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.

How to help prevent challenging behaviour

  • 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. 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 upcoming change.
  • Plan ahead. Most children love routine and knowing what’s coming next. This means unexpected changes can upset them and even trigger anxious feelings. In turn, they may display these feelings as challenging behaviour. Talk to your child about the plans for the day.  If possible, let them known when an activity is about to end. That gives them time to prepare themselves for the transition.
  • 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.
  • 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.

How to manage challenging behaviour

  • 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, try some calming activities. You could read a book together or listen to some quiet music and have a cuddle.
  • 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. It isn’t fair to expect them to react how an older child might. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Try to recognise that it’s natural to have ups and downs, and it’s not a reflection on you.
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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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