Toddler behaviour

When you think of all the different things you juggle as a parent, it’s not surprising that sometimes it can feel a bit of an uphill struggle. As your toddler becomes more independent, you may find managing their behaviour increasingly challenging as you seek to put clear boundaries in place to help them learn.

Here’s some advice to help you be consistent in supporting your child’s social and emotional development, and to respond effectively to the different types of behaviour they may show.

Withdrawn behaviour

Children who are withdrawn don’t readily join in with other children, or find it hard to express their emotions freely.

Instead of forcing your child into a situation that will likely make them even more withdrawn and possibly fearful, try to find social situations that are aligned with their interests – it will help them to relax.

Confident behaviour

Confident children are the ones who are the first to try something new and tend to take the lead when playing with others. Sometimes this confidence can be a ‘mask’ to hide behind when actually a child is feeling anxious or under pressure to be good at everything. Help them to see it’s ok to have a go, make a mistake and try again – let them see you fail at things. Be specific in the praise you give, so they know exactly what they’ve done well. For example: ‘Well done, even though it was tricky spreading that glue evenly, you were really concentrating and took your time.

Shy or anxious behaviour

Shy and anxious children often ‘hide’ behind adults and are reluctant to talk or get involved. As result, they may feel a bit left out. Talk to them in advance of going somewhere new or taking part in an activity about what it will be like and what they can expect to happen. Help them to see and recognise different emotions in others. Encourage them to take small steps towards participating in situations they find challenging, allowing their confidence to build over time.

Watch your child’s expressions and body language, or notice when their behaviour becomes more challenging. What kind of situations make them upset? Also think about what helps them feel calm and relaxed. When you see them starting to become upset, see if you can divert them to doing one of these calming things instead. Give plenty of reassurance and stay positive.

Very active behaviour

Some children are little dynamos and seem to find it difficult to be still, especially when others are physically close. Try to give them lots of opportunities to burn off some energy outside, for example in the park or garden. Make sure you give them plenty of warning when it’s going to be time to move to a different activity, such as finishing play time ready for bathtime.

Controlling behaviour

Some children like everything to be done their way, and have a tendency to take control of games or activities, often leaving others out. Try to notice which situations particularly bring out this sort of behaviour, and before they go into these situations, talk about how they should interact with others – letting everyone have a turn etc.

Aggressive behaviour

If things don’t go their way, your child may get frustrated and lash out physically at others they think are deliberately trying to upset them. See if you can spot the trigger situations that make them act this way – are they simply trying to get your attention? It may be that they’re trying to communicate but haven’t yet got the words to say what they’re feeling. They may feel overwhelmed and unsure how to handle a situation, or they may feel threatened by another child.

Remember, how you handle these situations is really important, because you’re modelling for them how to treat other people. If you go mad and shout at them, you’re effectively saying that it’s ok to behave like that. Instead, stay calm but use a firm voice to explain why hurting others is not ok. For example, you could say ‘You just hit Josh. It hurt him and made him upset.’ Use simple language they can understand. You may want to remove them from the situation to give them a change to calm down.

Depending on their age, you may be able to suggest some other strategies for coping with difficult feelings, that don’t involve hurting others. For example taking deep breaths or clenching and unclenching their fists. Talk to them afterwards about what made them upset. If they don’t know what made them behave like that, make suggestions ‘Maybe it’s because you were angry that she took the toy you were playing with.’ You’re trying to help them make the connection between behaviour and consequences.

Managing difficult behaviour

Remember

No-one is the perfect parent 100 per cent of the time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your child’s behaviour and feeling increasingly stressed, ask for help. Your public health nurse (health visitor) will talk to you about strategies to support your child’s behaviour. Your local Children’s Centre will also offer 1:1 support in behaviour management, enforcing boundaries and routines.

If you’ve adopted a particular approach to managing your child’s behaviour, make sure you’ve informed childminders or nursery staff so that everyone who looks after them can be consistent in their responses. Children are masters at playing adults off against each other!

Coping with tricky behaviours (pre-school)

Toddler tantrums

Useful links

Family Lives – a charity that provides support and advice for parents, including in relation to strategies for a toddler who is always misbehaving


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Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-19 years called Chat Health. The service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, 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.

Leicester City: text 07520 615381

Leicestershire & Rutland: text 07520 615382

You can also call and speak to a public health nurse on our professional advice line: 0300 3000 007

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