Your toddler might break his crayons because he likes the sound it makes.

How to Discipline a Destructive Child

by Eliza Martinez

Have you ever walked into the living room only to find a hole in your couch, curtains hanging off the wall and crayon marks on your hardwood floors? You probably have a toddler or preschooler and you're probably very frustrated. Most young children don't do these things because they are evil and don't care about your personal possessions. This is hard to remember in the heat of the moment, but proper discipline helps your child learn to respect the things around him and reduces the risk of a total mommy meltdown.

Watch your child closely. Yes, this gets tiresome and you may feel it's not necessary, but not letting your toddler or preschooler out of your sight helps reduce the chance that he'll get his hands on your favorite sweater or your husband's signed baseball bat. It also gives you the chance to see what situations set your child off so you can defuse the problem in the future.

Set clear and consistent guidelines. Tell your child that breaking things is unacceptable. Don't slack off if he breaks something you don't care about because this sends the message that destructive behavior is okay sometimes. Each time your child destroys something, look him in the eye and say "We don't break things."

Identify your child's emotions. Young children are easily frustrated and may exhibit this by throwing dishes or stepping on toys. Let your child know that you understand that he is upset. Some children may be destructive when they are sad or have hurt feelings. Simply knowing that you care and understand is often enough to help him calm down, not to mention it protects your wedding china from crashing into the wall.

Help him find other outlets for his anger. This could be squeezing a lump of clay or saying loudly, "I'm so angry." This lets him know that you identify with how he is feeling, but also lets him know loud and clear that he can't break things just because he's mad. Physical outlets also work well for wild and crazy toddlers. Try running in the backyard or playing follow the leader.

Don't buy new things for your child. Did he break every crayon in his box or remove the wheels from his box of Matchbox cars? Yes, you should probably throw them away, since small toy pieces can be choking hazards. And while you might feel that you are destroying his childhood, resist the temptation to buy more toys. Next time he wants to color, simply tell him he can't since he broke all his crayons. Either he'll learn to stop breaking things, or he'll run out of toys.


  • Remember to reward good behavior, too. If your child seems to be going through a destructive phase, do something simple like giving him a gold star on a calendar for every day that he doesn't do damage, and praise him for his good behavior.


  • Use timeouts when necessary, but remember they should be short for young children. A good rule of thumb is one minute for each year of a child's age.

About the Author

Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.

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