Stop unwanted toddler behaviour

What you can do about your toddler’s unwanted behaviours, from tantrums to biting, hitting and fiddling in public.

stop-unwanted-toddler-behaviour_966

Tantrums

Your toddler flinging himself to the floor and screaming inconsolably is a number-one troublesome toddler behaviour.

Advertisement

When and why does my toddler do it?

Susan Brooks, an educational psychologist specialising in early years development. Says “Tantrums will peter out, often by the time your child joins pre-school. The majority of tantrums are down to a child’s lack of control over his surroundings, coinciding with a greater sense of his own assertiveness.”

What can I do about it?

Susan suggests ignoring the tantrum where you can, or distracting your child.

Try to prevent a tantrum from occurring in the first place by avoiding trigger situations where your child may feel bored or frustrated. “Pick your battles carefully. If putting your child’s socks on before you go out is always a sticking point, then decide whether you really need socks that day. Gradually, you’ll get them on.”

Biting and hitting

When and why does my toddler do it?

“Hitting and biting usually occurs between 1 and 2 years old, particularly in nurseries where children are close to one another,” says Susan Brooks. “Because your child’s language is still developing, an inability to communicate leads to frustration, which makes him lash out.”

What can I do about it?

Giving children ‘time out’ (in a quiet place where they can safely be left alone, briefly), or carrying younger ones away from the situation, can be effective. Susan Brooks also suggests that prevention is a simple cure. “If you’ve got a biter, it’s best to keep a close eye on him and try to intervene before a situation escalates. If he does bite or hit, give attention to the ‘victim’.”

“At 3, your toddler is acting on impulse when situations overwhelm him. He needs to develop the skills that will allow him to talk his way out of any tricky situation,” says health visitor, Annette Maloney.

“So, when he’s playing with other children stay close to him and give lots of encouragement when he’s playing well. If tension arises with a playmate, show him how to behave by encouraging him to swap a toy, take turns or play with something else.

“It will take time, but you can be a great role model. If a biting incident occurs, quickly remove him and say firmly, “No biting.” Then divert your attention to dealing with the victim. When everything has calmed down, tell him biting is unacceptable. 

Mums’ stories:

“Our daughter bites when she is frustrated”

“Eva has tantrums and bites when she’s frustrated. She’s also begun hitting me when I strap her into her car seat.” Holly has tried the naughty step’, but with mixed results. “I used it with biting to great success – now, I just need to threaten it and she has a rethink. I wish the same could be said of hitting! I think it’ll be an ongoing process.”

Veronica, 30, mum to Eva, 3

“Our child’s behaviour was because of allergies”

“Of my four children, Gethin’s tempers have been the worst,” she says. “One Christmas he had a 45-minute tantrum in a shop and pulled everything off the shelves. The shop looked like a jumble sale!” After tests at pre-school it was discovered that Gethin was allergic to 70 chemical flavourings and preservatives. “Once we figured that out, Gethin was a changed child.”

Serena, 40, mum to Morgan, 7, Gethin, 6, Delyth, 4, and Meredith, 2 

“Out daughter peed on the bus”

“We had to wait ages for the bus and Summer wanted the loo. Just as we got up the steps onto the very full bus, she announced, ‘I need a wee, NOW!’ She whipped down her trousers, there and then, and peed on the steps. I was mortified!”

Fay, 34, mum to Summer, 2 

“Our son hit five toddlers:”

“One morning when my son was 18 months old, I invited my NCT group over with their toddlers. Suddenly we heard a big chorus of cries. There was Sam standing proudly, while behind him were five crying toddlers whom he’d knocked to the floor one by one!”

Cathy, 35, mum to Sam, 3

“Our boy called his dinner lady ugly”

“One day in the school playground, my son Laurie announced, very loudly, ‘There are two nice dinner ladies – and the ugly one that helps me.’ There were loads of other people within earshot and I just didn’t know where to look.”

Jenny, 40, mum to Laurie, 4

more-troubles-sorted_1102
Some children are obsessed with saying ‘poo’ or ‘wee’ at every opportunity, or copying swear words

Saying “No!”

When and why does my toddler do it?

From around 18 months, your toddler may start loving the word ‘no’ as it allows him to assert his will.

What can I do about it?

This negative behaviour often stops of its own accord by pre-school, says Susan. “Children realise that, to get anywhere, they have to compromise and know they won’t get away with that behaviour outside their home.”

“From just after Sam turned 2, ‘no’ was his answer to everything, whether he was being asked to put his toys away or being told it was time for bed,” says Jolie, 30, mum to Sam, 3, and Ben, 4 weeks. “Fortunately, the phase only lasted a month or so. He got bored because we’d just ignore him completely. If that didn’t work, we’d threaten to take a toy away or ban his favourite programme.”

Using ‘naughty’ words

Your toddler can have an uncanny knack of knowing exactly which words he shouldn’t say in public – and then saying them!

My son Tom, 3, for example, loves telling any man he can find that, “You’re a boy, because you’ve got a pee-pee”. Other children are obsessed with saying ‘poo’ or ‘wee’ at every opportunity, or copying swear words they’ve heard from adults caught off guard.

When and why does my toddler do it?

This tends to happen around the age of 3 when your child starts to build up his language and experiment with it.

What can I do about it?

“With younger children, try simply ignoring them while they chant the words and the novelty should soon wear off,” advises Susan. “For older ones who have started using phrases that you don’t like, you may need to explain that you’d prefer them to say what they mean in a different way.”

Angie, 37, mum to James, almost 3, says she finds it best to be matter of fact about her son’s public announcements. “James’s favourite thing is to ask me to take a bogey out of his nose, and he’s been known to announce to the whole post office queue that his willy hurts. But I usually find that just trying to be as normal as possible – saying, ‘Oh, really darling?’ – stops it turning into a big issue.”

Fiddling in public

When and why does my toddler do it?

“Once nappies come off, there’s easy access to ‘private bits’ – and these can soon become a fascination,” says Susan.

What can I do about it?

It’s best to ignore the behaviour or distract your child. “Giving him something else to do with his hands, such as playing with Plasticine or eating raisins, will usually work,” suggests Susan. “If he’s really determined, you might want to explain that it’s something you only touch when in the bath.”

Advertisement

Janie, 36, mum to Freya, almost 3, found an easy way around the problem. “Freya was sitting in a supermarket trolley and started to have a bit of an explore under her dress. I soon discovered that simply putting her in trousers stopped it.”

Comments ()

Please read our Chat guidelines.