks. No such luck for me. It was tough love all the way from my Mum. She wielded the cane over every issue big and small.

My Dad was the other extreme. He caned me once when I was in kindergarten and could never bear to lay a hand on me again. He would sit me down and explain to me. He didn’t have to yell or hit me to induce the deepest guilt in me for my wrongdoing. He showed me that he respected my feelings and I very much respected his. Yet, in a way, I took advantage of that softer approach at times.


When I became a parent, I realised that I did not want to discipline my kid like my mum, but being quite the cheeky little bugger myself (and I got away with too much with my Dad), I realised I did not want to be too much of a softie either. As I was initially a single mum, until my hubby entered the picture later on, I had to wear both hats. There was no good-cop-bad-cop for my kid. There was just one cop- Mummy.


I sought a balance in my approach- I would give verbal warnings that were first done in a less stern manner initially. But when he persists, I would give a firm warning. I would then take away privileges from him (TV time, a favourite toy) should he continue. I resort only to wielding the cane when he is being outright stubborn & rude or if he attempts to tell lies.

I dont’t cane multiple times. One stroke is enough. Should you wish to use the cane, you must remember that, like Spiderman, “with power comes great responsibility”. You should not cane the child to vent your anger or to shame the child. That causes resentment. Always give verbal warnings and explanations first and unless the kid persists stubbornly, then follow through with the cane after fair warning. When you cane the child, you dont’t have to really whack too hard- hard enough to make a statement, but it should not be hard enough to leave a welt. After caning the child, give him or her time to cool down if she is upset. Then later, have a talk with your child and offer reassurance that when you punish him, it is not because you love him less but because you love him more.

“I did not want to cane you. Mummy never likes having to scold or cane you. I love you and I always will, but I do not love your behaviour or what you did just now. That wasn’t right because (list reason). Does the place I cane still hurt? Sorry if it does but I did warn you I would cane you if you continued doing that. Come, mummy apply some lotion for you and give you a big hug. Promise me that you will try not to do what you did again ok?”

The important thing to remember is to always follow through and be consistent. If you tell your toddler that you will take away his TV time if he continues to be rude, you must follow through. If not, the child will remember and assume that you are making empty threats. Ditto if you say you will cane him if he does or does not do something, you have to follow through. Discipline has to be consistent because when you waiver and send mixed signals, you are giving the wrong impression that it is sometimes more okay to behave the way he or she did on some days.


Should your spouse or another authority (grandparents) disagree with your choice of discipline for a particular situation, they should speak to you in private and never voice out that disagreement before the child.

My boy used to run to my Dad to claim I reprimanded him for no reason, and he would run to me to claim my Dad yelled at him for no reason. Kids like to find a “loophole”. It is important to communicating with the other caregiver (spouse, parents who are babysitting for you) and be on the same page on disciplining styles and responses. Had I sided with my son to confront my Dad, I would have given him the idea that he can play my Dad and me against each other in following encounters.


Sometimes when a kid is behaving wrongly and refuses to admit that he is behaving wrongly, he might make this accusation. Reinforce your message and hold your ground.
For example, if my kid drew on the wall and got caned by me after initial fair warnings, this would be a sample speech. (Note that I have always spoken to my son as I would an adult, but clearly and with simple words, and I never talked down or baby talked to him.) –

“I did not cane you for no reason. You were being very naughty. I told you not to draw on the wall right? But did you listen to mummy? I said it 3 times but you continued right? Mummy will never cane you for no reason. You are the one who decides if you get caned. If you choose to do what you shouldn’t do after mummy warns you, you are asking to be disciplined. If you made the right decision and stopped drawing on the wall, I wouldn’t have caned you. So you decided to get caned. It was not my decision. I merely respected your choice.”

I emphasise always that he gets to choose if he gets scolded/caned/punished through the decisions he persists in making after I’ve warned him that a behaviour is not right. This helps him to stop and think before he does anything- will it lead to any consequences?


Although he was pretty much a sensible toddler, my firstborn could be really muleheaded at times. He would blow air through his nostrils, wail, and emotionally blackmail me with the lines, “I dont’t love you anymore.” At first hearing it really stung, and I could understand why after all these years my cries of “I dont’t want Mummy; I want Daddy!” whilst being caned as a kid still upset my mum. I realised that what my firstborn wanted was to see my reaction to the sentence and figure out how to use it to his advantage. Although, I was feeling a little sad that he said it, I replied, “It’s ok. Even if you say you dont’t love me, I still love you,” and went on doing my housework as per normal. Incredulous that his remark did not get the results he wanted, he repeated it again and I stood by my reply. He gave up after a while. He tried this tactic a few times over that year but realised that it was not going to get him his way for certain so he stopped. But the up side was that he also felt deeply reassured that mummy does love him a lot and took away that security of knowing maternal love can be unconditional.


