Top Tips for Supporting Toddler Behaviour

This blog is written by Claire Burgess – Family Consultant from Bespoke Family. Claire is a director and family consultant and has many years experience working with families throughout the UK.

Following on from our post on Supporting Toddler Behaviour on Monday, we are now sharing our Top Ten Tips to Supporting Toddler Behaviour.

Here are some supporting toddler behaviour top tips:

  • Provide a running commentary – children like to know what is happening and they love to have communication with the adults around them. Throughout the day try to provide a running commentary about what’s happening, what they might see/hear, who they might see, where everything they are going to do fits in the day (e.g. we are going to see Grandma, then we are going to come home and have lunch, what shall we have? etc.).
  • Time prompts – don’t throw things you are going to do at your little one just before they happen – this is very often going to trigger them feeling caught off guard which will then lead to a defence approach….shouting “NO” is common. If you provide time prompts for them  – you will say things like “in 5 mins/before dinner/when Daddy gets home etc XYZ is going to happen”.  They need to be able to place it within their day.  If you use specific time such as 5 mins then it might be helpful to get a 5-minute sand timer or a timer which sounds an alarm so that your child can see how long until the next thing is happening.
  • Acknowledge the communication – your toddler is communicating with you, this can be through shouting, crying, throwing themselves on the floor etc but seeing this as communication helps you to be able to empathise with what is happening in that moment with your child. If you can see that they are cross because they don’t want to leave the park, acknowledge this “I can see that you really don’t want to leave the park, you have lots of fun here don’t you?” by acknowledging and explaining what you can see, it will help your toddler to know that you understand how they are feeling.  You can then follow this up with, “I can see that you don’t want to leave but we have to go home for lunch, but can you decide when we come back again?  When we come back next time what is the first thing that you are going to play on?” You are giving the boundaries that you need to leave, but you are also giving them choice about when to return and what they are going to play on etc.  It’s all about compromising and partnership working!
  • Try to avoid the overuse of the word no – there are days where you will feel that all you have said all day is “no”! Of course there are going to be days like this but you want to try and reduce them as it is exhausting for you – your little one doesn’t want to listen… and so doesn’t!  When any of us hear “no” it can put us on the defensive and we see if we can find a way around it.  Try and have other phrases which don’t involve the word “no”.  This can take some practice and needs to be used at the right times for example if your little one is in danger (about to run across the road etc) then a firm “NO”, followed by a simple explanation is needed.  For general behaviour this is where you can try to avoid the word “no”. So, for example, “I can see that you want to throw your toys, but they are going to break, shall we find some toys that we can throw (balls etc)?” Then engage them in a game of throwing appropriately, “You don’t like it when we have to leave your toys to go in the car, shall we put them somewhere safe (on the worksurface, table etc) and we can find them when we get back?”  You are putting value on what they are doing rather than just saying ‘No do X or Y’ which often triggers the frustration or anger.

