When your baby enters the toddler stage you may see changes in their behaviour 

We have all heard of the "terrible twos". It’s totally normal for your child to have a temper tantrum. It’s an important part of your child’s brain development and a way for them to learn how to deal with emotions, test boundaries, and express themselves.

Tantrums help to develop neural pathways in their brain that will help them to manage stress when they’re older. Temper tantrums usually start at around 18 months and are very common in toddlers.

One reason for this is that toddlers want to express themselves, but they find it difficult. They feel frustrated, and the frustration comes out as a tantrum. Once a child can talk more, they’re less likely to have tantrums. By the age of four, tantrums are far less common.

As a parent, watching your child have a tantrum can be enough to set you off on one of your own. We’ve pulled together some really useful tips that will hopefully help you deal with tantrums as they’re happening, and maybe even stop them in the first place, as well as advice on how to keep your cool, no matter how much they wind you up!

Be clear about your rules

Each family has its own rules (often unspoken) about what is and isn’t okay, so the first step in helping your child to behave well is to decide on what your rules are. Then make sure your child knows what they are and remind them often. Having a set of rules creates structure and boundaries which help to make toddlers feel safe and secure. 

Be consistent

When you have a set of rules in place, it’s a good idea to make sure all adults who may help look after your children use the same rules. Conflict can arise when parents, and others who care for your child, follow different sets of rules, which can be really confusing for little ones. The same goes when you allow your child to do something one day then tell them off for doing the same thing the next. When you say ‘No’ make sure you mean it.

Expect them to behave well

Although it may not always seem like it, children love to please their parents. If you expect your little one to behave badly, chances are they will. But if they know that you expect them to behave well, they’re much more likely to try to please. So rather than telling them not to do something, try praising them for something instead. For example, at meal times instead of saying ‘Don’t throw your food on the floor’ you could say ‘Let’s see if we can keep everything on your tray – I know you can do it!’ 

Lead the way

Kids learn by copying, so show them love and affection, treat them – and others – with consideration, listen to what they have to say and respect their feelings. And remember it’s no good telling them that getting cross or shouting is not allowed if that’s what you do!

Try saying yes

How many times have you said ‘no’ today? Always being refused can lead to a build-up of frustration. Next time your toddler asks you a question, think about whether you could say yes instead. For example, ‘Yes, you can do it tomorrow,’ or, ‘Yes, after we’ve been shopping.’ 

Be clear and specific

Try to make sure that your little one understands exactly what they are being asked to do. Instead of saying, ‘Please can you tidy up now,’ try, ‘Pick up your books and put them on the shelf now, please.’

Offer them a choice

If there’s no choice about something, don’t confuse things by letting them think they can decide. Instead of saying, ‘Do you want to have your bath now?’, say, ‘Now it’s bath time.’ But if you can offer them a choice about how they do something they have to do, this is a great way to help them feel more responsible and trusted, and to understand the impact of their own decisions. So for example you could offer them a choice of toys to play with in the bath, or two different books to read at bedtime. 

Help them identify their feelings

When your toddler misbehaves, it’s often because they don’t know any other way to deal with their feelings. You can help by letting them know that they’re allowed to show their emotions, and by giving them a name for their feelings so that they can express them. For example say, ‘It looks to me as if you’re upset/happy/sad/cross/frustrated.’ Don’t worry if you haven’t identified it correctly, they’ll soon put you right if need be.

Doing little activities like colouring in emotions can also help them to tell you how they're feeling. For example, you could do some colouring in together, with ‘red’ for angry, ‘yellow’ for happy, ‘blue’ for sad, ‘green’ for jealousy, etc. Then when they're getting upset or having a bad day you can ask ‘are you feeling red right now?’

Its not them, its what they do

Constant criticism creates bad feeling and it can lead to even more difficult behaviour, not less. If your child breaks the rules, emphasise that it’s their behaviour you’re unhappy about, not them. For example, say, ‘It’s upsetting when you hit your brother,’ rather than, ‘You’re naughty’ or ‘You’re spoilt.’ 

Praise them

It can feel like you’re in a never ending loop of telling them off, but whenever you can, praise the good behaviour, even the very little things. Praise and attention are much more encouraging to your little one than criticism or punishment, so it’s great to show that you’re pleased when your child behaves well. Reward good behaviour whenever you see it by giving them praise and cuddles and kisses. The more you can point out and praise the good behaviour, the more your little one will want to do these things again.

Set aside time for chats

If you’re finding your toddler’s acting up more than usual, try to set aside short times during the day when you can chat together with no distractions. Get face to face if you can or down to their level. See what your child is interested in and talk about that and give them time to respond. Then copy what they say and add to it, and so on. This is called ‘serve and return’ interaction and is a powerful way to build language and help your child cope with their emotions. Children treasure these times, and it helps them feel in touch even during the times you’re not with them.

Stay connected

Making sure your toddler feels connected to you, cared for and safe is important to help their behaviour. It gives them the foundation they need to manage stress as they grow up. Showing interest in what they’re doing can help. So can physical contact. A hug can make them feel safe and loved and help calm their mood.

Being a parent is the best job in the world, but it can also be one of the most stressful. There will be days when it all feels a little too much.

Click here for parent support

Sign up to our newsletter