Never threaten your child with lines such as-

“If you dont’t listen to me, I dont’t want you anymore.”
“I call the police to catch you !”
“I sell you to the karang guni then you know!”

These lines cause a great deal of anxiety, insecurity and resentment in some kids because they do value your love for them. Over time, the threats will cause them to think that your love is conditional and that they are disposable.


Even though your kid is being naughty or throwing a tantrum, say your piece then give them space to cool down and think about what you’ve said. dont’t stand there and nag on like a machine gun. Tell your child to look for you once they have sort out their thoughts on the matter, and if they want to talk to explain themselves. (If you are the one who is angry, go to the bathroom and count to ten. When we are emotional, we tend to parent emotionally and might easily fly into a rage.)

Sometimes after that, they will try to give you their reason for doing what they did. Listen to them and dont’t be quick to judge. Let them finish explaining their side of the story. After that thank them for sharing and then explain your perspective to them so they understand why it is wrong to have done what they did.

Eg. If my son was at a play date and pushed a kid who pushes him. I might have scolded him not knowing what the other boy did at first and he could have felt angry about it. When he cools down, he might explain that the other kid pushed him and he was retaliating. I would have said,

“I understand that Ben pushed you and there is nothing wrong about feeling upset with him. I would have been angry too if I were you. I am sorry I scolded you before I understood what happened, but having said that, it is still not okay to push him back. Two wrongs do not make a right. You should have told his mummy or me. It is not right to hurt him back for hurting you.”

Reaffirm that it is okay for your child to feel angry or hurt, but reinforce that they should not act on those emotions by being verbally or physically abusive. If your child feels your words when you were upset with him were emotionally hurtful, apologise for hurting his feelings, but stand firm on your decision that he was still not wrong to behave in that certain way.

Geraldine Wee


  1. Thanks for this interesting read. We have a little girl who’s going to be 19 months old soon. In my family, hubby is the good cop and I’m the bad cop. He cannot bear to scold his little princess and on the rare time that he does, he’ll feel really bad about it. We sometimes argue about this and still trying to strike a balance. I don’t want her to grow up to be a spoilt little brat!

    We’re now trying for #2 and I’m hoping it’ll be a boy as I don’t want to end up being bad cop all the time! I’m quite sure hubby will be more firm if it’s a boy. Sigh, any advice on how to manage this?

    • Hi Babybubbles!

      IMHO good cop/bad cop parenting is not a good idea at all. This is because one parent, as you’ve noticed by now, has to always be the bad cop- which is not good for building up strong bonds in the family.

      I don’t think we should play cops- whether good or bad, as parents we are there to be their educator, their friend and their parent & this is best done when parents work together as a team, with the same agenda. Basically, sit down with the hubby and decide what are the core values that you agree on with regards to bringing up your kids, what are the things that you can allow and what you cannot allow. Then make sure you both come from the same script, the same point.

      I grew up in a family where we had the good cop/ bad cop scenario. My Dad played the former, mum drew the short stick and was the latter. What this meant was that I was very close to my Dad but I grew estranged from my Mum. It took years to get over that emotional and mental hurdle set in place by their choice of parenting style. To this day, I still am not as close to my Mum because she is sadly still playing bad cop. =p And my parents aren’t really very close having grown apart playing good and bad cop.

      With Kae, my hubby and I don’t play against each other with the kid. We stand on the same side, play the same ball, call the same shots. We both decided from early on to always start with trying to educate him on why a particular action is wrong, what he can do instead and how he can go about it. But when he gets out of hand, we both play disciplinarian. Neither of us lets him get away with bad behaviour. Even if we disagree with each other, we will play the same card first and then discuss our POVs later on in private. The kid should not be privy to that sort of discussion as well. If one of us puts out a call to punish him if he continues behaving a certain way, the other goes along with the punishment. U cannot be inconsistent with kids. Once you show them that they can play one parent against the other, you’re in for a rollercoaster ride. =p

      Try explaining to your hubby that you do value his opinions on how to raise the child, that you guys are afterall on the same team, but that altho good cop/ bad cop can work in an office setting, it is best never applied at home to ensure that you both don’t argue about the kid, and that the kid will not be able to get away by setting you up against each other.

  2. The problem with the good cop-bad cop routine is that it’ll end up with your child pitting one parent against the other. I have seen it happening with my ex’s sister whereby she, at 20 yo, would run to her father to complain about how her mother lectured her for a mistake and then watch with amusement as her mum gets a shelling from her dad. At one point, things got really bad to the point where the mother was contemplating on getting a divorce.

    While each parent has their own approach to discipline, the general consensus is that you must have ground rules and agree on them. For example, if one parent says no, the other parents must agree. Caving means that the parent who says no has no authority whatsoever and can be easily undermined or worse, the child may not take that parent seriously at all. That itself will open up room for politicking in a family and drive a wedge between parents themselves.

