How we use the "happy hearts" method of discipline with our toddler.

Happy Hearts Method of Discipline for Toddlers

How we use the "happy hearts" method of discipline with our toddler.

A few weeks ago, I introduced the Fruit of the Spirit Curriculum for Toddlers. To explain why I decided to create a curriculum for my two year old I said:

It all clicked one day when we were riding in the car and my toddler began to fuss. Before I could guide him through “happy hearts” and “putting on patience,” my husband and I heard him say, “Patience. Patience. Happy heart.” He quit whining. When he began to whine again he repeated, “Patience. Patience. Happy heart.” I never had to say a word as I listened to my son speak truth to himself, and thus learning to control his emotions through the simple truth found in a single Fruit of the Spirit.

In the comments a reader asked me to expand on the “happy hearts” concept. So today I want to try to explain how the happy hearts method of discipline for toddlers came about.

Please remember this is something that works for my family. You’ll need to pray and seek the Lord for your own since each family (and child) is different. I have no idea if this will work with my next one!

How We Use the Happy Hearts Method of Discipline with Our Toddler

There came a point when we noticed our son exerting his will and it wasn’t always willful disobedience; it was simply childishness. He would get so upset (lacking self control).

Childishness doesn’t equate the rod in our home so as we prayed for God’s leading a friend happened to loan me a book.

I don’t remember the name of the book, and that’s fine because I didn’t really care for it enough to recommend it. But it was the instrument God used to bring this concept of “happy hearts” home for me.

In the book, the author explained that children who are throwing a tantrum need to be removed from the scene and placed in an area alone. This is similar to another popular method for training children, which is the use of “time outs” and “timers”. The difference between the aforementioned method and time outs is the child can come out when he decides he is ready to stop said tantrum and resume normal activities with the family.

This shortens the tantrum; tantrums aren’t any fun without an audience. Then when the child returns to the family, you don’t talk about the incident. You just go about normal activities, but you don’t shun the child. They are fully restored. I didn’t like the second part of not even speaking of the incident. Not entirely anyway.

So here I sat with “time outs” and “timers” partnered with removing the child and letting him/her decide when to return but without a lick of teaching. Both of these concepts have valid points, but I didn’t think either captured the full picture. Then one day as I was praying I had a light bulb moment – some people would say the Holy Spirit spoke. Either way, I received an answer I had been searching for and I do believe it was the stirring of the Spirit.

The truth is when a toddler is throwing a tantrum, there is no reasoning with him at that point. You can’t teach a kid who has lost complete self control (remember the fools in Proverbs?). Nor does it help to demand, lecture, or insist on your own way (remember the fools in Proverbs?). That’s worse than the toddler! Ask me how I know…

Let’s work up a scenario.

It’s time for dinner and instead of going to his seat, my toddler decides he wants to “sit in Daddy’s chair.” We tell him no, and he begins to whine (or throw a fit…sometimes there is no wind up).

What would you do?

With the happy hearts method of discipline for toddlers, we don’t say a word. We pick him up and take him to the bathroom (any designated spot will work). We sit him on the stool and simply say calmly and without condemnation, “You may come out when you’re ready to have a happy heart.”

On his throne, he can throw all the fit he wants, as loud as he wants. We don’t insist on his being quiet, cutting it out, or anything at all. We simply let him work through how to regain control of his emotions.

Then when he’s ready, he comes out. When he does, we say, “Ohhhh, look! Samuel is back! Do you have a happy heart?” He usually giggles and exclaims, “YES!!” And we throw a party. Okay not really, but we laugh and praise the Lord for his willingness to come back into fellowship with us! We make it a big deal that his heart is happy again and hug him blue. Usually, he’ll go on about obeying, proceeding to his own seat, and joining us for dinner.

To be honest, we’ve never had any trouble with him “coming out of time out” (or whatever you want to call it). I’ve never used a timer with him, and we allow him to make the decision. Some days, he recovers within seconds. Other days, he sits on his stool for several minutes at a time. But when he comes out we celebrate.

Of course, there are days when he comes out still throwing his tantrum. But we just rinse and repeat.

Very rarely, additional forms of discipline are needed to help him regain control, and he always gets a warning that Mommy or Daddy will have to help him unless he can get a happy heart this go around on his own. Again the latter is a rare, rare, rare occasion.

As Samuel gets older, when he comes out, we plan on talking a little bit more with him about what happened. But he’s not quite old enough yet to sift through his emotions and explain them.

For now, the above is how we handle childishness and an overall lack of self control. We are ever vigilant with whining and complaining.

A couple of months ago, my mother visited and the first time I walked Samuel to the bathroom and told him to get a happy heart, she looked at me like I had just grown horns. I imagine you’re doing the same. It’s okay. But later she was telling my Dad about this strange method and how she couldn’t believe how well it worked with Sam. She tells everyone about it now!

