Managing Your Toddler's Frustrating Behaviors - Topic Overview
Toddlers may throw fits,
act selfishly, and rarely mind. This behavior often develops out of frustration
from not being able to communicate, master skills, and be as independent as
they want to be. Assertiveness and irritability are normal behaviors for
Toddlers are actively absorbing and exploring the world
around them. So many toddlers quickly reach a point of sensory overload. This seems to
happen at the most inconvenient times, such as while you are shopping for
A newfound sense of autonomy and independence prompts the toddler to
test limits—including yours. For example, your toddler bangs a toy on the table and then looks at you for a response. When there is no response, she repeats
her actions. She wants to know what she can do and cannot do. Be patient and
set firm, fair, and consistent boundaries. This will help your toddler learn
what behavior is appropriate.
Often toddlers have fits or
temper tantrums because of internal conflicts.
Toddlers may become frustrated by wanting to do something independently
but not being able to. Also, they often have two opposing desires—wanting both
to be independent and to feel taken care of. Toddlers' tempers can become
especially fragile when they feel tired, hungry, or bored or when they want
your attention. They do not have the language skills or physical capabilities
to protest in an appropriate manner a situation they don't like.
Toward the end of the second year, tantrums usually occur less
frequently as toddlers gain more self-control and become comfortable with their
abilities. They become less frustrated and are able to show more restraint and
less of a knee-jerk response when you say "no" or otherwise challenge their
control. This behavioral improvement is related to brain maturation, especially
development of the
cerebral cortex. Recognize that these tantrums are for
the child to work out, not you.
You can try the following strategies to help manage your
toddler's challenging behavior:
- Minimize conflicts as much as possible. For
example, put things your toddler shouldn't touch out of reach. Try to prepare
your toddler in advance for circumstances he or she may not like, such as, "We are
going to put away the toys soon."
- Choose your battles. Focus on the
most important, like making sure car seats are used and bedtimes followed. If
not, your home will become a battleground, and your toddler can become
- Set limits but have realistic expectations. It
generally is considered too early to start disciplinary measures such as
time-outs. Other strategies can help teach your child limits, such as using a
firm voice, looking your child in the eye, and sometimes physically removing
him or her from a situation. But realize that your child's behavior, no
matter how troublesome, has a purpose in furthering growth and development: Your
toddler is simply trying to make sense of the world.
- Offer limited
choices. For example, instead of asking, "What do you want for lunch?" limit
options by asking, "Do you want a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of soup?"
This works well at the dinner table or the play table and gives your toddler a
sense of independence, perhaps decreasing those times when he or she won't
- When you see a dispute or tantrum coming, distract or
redirect your toddler to prevent a meltdown.
- Compliment your child
when he or she behaves well. Approval helps your child learn proper behavior
and reinforces a positive sense of self.
- Provide opportunities for
your toddler to interact with others. When these interactions are positive,
children learn that they have behaved in acceptable ways and become more