Parenting tips: How to improve toddler behavior
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 20, 2021.
Life can be frustrating for toddlers. Though eager to be independent, young children can't always move as swiftly as they'd like or clearly express their needs. They also tend to have trouble dealing with limits, compromise and disappointment. This can lead to tantrums and misbehavior.
But you can teach your toddler to behave well by providing love, clear rules and a degree of routine. Consider these practical parenting tips.
Show your love
Make sure your displays of affection for your child outnumber any consequences or punishments. Hugs, kisses and good-natured roughhousing reassure your child of your love. Praise and attention also can motivate your toddler to follow the rules.
Rather than overloading your child with rules from the outset — which might frustrate him or her — prioritize those geared toward safety first and gradually add rules over time. Help your toddler follow the rules by childproofing your home and eliminating some temptations.
It's normal for a toddler to have temper tantrums. To reduce the frequency, duration or intensity of your child's tantrums:
- Know your child's limits. Your child might misbehave because he or she doesn't understand or can't do what you're asking.
- Explain how to follow the rules. Instead of saying, "Stop hitting," offer suggestions for how to make play go more smoothly, such as "Why don't you two take turns?"
- Take 'no' in stride. Don't overreact when your toddler says no. Instead, calmly repeat your request. You might also try to distract your child or make a game out of good behavior. Your child will be more likely to do what you want if you make an activity fun.
- Pick your battles. If you say no to everything, your child is likely to get frustrated. Look for times when it's OK to say yes.
- Offer choices, when possible. Encourage your child's independence by letting him or her pick out a pair of pajamas or a bedtime story.
- Avoid situations that might trigger frustration or tantrums. For example, don't give your child toys that are too advanced for him or her. Avoid long outings in which your child has to sit still or can't play — or bring an activity. Also know that children are more likely to act out when they're tired, hungry, sick or in an unfamiliar setting.
- Stick to the schedule. Keep a daily routine so that your child will know what to expect.
- Encourage communication. Remind your child to use words to express his or her feelings. If your child isn't speaking yet, consider teaching him or her baby sign language to avoid frustration.
Despite your best efforts, your toddler will break the rules. Ignore minor displays of anger, such as crying — but if your child hits, kicks or screams for a prolonged period, remove him or her from the situation. To encourage your child to cooperate, consider using these methods:
- Natural consequences. Let your child see the consequences of his or her actions — as long as they're not dangerous. If your child throws and breaks a toy, he or she won't have the toy to play with anymore.
- Logical consequences. Create a consequence for your child's actions. Tell your child if he or she doesn't pick up his or her toys, you will take the toys away for a day. Help your child with the task, if necessary. If your child doesn't cooperate, follow through with the consequence.
- Withholding privileges. If your child doesn't behave, respond by taking away something that your child values — such as a favorite toy — or something that's related to his or her misbehavior. Don't take away something your child needs, such as a meal.
- Timeouts. When your child acts out, get down to his or her level and calmly explain why the behavior is unacceptable. Encourage a more appropriate activity. If the poor behavior continues, guide your child to a designated timeout spot — ideally a quiet place with no distractions. Enforce the timeout until your child is calm and can listen to you. Afterward, reassure your child of your love and guide him or her to a positive activity.
Whatever consequences you choose, be consistent. Make sure that every adult who cares for your child observes the same rules and discipline guidelines. This reduces your child's confusion and need to test you.
Also, criticize your child's behavior — not your child. Instead of saying, "You're a bad boy," try, "Don't run into the street." Never resort to punishments that emotionally or physically harm your child. Spanking, slapping and screaming at a child are never appropriate.
Set a good example
Children learn how to act by watching their parents. The best way to show your child how to behave is to set a positive example for him or her to follow.