  • Pick your battles – be realistic about the behaviour you are expecting from your toddler…remember, they are learning and don’t apply adult logic – so, are you being realistic? As above, how often are you saying “no” in the average day?  If you are saying “no” more than you are saying “ok, good job, well done, try this, you did so well” (positive reinforcement) then the balance is tipped the wrong way.  A great activity to help with this is to sit down with your partner and other adults who care for your child to talk about what your green, amber and red triggers are.  Look at different behaviours that your child demonstrates and put them in a category.  For example, often people will put biting into the red trigger, this is a “no” behaviour which you have a certain response to and it is very clear to the child that this behaviour is not acceptable. By doing this exercise with those who are closely caring for your little one you will be able to put together a plan of how you will approach different behaviours but also make sure that you are all on the same page with what is and isn’t acceptable.  Children like to have clear boundaries, it helps them to feel safe and so if all the adults around them say similar things when demonstrating a certain behaviour this is reinforcing to the child if it is or isn’t acceptable. Mixed responses can lead to the behaviour being displayed more frequently as your child is trying to make sense of the responses they are getting from the adults.
  • Volume has no meaning – shouting at your toddler is something that you are very likely to do at some point as you are only human, however volume means that we are just loud, children don’t hear the words they hear the tone and the pitch. When we shout to stop them getting into danger there is a very different pitch and tone compared to when we shout due to our own frustration, annoyance etc. Working on your pitch and tone, your child needs to hear a difference in your voice when you are having fun, to the tone you use when you need them to respond.  When you are using the right pitch and tone for the situation the words will have meaning to your child. Also remember that our children look to the adults as role models, if you shout then you have to expect that you child is likely to do this back to you.  Consider how shouting can also look like we are out of control and not managing our own behaviour because our emotions (frustrated, angry, annoyed, overwhelmed) have taken over – this is exactly how our toddlers feel!
  • Let them have some freedom and to experiment – children at this age need to feel, touch, taste and experience everything so that they learn. Of course you don’t want them to be in any danger, but they need to have the opportunities to try things so letting this happen in a safe and controlled way will help.  If they feel your trust in them, it often gives them the confidence to try things and they are likely to take more considered risks.  Children who are frequently told “no” are likely not to listen or respond in the right way when it is not safe or appropriate.
  • Give them choice – to help your toddler feel that they ‘have a say’ it is can really help to give them opportunities through the day to make choices and decisions. These can be very simple opportunities throughout the day for example, “what colour cup would like?” “Which park would you like to go to?”  “Which shoes would you like to wear today?”.  Don’t over complicate the choices – giving 2 options is usually enough! As they get older more used to the choices they are being offered you can start to involve them in more decisions, for example what would they like to have for lunch, but again not giving too many options as this can get overwhelming for them. Choice and having your voice heard helps us all to feel valued and respected, even our youngest of children have the understanding of how that feels.
  • Routine to the day – as previously mentioned, our toddlers do not have the ability to tell the time so they work purely from their daily routine which is mainly based around mealtimes, nap time and bedtimes. The impact of hunger or tiredness can have a significant impact on behaviour.


  • Look after you too! – often when dealing with challenging behaviour it can feel quite overwhelming, exhausting and continuous! Young children are incredibly attuned to the adults around them and feed off the ‘vibes’ which they pick up. If you are feeling stressed, annoyed, frustrated then very often you find that the little one picks up on this (completely subconsciously!) and their behaviour can change.  When they feel that they are not getting the same and consistent response from you it can make them feel insecure or unnerved, often leading to demonstrating more ‘challenging’ behaviours.  If you feel that you are not in a place to be able to support the behaviour then you need to have strategies where you are able to take some time out for yourself and then come back to the situation 5 mins later in a better headspace.  As long as your little one is safe, take yourself off do some deep breathing, listen to some music etc. If you are experiencing the behaviour when you are out and about or even at home but you have friends or family over, often you can feel that you are being judged by others on 1) the behaviour your child is demonstrating and 2) your ability to handle the situation. Where possible you need to ignore those around you and just zone into what is happening with your child and how you are going to handle it  – this is something that is easy to say but very difficult to do in the situation but what others think is irrelevant as they don’t know your child like you do! If you become stressed or anxious about the situation your toddler is going to pick up on this and is very likely that their behaviour will in turn get worse as they will be picking up on the tension and worry that you are subconsciously portraying.  Take deep breaths, look at why your child is demonstrating the behaviour and then calmly try to resolve the situation with some of the above approaches.

When you have a toddler, no two days are the same and sometimes what works one day won’t work the next but it is all about trial and error.  You will never get it right 100% of the time (and never aim to this either as it just is not possible to achieve!).  If you aim to follow some of the tips and approaches above 70% of the time, you will be doing brilliantly! Remember, this is not a quick fix, you are preparing and supporting your child to have strategies for life so it is going to take some time – it is a learning process!

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