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Your baby is now a toddler! She’s blossomed into a bundle of curiosity, with an enquiring and demanding mind of her own.
Sad toddler rubbing her eye
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Your toddler has a lovely surprise in store for you – when you ask him to do something, he might actually do it! By this age, many children start to control their urges, change their behaviour and do as mum or dad asks (not all the time, of course). The name for this wonderful ability is self-regulation, and it’s one of life’s most important milestones.

Our behaviour toolkit for toddlers has lots of strategies to help you encourage good behaviour and deal with difficult behaviour in a positive, constructive way. You can also read our article on 15 ways to encourage positive behaviour in children of any age.

Tips for toddler behaviour

Here are a few tips to get you started on bringing out the best in your toddler.

  • Toddlers are naturally curious about the world. They learn behaviour and social skills by testing and experimenting with everything around them. Good self-esteem helps them try new things without too much fear of failing. Constantly telling your toddler ‘no’ can pour cold water on this natural curiosity. You might want to try some other ways to change behaviour you don’t like. 
  • Allow exploring. Try to create situations where your child can explore life without lots of ‘don’ts’ and ‘nos’. For example, if you don’t want her to blow bubbles in her milk while eating her lunch, maybe she can go outside to blow bubbles later. You can also put your favourite things out of reach so you don’t have to tell her not to touch them. 
  • Let’s make a trade. For example, if your child is sucking on your favourite scarf, you can replace it with a less precious but equally tasty item.
  • Offer two choices. Most children like to have some control over their world. By offering your child two choices (either of which you’re happy with), you can guide him to the result you want. So if you think he needs to do a wee, you could say, ‘Would you like to go on the potty or the toilet now?’
  • Change the environment. For example, when your child wants to ‘help’ in the kitchen, move her away from the hot oven. Give her a wooden spoon and a pot to bang instead.
  • Show your child how you feel. If he happens to pull your hair, pull a sad face and say ‘ouch’. If he keeps doing it, stop looking at him and withdraw a little. Using ‘I’ statements helps. For example, ‘I don’t like it when you pull my hair’. This will help him start to develop empathy – the ability to see his feelings in you, and understand how you might be feeling.
  • Avoid rewarding bad behaviour. Your attention is a powerful reward for your child. Avoid giving it when your child is doing something you don’t like. Putting your child down (if you’re holding her) or walking away are good ways of not giving attention. You can use these strategies if your toddler keeps doing something you don’t like after you’ve asked her to stop.
  • Explain the consequences of your child’s behaviour so he can figure out why something is wrong. This helps give him a better understanding of the world around him. But sometimes it’s OK not to explain. For example, the most effective way to deal with the issue of your toddler swearing is to ignore it completely. 
  • Manage transitions carefully. At this age, children can find it hard to change from one activity to another. Some extra time, sensitivity and planning can help. Children thrive on consistency and predictability in their day. They like a regular routine and knowing what’s coming up.
  • Effective instructions can help in situations when you just need your child to do what you ask. Effective instructions are clear, specific and reasonable.
  • Praise, encouragement and rewards go a long way towards making children feel good and encouraging the behaviour you want. Descriptive praise, where you tell your child exactly what it is that you like, works best of all. You can also use positive attention – where you really tune into what your child is saying and doing  – to encourage your child.
  • Most habits go away by themselves. But if your child’s habit is interfering with everyday activities, has become embarrassing, or is even causing some harm, you might want to take action.
  • Lies and lying are part of a child’s development – but so is learning about telling the truth. It’s usually better to teach children the value of honesty than to punish them for minor slip-ups with the truth.
  • Help your child make first friends by keeping playdates short at first, having similar toys for children to play with and stepping in to guide the play if necessary.
  • Some children are outgoing, and some aren’t. It’s important to consider how you talk about your child when she shows ‘shyness’.
  • Imaginary friends grow out of healthy active imaginations and give children a great way to express their feelings, as well as playmates to practise their social skills on.
  • Some fights are a fact of life when kids get together. A few factors affect fighting – temperament, environment, age and skills. You can work with these factors to reduce fighting in your family.
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Discipline

The word ‘discipline actually means ‘to teach’ – it’s not necessarily about punishment. If you use the strategies above, you probably won’t need to punish your child in the old-fashioned sense. You might like to read some practical advice about discipline.

