How to Discipline a Speech-Delayed Toddler

By Kelly Sundstrom
Understand how your toddler's emotions result from his speech delay.
Understand how your toddler's emotions result from his speech delay.

Let's face it -- disciplining toddlers is challenging. That challenge is even more pronounced if your child has developmental speech delays. According to the University of Pittsburgh, a toddler with delayed speech may become frustrated, acting out in ways that resemble a temper tantrum. Using standard discipline can often worsen the situation. When you discipline a speech delayed toddler, a little patience goes a long way!

Communication Frustration

When your toddler cannot communicate her needs or feelings, frustration escalates. While most toddlers throw temper tantrums as a result of new-found feelings of independence and will, a speech-delayed toddler may melt down as she struggles to bridge communication gaps. You might notice tantrums last longer or seem more intense than other toddlers her age. Don't worry -- when you figure out ways to communicate more effectively with your speech-delayed toddler, this intensity will decrease.

The Time Out Chair

Speech-delayed toddlers cannot communicate as effectively as they want to, and may not respond well to verbal reprimands. Speech pathologists writing for the website Teach Me To Talk suggest that a modified approach to time out might work more effectively. When your speech-delayed toddler acts out, ask him to take a seat and instruct him to remain seated for a specified time period. For a more traditional time out, have your child sit for 30 seconds to one minute. Children age 3 or older may sit one minute for each year of age. Avoid having to physically carry a disagreeable child to time out -- have your child sit quietly right where he is, instead. You can also try a "positive time out," a method by which you redirect your toddler to another activity before things get out of hand. This is appropriate for children who are at least 18 months of age.

Patience, Patience, Patience

If you feel like most parents do, a toddler throwing a tantrum might make you feel like throwing one, too. All parents experience frustration with fussy toddlers, and some give in to yelling at their child. However, when you have a toddler with a speech delay, screaming at him will only increase his frustration level and worsen the problem. Practice patience whenever you can with your toddler so that the frustration level within your child can decrease more rapidly. If necessary, take a breath, count to 10 and face your tantrum-thrower with a calm, but firm demeanor.

Incorporate Speech Therapy

If you have not already found your toddler a licensed speech therapist, locate one in your area to take your child to regularly. These therapy sessions complement the discipline you already have established with your speech-delayed toddler. Your speech pathologist can also offer professional advice on proper discipline and methods of defusing potentially explosive situations. The University of Alaska says that, as your child's speech development improves, so will her capacity to effectively communicate. You can then expect a reduction in the number of tantrums.