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10 Ways to Handle Difficult Toddler Behaviour

It’s common for toddlers to start displaying selfish and difficult behaviour as they develop around the age of 2 – they will start to state their preferences, distinguish their independence from adults and insist on having it their way. Even though there may be various circumstances as to why they are displaying such behaviour, there are usually ways to avoid or handle them when they are acting out. Here are 10 ways to help you with their meltdowns:

  1. Set expectations
    When they know what is expected of them in certain situations, they are more likely to behave themselves in the given situations and will know that they are deserving of any punishment if they break the rules. Make instructions clear – for example, if you were to take them to an outdoor playground in a park, tell them to let you know if they are moving to another area of the park before you get there. If they stray away without telling you, you will have the right to discipline them because they failed to meet the preemptive expectations.
  2. Give them options that result in the same thing
    Sometimes, toddlers just want to insist on having their way. So name them two different options that end up in the same result when you require them to finish a simple task. For example, “Do you want to finish your food now or 5 minutes later?”, or “Do you want to switch off your game console now or should I do it for you?”
  3. Countdown from 3
    An old trick in the book, this method is one of the best ways to get toddlers to pay attention to the situation and listen. A typical use of this phrase would be: “I’m going to start counting down from 3 and you need to listen to what I say or I’ll take all of your toys away from you.” Since you’ve already warned them, they are more likely to do it by themselves than be forced by you.
  4. Avoid negotiating when it’s not feasible
    Sometimes, we tend to be a little more forgiving and allow them too much space. This can result in a continuous power struggle, which will go nowhere. So instead of trying to convince them to listen to you or insist on your authority because you are the parent, go on a timeout together with them. Refrain from putting them on a timeout by themselves, because they will feel like they are being treated unfairly and they might continue to resent you for that. By going on a timeout together, they will understand that it’s because you are both disagreeing with each other, and face the situation with more clarity. The undivided attention that they are getting from you will also help them to realise their own mistake.
  5. Hug it out
    More often than not, children have breakdowns when they are not given enough attention. If it was due to a simple reason like that, hugging them would make them feel cared for and they tend to mellow out quickly.
  6. Avoid negative language
    Instead of saying an outright “no”, provide them with options before you tell them that what they want is not going to happen. By emphasising more on what they can do instead of what they cannot do will help them to feel that their preferences are respected.
  7. Warn them and use a timer when necessary
    Bargaining the “number of times left” whether it’s the playground slide or a game on a console/computer will usually take forever to end. Use a timer when necessary and preempt them with sufficient warning when it’s nearing the time to stop playing. This gives them sufficient space to make the most of the little time they have and will prevent a meltdown than if you were to forcefully remove them from the situation.
  8. Pick your battles
    Besides the obvious practical situational rules and abiding the law, it’s possible to let your children have their space depending on your own preferences. For example, there should be no room for discussion when it comes to how far away they have to sit when watching the television, sitting down on the chair at the dinner table while eating or buckling their seat belt in the car, but you can allow wiggle space when they ask if they can have an at-home picnic on the floor while watching the television once in a while, and let them put on their seat belts by themselves if they know how to.
  9. Apply a logical consequence if the situation allows it
    When children misbehave in ways that tend to be dangerous or result in a mess, you have to implement specific consequences to make sure that they learn from that particular mistake and develop logical reasoning. For example, if they run with scissors, remove their privilege of using scissors. If they make a mess out of their toys, they have to clean it up before they are allowed to do anything else. This helps them to mature responsibly.
  10. Empathise and suggest a reason why they are throwing a tantrum
    Kids often act out because they feel overlooked or that their thoughts and feelings are not recognised because they do not know how to express them fully. So instead of lashing out at them, it’s important to put yourself in their shoes and think of why they might be feeling upset, and paraphrase that reason in a few ways until they can identify with it. This way, they will learn how to express themselves better in the future.

It’s easy to feel burned out as a parent, especially if more than one child has a meltdown at the same time. However, these types of situations can be handled and contained more easily than you think. Instead of getting emotional in the moment, try taking a step back and consider one of these options where applicable in order to get through a toddler tantrum efficiently.

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