6 toddler behaviour problems – with solutions!

Whether your child is throwing a tantrum, being moody and grumpy or simply won’t share, let our health visitor Annette share her advice to solve the issues


Q: My 3 year old won’t let me wash her hair. What can I do about it?

A: Many mums will sympathise with you on this one. Some use goggles to keep water out of tot’s eyes, or you can buy a shampoo shield, a bit like a sun visor. Hair needs to be washed, but not too often, so set aside one or two nights a week and stick to it. This allows some bath nights to be fun and helps you focus on making these positive, with lots of praise and attention.


Share a bath with her if it’ll help and always use products that won’t sting her eyes. Try different approaches, like washing her hair under the shower, over the sink or after a swimming session – anything to shake up the routine. Reward charts can work well too, with treats like a new hair band. Try to keep a sense of proportion and remember that this phase will pass.

Q: My 3 year old’s become very grumpy when he doesn’t get his own way. What’s the best way to encourage him to stop?

A: Everyone can have a bad day, but sometimes certain behaviours become habits, especially if there’s a pay-off, such as getting a grown-up’s attention. Being moody or sulky is your little one’s way of dealing with an overwhelming situation, so the best way to deal with it is to give him support when he has to cope with not getting his own way.

Next time the situation crops up, let him know you understand that not getting your own way is hard for him, but then move on.

Try and distract your little boy without giving too much attention to his mood. You could try having a sing-along or run round the room with him to lighten the atmosphere and help cheer him up.

Q: My toddler’s started to make herself sick when she’s having a tantrum. It’s scary and upsetting. How can I stop this?

A: When a little one gets to the stage of making herself sick, she’s become overwhelmed with frustration and probably feels angry and scared. Being sick will bring things to a swift conclusion. Make a note of what triggers her tantrum. Could things have been managed differently? Maybe by distracting her or acknowledging her demand? This doesn’t mean giving her everything she wants, but more ‘I know you want a biscuit, but your lunch is coming so not now.’ Then involve her in a different activity and keep your tone calm and confident.

If she’s sick, respond by cleaning her up with little comment or attention. Use good eye contact and be reassuring. The less negative attention she gets for the vomiting, the quicker it will lessen and eventually stop. Make sure everyone in the family has the same approach too.

Q: My 3 year old won’t leave my side at home, but will play happily at playgroup. I can’t get anything done and I’m not sure what to try?

A: When your toddler is in a phase of needing you there for constant reassurance there’s little point in trying to fight it as it often makes a child more clingy. It can be very frustrating to have a toddler following your everywhere, but be encouraged that he’s comfortable playing with others.

You can work around having him by your side all the time by involving him in what you’re doing. If you’re cooking, let him play with the saucepans or encourage him to sweep up an area with his own brush – whatever will make him feel involved and useful. Yes, it may take extra planning for you, but it gives him the message that he’s important to you and gently builds up his independence and confidence.

Q: My two boys are 3 and 2 years old and fight all day long. It’s driving my crazy, what can I do?

A: Phases like this are hard work, but it’s always possible to move things on, so don’t despair. Have you tried making a conscious effort to notice when they’re getting on? It doesn’t have to be great, just average is good enough. Keep a brief note of what goes well, and the share it with your boys. Start praising when they get it right and tell them exactly what you liked, for example, ‘That was a very nice smile you gave your brother’ or ‘Thank you for getting his shoes,’ rather than just saying ‘Good boy’. Have a look at your daily routine too. Does each of your sons get time for himself with you? This may help if some of the behaviour is attention seeking. You can be a good role model as well, by showing how you take turns and share with them.


Q: My toddler finds it very difficult to share her toys, making play dates quite stressful. Should we insist or give in for a quiet life?

A: A bit of both. Until toddlers reach their third year they don’t really get sharing. It’s not because they’re unkind – they just haven’t developed these social skills yet. Your tot’s still working out how to get her own needs met and isn’t really able to think about anyone else’s. Instead of insisting that your tot shares, it’s better to show her the right behaviour by waiting your turn and allowing others to use your things. During play dates, put her special toys away and agree which toys will be available for all the toddlers to play with together. Step in if you see trouble brewing and show them how to sort it out. Give your little one lots of praise and make sure she hears you talking about her good behaviour, rather than her mistakes. Let your friends know the strategy too, so they can be consistent when your toddler visits their house.

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