Toddlers - tips for toddler troubles
Child; toddler; discipline; cling; grizzle; tantrum; aggression; whine; whinge; anger ;
Children between one and three years of age have loads of energy and want to try lots of new things. But their behaviour can be difficult to manage. Very big changes are happening for them, and if you understand these changes you can often work around them so there are fewer problems.
Doing what comes naturally!
This is a time when toddlers become more independent. They are now little people with their own way of doing things. They find out that they can make things happen. They touch, explore, run away. They like doing things their way and doing things for themselves. They say "No", "I won't", "Give me" and "Me do".
"She seems to be doing it deliberately"
To many parents it seems as if their toddler sometimes thinks "Now what can I do to upset mum or dad?" But it is more that they are very self centred - they think of things only from their own point of view. They are usually not aware of what their parents are feeling or wanting.
They sometimes know what they should or should not do, but don't have enough self control to stop themselves from doing it. It can seem as if they believe "If it feels good do it... and again and again". At other times they can get so out of control that they keep on and on doing something even if it is upsetting for them.
You can't reason with a toddler or explain why they should not do something. They can hear the words, but they do not understand them (even if they can repeat them).
that can help
There will be problems when you live with a toddler. They want to be independent but they don't have self control.
Child proof the environment
Put away valuables and dangerous objects. But make sure your toddler still has interesting things to do.
Don't just say "No" - divert and distract
If they are doing something that you want them to stop, don't just say "no". Help them to do something different. Say "Look at this". Use games - "I'll race you to the bath", "let's hop like kangaroos to the table". A bath, music or story can help when children are tired.
Prepare for changes
When changes are happening toddlers feel stressed and they need extra attention, love and security. Big changes such as moving house or a new baby can be very hard, but even little changes, such as leaving the playground can upset them a lot. Allow them their cuddly toys, dummies etc. If possible prepare them in advance for change a little at a time. Tell or show them what the change may mean.
When you have to leave them
Toddlers often cry or scream when left with someone else because they are frightened of being separated from their parents. When leaving children say goodbye and reassure them that you will come back. See 'Separation anxiety' for more ideas.
Tantrums are usually of two general types:
- Overload/over-tiredness. Too much is happening and the toddler just can't cope with it all.
- Demanding attention/anger. Here the child wants to have something or do something the parent does not want him to have or do.
Two ways of handling a tantrum are:
- Hold the child from behind. When the tantrum finishes the toddler can relax safely into your arms. This is good when your toddler is tired.
- Stay near but do not pay attention to the tantrum except to say "I won't give you what you want. When you finish we can have a cuddle and you can tell me about it". But don't leave - this is too frightening for a toddler.
Toddlers can be scared by their tantrums. They need to know that an adult is there in control who will accept and love them when it is over.
Children are more likely to have tantrums when they are bored, tired, hungry, unwell or overwhelmed by events. See 'Tantrums' for more information.
Anger and aggression
Some anger is normal and healthy. But some children are often angry; they hit, bite, kick or punch for no obvious reason. They need extra help.
- Teach them to be aware of their feelings and put the feelings into words. "I know you are cross with your little brother. Instead of hitting him can you say to me ''I feel cross with him because...?"
- Play - active and expressive play. Hammering, play dough, water play, sand play, painting, cutting and tearing paper etc
- Watch when they play with other children. Set limits. Let them know it's not OK to hurt others. Children feel more secure if they know someone is there who can control their angry behaviour.
- Reward co-operative and non-aggressive behaviour with a hug.
- Smacking and yelling often make children fearful or angry and can keep the behaviour going.
There is more in our topic on Anger.
All toddlers cling and grizzle to some extent.
A toddler who is clinging, whining and very demanding may be showing a need for more attention and security.
- If your toddler is doing it more than usual it might be a sign that your child is unwell or is more stressed than usual (perhaps being in a new, unfamiliar place or has been expected to separate too early).
- But clinging and whining may make you feel angry and want to push them away just when they need more of you.
- This makes them more insecure and they may cling more.
Let children know that they can ask you for a cuddle when they want one. Try not to push them away.
When they are playing by themselves make sure that you notice and give a hug or some attention. With reassurance of love and security they are more likely to play alone for longer periods of time.
If children whinge you can ignore it or ask them to say it again with a smile.
- have there been any family changes that might be upsetting your toddler? Two common ones are having a new baby and parents fighting
- when does the problem happen? Is there something you could do to change things at that time of day, eg have dinner or bath earlier?
- is your toddler getting lots of positive attention from you? Sometimes things can get into a negative cycle where the only thing you seem to be saying to your toddler is "No!"
Remember - when children behave worst it is usually because they need more affection - and what they usually get is less affection.
- Try to turn this around.
- Give your toddler some special time with you every day.
If your toddler's behaviour is becoming very difficult for you to manage and/or if you are worried, it is important to get some professional help. Getting things on the right track when children are young is much easier than trying to solve problems later on. In South Australia you could call the Parent Helpline 1300 364 100
time for you
Being a parent of a toddler takes lots of time and energy. Make sure you have some time for yourself to do something you enjoy. For this you may have to leave your toddler with someone else for a while. We all need to recharge our batteries regularly - it helps us keep going.
- Parent Helpline 1300 364 100
- Your local Child and Family Health Centre (Ring 1300 733 606 for an appointment).
- Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service:
- Northern Region
c/- Women's & Children's Hospital, 72 King William Rd, North Adelaide 5006
- Southern Region
c/- Flinders Medical Centre, Bedford Park 5042
- Your local community health centre
Books for parents
There are many books about toddler behaviour but some of them suggest things which are unkind for toddlers. Have a look in your local library to see if you can find something that fits for you.
Some we have found useful:
- Bowler, P and Linke, P. 'Your Child from One to Ten'. Vic: ACER, 1996.
- Brazelton, TB. 'Touchpoints'. Australia: Doubleday, 2006.
- Crary, E. 'Without Spanking or Spoiling'. Parenting Press, 1993.
- Kurcinka, MS. 'Raising your spirited child: a guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, energetic'. US: HarperCollins, 1998.
and further reading
Campbell, S. 'Behavior problems in preschool children: a review of recent research'. J Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 36 (1) 1995.
Honig, AS. 'Helping children become more prosocial'. Young Children, 51(2) Jan 1995 p62-70.
Lieberman, A. 'The emotional life of the toddler', US: Free Press, 1993.
Kelley S et al. 'Mastery motivation and self-evaluative affect in toddlers: longitudinal relations with maternal behavior'. Child Development 71 (4) 1061-71.
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.