How can I manage my toddler’s behaviour?

Managing a toddler’s behaviour can feel daunting. They are becoming more independent and that’s exciting. But they can’t understand the logic behind your instructions. That can make it hard to encourage good behaviour – and respond to challenging behaviour.

behaviour: a toddler looks out of the window, with their sibling dressed in red in the background.
  • Be clear when you are communicating. Make sure you are being clear in your language and instructions. This will help your toddler understand what you are asking or telling them.
  • Try visual cues. Visual cues are a great way of communicating with a toddler. They can also reinforce verbal communication. There are a range of different visual cues you might already use. Timetables, emotion thermometers, and reward systems can all help manage behaviour. Visual timers are another great tool for preparing a child for an up-coming change.
  • Give warnings. When your child’s behaviour is starting to escalate, give them a warning. Warnings mean your child has a chance to change their behaviour.
  • Give them time to process. Children’s processing time is longer than adults. So it isn’t always fair to expect them to react how an adult might. When you are asking your toddler to do something, give them time to process what you’ve said. Be prepared to ask them more than once without getting annoyed. They may be trying hard to understand but need to hear the instructions two or more times.
  • Plan ahead
    Most children love routine and knowing what’s coming next. This means unexpected changes can upset them and even trigger anxiety. In turn, they may display these feelings as challenging behaviour. Talk to your child about the plans for the day. If you have an order or a routine to follow, explain it to them. If possible, let them known when an activity is about to end. That gives them time to prepare themselves for the transition and help them to cope with the changes.
  • Be consistent
    Try to set clear rules and stick to them. This helps your toddler to feel secure. It can confuse them if you react to the same behaviour in different ways each day. Talk to your partner or co-parent, and anyone else involved in your child’s care. Try to make sure you all respond to certain behaviours in the same way. This will make your expectations clear to your toddler.
  • Give time, cuddles and reassurance
    Children thrive on attention and contact. Sometimes, giving them attention and love during the day can help to prevent a tantrum later on. Try to take the time to look at what your toddler wants to show you. Give them a hug and talk to them about their thoughts about the day. This helps to strengthen your strong and loving relationship.
  • Create a positive environment and praise your child
    Make sure you don’t just focus on the challenging behaviour. Try to focus on what is going well, too. Ensure you notice and celebrate your child’s achievements. Tell your toddler you are happy when they have done what you asked them to do. Praise is a great way to support positive behaviours.
  • Know the triggers
    Try to have an idea of what may provoke challenging behaviour in your child. Are there activities that always feel like a battle? You could keep a behaviour diary. This will help you see any patterns in their behaviour. Look out for times of day and certain events or activities. This way, you can prepare for those times and help your child through them.
  • Recognise the signs
    It’s important to understand when your child is over-stimulated, and how you can calm them down. A lot of challenging behaviour comes from over excitement and tiredness. When you notice your toddler is becoming over-stimulated, you can step in. Try some calming activities: you could read a book together or listen to some quiet music and have a cuddle.
  • Acknowledge their feelings
    Frustration, anger, and sadness are all natural emotions. It’s important to acknowledge your toddler’s feelings. Let them know that it is okay to feel like that sometimes. Name your own emotions and encourage them to name theirs. This will help them to build their emotional understanding.
  • Be realistic in your expectations
    We all have good and bad days. Toddlers are no different! Sometimes it can feel like there is no explanation or warning signs for their behaviour. It’s normal to feel that way. Try to recognise that it’s natural to have ups and downs, and it’s not a reflection on you.
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