I’m sure this is clear as mud. So feel free to ask questions in the comments! This is probably one of those methods best experienced rather than explained. Want to come over? 😉

Do you think this is something you want to try with your toddler?

If you like this post, then you might like:

Fruit of the Spirit Curriculum for Toddlers!
Want to share the Gospel with your toddler on a more regular basis? Want to start teaching biblical truths to your child but not sure where to start?

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The Fruit of the Spirit Curriculum for Toddlers is a downloadable eBook designed to help you teach early learning skills to your child while instilling God’s truth. One week at a time, I will guide you through sharing the Gospel with your child through various Bible stories and learning opportunities.

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14 Comments

  1. I love this idea. My lo is 20 months and I want to start this with her soon. I was just wondering what you used when your lo did disobey. The willful disobedience you described this method not being for. Tia

    1. At a friends house, we go to their bathroom or another room where no one is at. In public, he throws the fit in the cart and I ignore him. That’s hardest. But it’s how I’ve done it. Once I had to call my husband to come rescue me. I think no matter where you are it’s staying calm and not giving in. So hard! But consistency has paid off. My son is nearly four now and tantrums are fewer and farther between. I’m of the mindset that we train at home and then out in public, we take it one day and situation at a time. Grace covers us as we train in public and at home.

  2. I like most of your ideas but I am concerned about the emphasis on obedience. Teach children to think for themselves. Also be careful when equating happiness with acceptable behavior. Make sure your boys know it is okay to be sad or angry and to cry and be upset. And when the emotions are real and not just pouty isolation is detrimental. Always remember to be aware. I want to applaud you for not abusing you kids as “discipline.” It is rare to find a god loving person who cares for and treats her kids so well.

    1. My youngest was a HUGE tantrum thrower and had an iron strong will. Every single thing was a fight with him – give him the red spoon and it would go flying across the room as he demanded the BLUE spoon! It didn’t seem to matter that he didn’t get what he wanted or even lost some of the privileges he did have. I finally realized what you did – you can’t reason with a child in the middle of a tantrum. I finally started putting him in his rocker in his room and would tell him he could come out when he was done. it worked pretty well – although quite a few times, it would get quiet and when I went to check on him he’d be sound a sleep. Of course, this was fit throwing – which is completely different than a child who is hurt or scared or something like that.

      We also did a version of this as they got older if either of my boys got really mad – go punch the pillow, scream into the pillow, go out in the yard and run a few laps – whatever it takes until you can get a hold of yourself and then they could come back and we could work through whatever. I wanted my kids to know emotions weren’t wrong – it’s how we handle them that counts.

      They are 13 and 16 now – thankfully we are long past the age of tantrums. 🙂

    2. LOL, I think I know the book you are talking about. I did not care for it either–though in our church that is kind of the accepted “standard” right now. (Not that they don’t accept us and applaud us as well, even if they don’t agree…) Anyways, that concept is one of the good things I got out of it as well! I use it with my 2-y-o daughter a lot. “Come out when you can be happy!” She’s always so proud of herself when she comes out and announces that she is happy now! They really CAN learn to direct their own emotions for good, I think that’s awesome.

      I am much lass of a harsh disciplinarian now that I have five, as when I only had a few. I see the heart behind what’s happening more, and can tell if my child is just overtired–then I simply put her in bed for a nap. She’s never fought that before!

    3. This was very good!!! My wife and I just starting doing something similar to thus very method. We find that this works better than most other types of discipline does. Also, katie, I read your comment and my question for you is, do you have a toddler, because 2 year olds can’t quite think rationally at that age!! Also, most of the time it is not okay for them to be upset and angry, because that anger gets displaced on their siblings!!! Hurt, disappointed, sad, etc…. Those feelings are different and are perfected acceptable, however, I don’t believe that upset and angry should be catorgized together. Just my thougts!

  3. Hi! Thank you for this post! I have a 21mo boy who is starting to tantrum and my hubby and I are struggling to deal with it. I like the idea of the bathroom but am pretty sure he will just play with the garbage bin and/or the toilet…

  4. hello, love your post! i am kind of a single mom right now, my daughter is going through terrible twos, my husband has been deployed most of her life.. so its hard.. she throws these tantrums and screams at me.. she won’t sit down in the cart, the other day she smacked me.. i spanked her bottom and said you don’t hit mommy.. she doesn’t take me seriously.. how do you ignore when they are being bad in public say for instance the cart.. i can’t with her..

  5. What do you do when the child is too young to understand? I would love to use this on my 23 month old son, but I don’t think he will understand to stay on the stool until he’s happy.