Toddler tantrums and tricky behaviour

Tips on how to deal with the behaviour

Toddler tantrums and tricky behaviour


Is your toddler having tantrums? You’re not alone! Tantrums are common between 18 months and four years. But that doesn’t make them any easier to deal with when you’re in the middle of a supermarket!

Toddler tantrums can be dramatic. They often involve crying, screaming, hitting, kicking, throwing themselves to the ground. Sometimes all at the same time!

It is important to understand that your toddler’s not trying to embarrass you, upset you or annoy you. They just need to express a very strong emotion and find it tricky. This is when they have a tantrum, when they are angry or frustrated and have no other way of letting you know.

The good news is that once your little one can talk, the tantrums will happen less often.

Tricky behaviour

Your toddler’s behaviour can also become tricky if they start to bite, pull hair, push, snatch, or kick.

Sometimes it’s emotion that triggers more tricky behaviours, such as jealousy, frustration, fear, or anger. Sometimes it’s because their needs haven’t been met such as being tired, hungry or in need of a cuddle. Remember, your toddler is struggling to make their feelings known and because they don’t know how to do this yet, they can lash out in frustration.

This doesn’t mean you can ignore this behaviour, but it does help to understand why it is happening! Try to recognise and respond to your toddler’s emotions early you may be able to stop it before it happens.

Pushing the boundaries

Toddlers are also starting to realise they have a voice. And they begin to seek some independence and control.

They might start pushing the boundaries you set by:

  • saying ‘no!’ to everything!
  • refusing to get dressed, or go to bed or have a bath
  • refusing to eat certain foods (see our page on fussy eaters)
  • running off
  • begging and pestering when they don’t get their own way

How to deal with the behaviour

Try to understand why the behaviour is happening?

Your child may be tired or hungry, in which case the solution is simple. They could be feeling frustrated or jealous, maybe of another child. They may need time, attention and love, even though they’re not being very loveable.

Understand and accept your child’s anger

You probably feel the same way yourself at times, but you can express it in other ways.

Find a distraction

If you think your child is starting a tantrum, find something to distract them with straight away. This could be something you can see out of the window. For example, you could say, “Look! A cat”. Make yourself sound as surprised and interested as you can.

Wait for it to stop

Losing your temper or shouting back won’t end the tantrum. Ignore the looks you get from people around you and concentrate on staying calm.

Don’t change your mind

Giving in won’t help in the long term. If you’ve said no, don’t change your mind and say yes just to end the tantrum. Otherwise, your child will start to think tantrums can get them what they want.

Be prepared when you’re out shopping

Tantrums often happen in shops. This can be embarrassing, and embarrassment makes it harder to stay calm. Keep shopping trips as short as possible. Involve your child in the shopping by talking about what you need and letting them help you.

Look after yourself

Whatever you do, your toddler won’t behave perfectly all the time. If your toddler sometimes misbehaves it doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job – it’s just a part of growing up! Remember, parenting is a tough job so don’t forget to be kind to yourself!

Need support?

Difficult behaviour often leaves parents feeling rubbish and tired. If you are feeling helpless and unsure of the best approach to take, don’t worry, support is available. Try to stay positive, and if you feel you need a helping hand, reach out. You can talk to your health visitor, GP, or contact us on the Early Years team.

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