Understanding and coping with toddler behaviour
We all know that tantrums are part of normal development and are usually an expression of frustration though the cause isn’t always obvious to others! Sometimes children’s behaviour is so extreme, however, that parents worry whether there is something wrong with their child or don’t know the best way to handle the situation. Some children can tantrum for a very long time, which can be exhausting for everyone. Others may seem withdrawn, aggressive or struggle to learn to share.
Most areas have Parenting Courses where you can go for support and to learn ways of coping that work (and meet other parents with children of a similar age). They are usually run by City Councils or charities and are free. Read our 4 top tips at the bottom of this page and then browse through our expert advice links below.
Some children may have also more extreme ‘melt-downs’ when they are overwhelmed and this is more common for neuro-diverse children such as autistic children. If your child has learning difficulties, there are more behaviour resources on our SEND page
- Help with difficult behaviour – Short videos narrated by celebrities and summarising expert advice by the Maudsley Hospital Charity
- Tried and trusted top tips on encouraging good behaviour from this Australian parenting site.
- “Should I be worried?” supportive, common sense tips on what’s normal from the MindEd website.
- Understanding tantrums- why do they happen and how can you best deal with them?
- Taming tantrums and managing meltdowns from the respected US charity Understood.org
- Sharing- don’t expect too much too soon!
- Withdrawn behaviour- what’s normal and when to seek advice
Aggression and difficult behaviour
- Aggression in young children – what’s normal and what can you do?
- Help: my toddler is always misbehaving!
- Advice on handling difficult behaviour and what might be causing it.
- Is your toddler showing aggressive behaviour such as biting, kicking or fighting? Biting is really common around the age of two years and can be just exploratory (in which case giving other things to chew might help) or because a child is upset, feels powerless or can’t express frustration in any other way. This link takes you to some expert advice!
- Worried your child might have conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder? These are terms given to behaviour disorders that are very severe and persistent. Your first port of call should be your health visitor or GP but this is a good summary from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
- Ravis’ Roar by Tom Percival. Perfect for children who struggle to control their temper and can be read together even with a toddler right up to primary school.
- Bartholomew Bear by Virginia Miller. Five gorgeous toddler stories about Bartholomew and his dad, coping with the daily frustrations of being a toddler (and parenting one) with humour and gentleness
- Best Behaviour Series by Martine Agassi. Highly rated by parents, these little books look at common behaviour issues like hitting, biting, kicking, sharing and more with tips for parents. It’s useful to know, for example, that it’s more effective to say “Hands are not for hitting” than “Stop hitting”.
- Tiger Has A Tantrum. A great book about feeling angry which 2-5 years will really identify with.
- The Whale Who Wanted More by Rachel Bright. One in a series of fun rhyming stories by the top author. This one is about friendship and sharing.
Videos on the terrible twos and tantrums
Toddler independence: a video with tips on encouraging your child while keeping them safe e.g. “Instead of pulling the cat, try stroking the cat!”
4 tips for encouraging good behaviour or good habits
- Rewards systems
Although all parents probably use punishment or threats at times, they are often not helpful because make children more worried and angry. If there is a behaviour you want to encourage or a habit to overcome, a reward system can be much more successful. If you’d like to try using a reward system, there are some key suggestions on how to make that work best. The younger the child, the more immediate the reward should be, to link it directly to the behaviour you are rewarding. For a 3-year-old the reward needs to be straight away, for a 5-year-old no later than the same or the next day, for a 7-year-old it might be OK to have a reward at the end of the week. Decide on the reward together if your child is old enough. It could be something you do together or a treat with a friend- it doesn’t have to be a present, sweets or money.
- Reward partial success.
Very important! That means, for example, you don’t only reward a night where your child didn’t creep into your bed, you also reward a night where your child crept into your bed only once or came in twice but went back to their own bed. This is absolutely key as it makes success more likely. Set the bar at a level that you think is achievable.
- Rewards systems can work even for problems where the child isn’t necessarily in control
e.g. bedwetting. It seems that they can work subconsciously. Again reward partial success and don’t dwell on times when it goes wrong.
- Children like some control over what happens too
So give them choices, but only two choices e.g. ‘Would you like to wear your shoes or your wellies?’