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Toddler Behavior – Understanding & Tips for Success

Toddler Behavior – Understanding & Tips for Success

Your toddler is adorable, funny, and a joy to watch but she can also be challenging! 

angry girl
  1. Toddlers are beginning to realize that they are separate individuals from their parents.  This drives their desire for independence.  They like to make their own decisions and do things for themselves.  (“I turn off light!”)
  2. Toddlers are still developing the ability to wait and exercise self-control.  Logical thinking begins to develop between the ages of 2 and 3 years old.  (“I can’t put the sandwich back together - I have already cut it” likely won’t convince a toddler.)
  3. Toddler language skills are developing rapidly.  This enables your toddler to make his needs and wants known but she will still likely experience frustrating struggles to communicate.  Motor skills are developing too and toddlers can become upset when trying to do something for themselves that they haven’t yet mastered. (“Put shoes on self!”)


What can I do to set my toddler up for success?

  1. Have set routines.  This helps give your child a sense of predictability and control.  Ensure your routine includes adequate sleep and regular meals and snacks.  Ease transitions with warnings and timers.  (“I’m setting the timer for 2 minutes - when the timer goes off we will go take a bath.”)
  2. Let your child make developmentally appropriate choices such as picking out what to wear or which toy to play with (offer 2 choices). This helps your child feel like they are in control and also helps support their confidence. (“Would you like to wear your truck shirt or your dinosaur shirt?)
  3. Practice waiting and self-control.  You can do this by rolling a ball back and forth or playing a simple turn-taking game.  Praise your toddler’s ability to wait to help enforce positive behavior. ("Good job waiting for mommy to get your milk.”)
  4. Label emotions for your children.  Discuss why they are feeling this way and ways to cope with this emotion. (“You are angry because we need to leave the park.”) Empathize with your toddler. (“It is hard to stop playing.”)
  5. Catch your child being good.  (“I saw you share the chalk with your brother.")


How can I handle challenging behaviors?

  1. Tell your child what you should do instead of what they shouldn’t.  (“Use gentle hands please.”)
  2. If your toddler has a tantrum in most cases the best approach is to ignore it.  Be careful not to reinforce tantrums by giving in to what your toddler wants or by giving them attention (positive or negative) during the tantrum.
  3. Have appropriate consequences for challenging behaviors. 


Consequences should be immediate. (“We will leave for the park as soon as you clean up your blocks” is more likely to be effective than “If you clean up your blocks we can go to the park tomorrow.”)

Natural consequences are best when possible (“You threw the block at your sister.  Now we have to put the block away.”)


Time outs are also appropriate for toddlers.  Children should generally be warned that they will need to go to time out and they should be placed there with as little emotion as possible for a pre-set period of time (one minute per age of child is a good guideline). Time outs can occur in a “calm down space” that is comfortable where they can be alone and can practice regulating their emotions.


Hang in there. They won’t be toddlers forever and there are a lot of really great things about this age that are endearing and fun.


If you are having an extremely difficult time with your toddler after trying some of the above mentioned tactics, discuss with your provider at your next visit to determine if there is something else that could be going on.