Ways to Teach Basic Rules to Toddlers

Toddlers are inherently unpredictable – you never know what your little one will think of next. Although a toddler is still learning the ways of the world, it’s important to teach some basic rules to your youngster to instill limits in him. These behavioral expectations will help keep your child safe.

Keep it Simple

Too many rules, and life can become unnecessarily complicated. For best results, set fewer rules for toddlers, advises the Utah State University Extension 1. Focus on the most important rules that will keep your child safe, like not running into the street, staying off the stairs and not standing or bouncing on the bed.


Toddlers have a limited vocabulary and attention span, so it is important that you communicate clearly, and concisely, according to the University of Missouri Extension 1. Keep sentences short and specific when you give your toddler instructions or commands. For example, instead of giving an involved explanation, simply say, “No climbing the stairs. You could get hurt.”

Daily Routines

The daily routine that guides a toddler’s days will be of paramount importance to your little one’s security. When a toddler knows what to expect from day to day, it is easier for him to follow rules and stay within boundaries, states the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line. Not only does a daily routine provide security, it also reduces some of your toddler’s proclivity to test limits and misbehave. Essentially, a daily routine will help set the stage for a toddler who is ready and willing to follow rules.

Consistent Limits

Consistency is one of the most important ways to you teach rules. For your little one to learn what you want and don’t want him to do -- be consistent, according to the article, "The Top Ten Rules of Positive Discipline to Teach Toddlers," from the Good Behavior the Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker from Vanderbilt University 12. For example, since jumping on the couch is off limits, enforce this rule consistently. If you allow your toddler to jump on the couch some days and not on other days, he may become confused.

Positive Reinforcement

As you institute consistent limits and expectations for your toddler, encourage his cooperation with plenty of positive reinforcement, offers Purdue University 2. Positive reinforcement in response to following rules or behaving in accordance with your expectations might be praise, hugs or even a trip to the park for a job well done. Positive reinforcement helps children learn which behaviors you desire, and it motivates them to repeat desired behaviors 2.