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Managing difficult behaviour in toddlers

There are lots of possible reasons for difficult behaviour in toddlers and young children and often it’s just because they are tired, hungry, frustrated or bored.

Challenging behaviour can at times cause distress or can be upsetting to the rest of the family and if this is the case it is important to deal with it. The following strategies can be implemented to help deal with challenging behaviour:

  •  What you do has to be right for your child, yourself and the family. You must believe in what you are doing, if you don’t then it probably won’t work. Children notice when you do not mean what you’re saying.
  • Once you’ve decided to do something, you have to see it through. Solutions take time to work. Get support from your partner, a friend, another parent or your health visitor. It’s good to have someone to talk to about what you’re doing.
  • Children need consistency. It can be confusing for your child if you react to their behaviour in one way one day and then differently on the other. It’s also important that everyone close to your child deals with their behaviour in the same way.
  •  Try not to overreact when your child does something which is annoying time after time. Sometimes it can cause your anger and frustration to build up. Although it is impossible for parents not to show irritation sometimes, it is important to try to remain calm. Try moving on to other things that you both enjoy or feel good about as soon as possible can deflect from the behaviour. Talking to other parents can also help with feelings of frustration in a child’s behaviour.
  • Try talking to your child it can help if they understand why you want them to do something. For example, explain why you want them to hold your hand while crossing the road. Once your child can talk, try and encourage them to talk to you about their feelings and why they’re upset and angry. This can help them understand and feel less frustrated.
  • Sometimes good behaviour can be overlooked. Try telling your child when you’re happy about something they have done. This positive praise can be given by giving them attention, a hug or a smile.
  • This enforces good behaviour rather than focusing on negative behaviour.
  • You can help your child by rewarding them for good behaviour. Rewards do not have to be expensive For example, praise them or give them their favourite food for tea. If your child behaves well, tell them how pleased you are. Be specific. Say something like, “Well done for hanging your coat up when I asked you to.” Try not to reward your child before they have done what has been asked this is a bribe not a reward and is not focusing on positive behaviour.
  • Avoid smacking it may stop a child from doing what they’re doing at that moment in time but it will not have a positive effect overall. Children learn from adults around them and by smacking they are more likely to copy the behaviour themselves.

Different factors can affect a child’s behaviour, these are listed below:

  • Life Changes: This could be the birth of a new baby, moving house, a change of childminder, starting playgroup or parental relationship difficulties.
  • How you’ve handled the behaviour before:
    sometimes your child may react in a particular way because of how you’ve handled a problem in the past. For example, if you’ve given them the treat to stop them crying whilst shopping, they will expect it every time.

Needing attention: your child might see a tantrum as a way of getting attention, even if it’s bad attention

You do not have to cope with the behaviour on your own, many support services can offer support for your child’s behaviour:

  • Talk to your health visitor or local Chat Health service
  • Barnardos offer parenting advice and workshops:
  • Visit the Family Lives website for parenting advice and support, or phone their free parents’ helpline on 0808 800 2222
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Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-19 years called ChatHealth. The service operates Monday to Friday from 9am to 12pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a public health nurse (health visitor/school nurse) within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the line reopens.

Should you require urgent health advice in the meantime, please contact your GP, visit an NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. For emergencies, dial 999 or visit A&E.

This page was last reviewed on 11-06-2021

This page will be next reviewed on 11-06-2024