    One thing my dad said during one of my fights with my mum as a teen was this, “No matter how wrong your mother may be, I will never go against her because she is my wife. I will stand beside her, even if it means going against my own children”. I respect and love him for that because he is carrying out his duty as a husband first – which is, must and should be the case between husband and wife.

    What I don’t like currently is how my parents undermine my authority in my own home. When I scold my toddler, my parents immediately go to her and say that I’m bad, I’m scolding her for no reason and they permit her to throw a tantrum. They’ll bundle her away and so forth. I have tried to reason with them so many times – DO NOT do that when I’m disciplining my child. I am trying to raise a well-behaved and well-mannered child and what you are doing doesn’t help at all but being of that age and mentality, they feel that they have the right to undermine my authority when it comes to disciplining my child. Awful really. =.=

    • Hey Mel,

      Yea I have the same problem with my folks too.

      Interestingly, my in-laws believe that it is up to the parents to decide on the values and the ground rules for their kids. So they don’t get involved in the disciplining process.

      Sadly, my parents do not respect that boundary. He will tell me I am being too hard on the kid- and I am just talking to my boy! Lol. My Mum will say I am too lenient.

      I was so fed up one of those days we have our differences I waited for Kae to sleep, walked out and told them firmly, not rudely, that with all due respect, he is my son and when I am disciplining him, they should not interfere. I do not like it one bit and neither will my hubby. If they have any issues with how I raise him to bring it up when we are alone. I think they were quite stunned when I put it across to them. The funny thing is my Dad used to always tell my Mum that Kae is my son and to let me decide on his things… but he would do the opposite. Lol. After the talking to, Dad basically lets me do the disciplining. He will tell me when Kae misbehaves and let me handle the situation without butting in.

      I also made it clear to Kae that my parents can say whatever they want, but mummy and daddy’s words overrule them when it comes to disciplining him. He can forget about playing sides against each other. And I always, always reinforce that Mummy and Daddy always come from love when we have to reprimand him. We will never scold him or discipline him unreasonably.

      I hope your parents have begun to toe that fine line between well-meaning and cramping your decisions when it comes to discipline. If they do it again, just keep telling them firmly and politely when the kid is not around, until they get it. Patience is key with the older folks.

      • Thanks for the advice and sharing. Yes really agree that both hubby and I need to be on the same page. Luckily I think there’s been some improvement. Our girl seems to be going through the ‘terrible 2s’ early and has been throwing tantrums quite often. I told my hubby that I cannot be the only one disciplining her. he still finds it hard to scold her but at least he lets me deal with her tantrums without stepping in as the good cop. Just yesterday, he even told her ‘mummy said no, so daddy also says no’. Progress!!

        The “good” thing is he’s starting to understand where I’m coming from because he sees his parents doing it with his brother’s baby boy. They’re looking after him full time and pamper him like crazy. They rush to pick him up every time he makes a sound or cries, especially my mum in law. She will insist that she’s not hungry and will skip a meal just to carry him if he’s fussing. His brother and wife are both frustrated as they don’t want them to spoil him. It has caused a few arguments and just last week, we sat in uncomfortable silence after his brother told off his mum when she rushed to carry her grandson when he started getting fidgety at dinner. And I’m quite sure she’ll do it again… Hungribunni u’re right about having to be patient with the old folks!!

        • BabyBubbles-

          Wow. That really sounds like an awkward moment.

          I am still trying to get my parents to STOP FEEDING my son when he is eating slowly. He likes to slowly chew his food and swallow, as opposed to gobbling everything down fast- a good habit actually. He is 8 going on 9 and I really think that he has to learn the consequences of eating slow is that the food is cold and not appetising. They are concerned that if the food is cold he will get unwell. Sighs.

          At 4 we told him he had to eat on his own when he’s 5 without help. At 5 same story, ditto with 6… and now he is going to be 9 in May! I get really cross when they feed him. When he is with hubby and I, he eats perfectly well on his own with a little prodding and encouragement. Whenever my Dad starts feeding him, I will tell Kae, “Gong gong shouldn’t be feeding you. I want you to eat on your own and eat a little faster. If you don’t learn how to eat on your own you can forget about going for school camps or church camps next time.” My Dad will take my cue and stop feeding Kae, and Kae will eat on his own because he definitely wants to go for camps and have fun with the other kids. =)

          My hubby’s aunt handled her kids this way- she puts the food there and lets them finish it own time own target. Her kids turned out great- 2 beautiful women who are healthy and strong. So what if the food gets a little cold? They will still be okay.

          BUT… ya… grandparents always tend to wanna do things differently from parents. Remember how they handled us and how our grandparents handled us? Lol. This is a total reprise of that situation with parties switching roles.

          Just keep keeping firm and also don’t be rude or angry when they persist. Just keep telling them nicely to let you need your kids need to take the cue from you as you are their parents. You can let them know that you still respect their views and opinions & will consider applying them where applicable, but need them to understand that your decision as the child’s parents is the final word at the end of the day.

          Hwaitin! =)