Punishment can only teach children what not to do – it can’t teach them what to do. To learn what to do, children need to be rewarded, not punished. They need to receive praise, not just criticism. Even time-out is still basically a form of punishment.

Smacking doesn’t change children’s behaviour in a good way. It might stop their behaviour momentarily, while they try to work out what’s going on. But they’ll soon get confused when they copy your behaviour and get in trouble for it – for example, if they hit another child. Also, smacking doesn’t give children the opportunity to learn about consequences or solve their own problems.

Instead, smacking can make children fearful, insecure and resentful

Some parents might hit their children because they’re trying to relieve their own tension or stress in a situation. For more help with managing stress and angry feelings, try reading our articles on feeling stressed and when you feel you might hurt your child.

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Smacking isn’t an effective or acceptable punishment for a child, no matter what age.

When to say ‘no’

Often, children behave in challenging ways because they know it will get them attention. For children of all ages, negative attention is better than no attention at all. So paying too much attention to challenging behaviour actually encourages it.

Rather than saying ‘no’ all the time, talk to your toddler about the right things to do, and positive ways to behave. Also talk about the consequences he can expect if he behaves in unacceptable ways.

If your toddler is aware of the ‘right’ behaviour, she’ll only respect you if you follow through with a matter-of-fact consequence that you’ve agreed on. If she isn’t aware of a better way of behaving, a firm ‘No’ or ‘Stop that now’ is something she should understand.

So try to say ‘no’ only when it really counts or in dangerous situations. Your child might be walking and talking now. He might have stopped in his tracks the last time you said ‘no’, but this doesn’t mean he’ll stop every time. So make sure you have a firm but comfortable grip on his hand when crossing the road, or in other potentially dangerous situations.

You might be tempted just to say ‘No!’ when you feel your child is pestering. But perhaps you could try taking some steps to make pestering less likely to happen in the first place.

Anxiety

If your child shows signs of anxiety, you can show your support in several ways:

  • acknowledge your child’s fear – don’t dismiss or ignore it
  • gently encourage your child to do things she’s anxious about, but don’t push her to face situations she doesn’t want to face
  • wait until your child actually gets anxious before you step in to help
  • praise your child for doing something she’s anxious about, rather than criticising her for being afraid
  • avoid labelling your child as ‘shy’ or ‘anxious’.

Video: Discouraging behaviour

Download Video  33mb

This video demonstration shows you how to discourage bad or inappropriate behaviour in children. It covers strategies such as empathy, distraction, ignoring and using consequences. It’s always important to communicate clearly with your child about what behaviour you do want to see – and what you don’t.

You might need to experiment to work out which of these strategies are best for your child.

 
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  • Newsletter snippet: Toddler behaviour: in a nutshell

    By Raising Children Network

    Toddlers are beginning to learn self-control and follow directions. This is one of life’s most important milestones.

    Tips for positive behaviour

    • Toddlers are naturally curious, so try to avoid saying ‘no’ all the time.
    • Allow your toddler to explore the world safely.
    • Use distraction or guidance to direct your toddler’s behaviour.
    • Give your toddler some control by offering choices.
    • Explain why some behaviour is wrong.
    • Avoid paying too much attention to challenging behaviour such as lying and swearing.
    • Help your child make first friends by guiding play with other children.
    • Be gentle and supportive if your child shows signs of anxiety or ‘shyness’.

    Discipline

    • Set up logical consequences for behaviour you wish to discourage.
    • Smacking is not an effective or acceptable punishment for a child, no matter what age.
    • Seek advice if you become very frustrated by your toddler’s behaviour.

    Saying ‘no’

    Rather than saying ‘no’ all the time, talk to your toddler about the right things to do, and positive ways to behave.

    This article is an extract only. For more information, visit  raisingchildren.net.au/behaviour/toddlers_behaviour.html.

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website, www.raisingchildren.net.au.


 
 
 
  • Last Updated 06-12-2011
  • Last Reviewed 06-12-2011