Understanding your Toddler

The toddler years may be a challenging time for parents. As toddlers mature and begin to explore the world they will experience a whole new range of emotions which may be difficult for them to manage. Your toddler may need your support to help manage some of these behaviours.

Things to know about toddlers

• They are finding out how exciting the world is and how everything works

• They are inquisitive and curious

• They can’t see that their actions will have an effect on others or themselves

• They are learning to regulate their emotions and feelings.

• They want to try and test everything

• Have rapid mood changes

• Have a short attention span

• They are striving for independence

• They will test their limits and capabilities

• A common response from toddlers is “No". This can give the impression that they don’t want to cooperate. Be reassured this is a normal part of learning about life e.g. negotiating, discipline, safety and rules



How parents and carers respond to toddlers can influence how they progress through life. 

Understanding your Toddlers Emotions 

How to encourage the behaviour you want in your toddler

• Be a positive role model

• Celebrate their successes and achievements

• Get down to their eye level

• Look for the opportunities to let them know when they are doing the right thing

• Offer labelled praise – describe what they have done well eg: Bella, well done, you picked up all your toys when I asked

• Pick your battles – allow them to explore unless it is dangerous to themselves or others

• Divert and distract from potential harm or unwanted behaviour

• Give clear simple instructions

• Allow opportunities to problem solve. Be available to help if needed

• Engage with your Toddler by spending time reading and playing.

• Encourage your toddler to help pack away after play

• Allow toddlers a sense of independence, offering limited choices. e.g. Red shirt or blue shirt rather than entire contents of wardrobe

• If they refuse to cooperate, it may be best to remove them from the situation. If there is immediate danger with what they are doing, (pulling on an electrical cord), calmly remove them from the danger. Explain after the risk of danger has passed

• Help language development by encouraging toddlers to say words of things they are asking for. Remember this is prime time for learning language so talking and repeating words will help build their language


What toddlers need from you:

• Love

• Security

• To be safe

• Boundaries

• Your time

• Play, have fun and be active together

• Lots of support and understanding to enable them to learn social skills



Karitane respects each family has their own culture and parenting practices. This guide is an evidence based resource you may use in your parenting.  Relationship building is essential and recognising what triggers the tantrum may allow you to step in before they occur.

What is a tantrum

A challenging behaviour is a toddler’s way of expressing and coping with feelings they cannot control or understand. Here are some reasons they occur:

• Jealousy

• Tiredness

• Frustration

• Family conflict

• Feeling insecure

• Trouble with expressing themselves

Strategies that may Help

• Use distraction to redirect their attention

• Limit use of the word ‘no’. If you must say ‘no’ give them a simple reason why in a gentle, calm tone

• Kneel down to the Toddlers level to talk to them

• Avoid further explanations

• Stay with your toddler while the challenging behaviour is happening may help them feel safe and secure

• If you feel you are becoming frustrated, take a deep breath, step away from the situation to calm yourself or ask for help

• Once the behaviour is over give your child a cuddle to reassure them. This can be frightening for a toddler

• Acknowledge, name and talk about their feelings (e.g. “I understand you’re sad that you can’t have mum’ s keys")

Try to understand your child in terms of what your child is feeling and thinking, not in terms of what he/she is doing. Your child’s emotions can be intense from being over excited to feelings of anger or disappointment. Negative emotions such as anger or disappointment are real and painful for your child.

  • By responding in a timely fashion with empathy, attention to needs, a hug or a change of activity, the parent helps their child to regulate such emotions. When your child feels heard and understood, in time your child will learn to manage difficult moments on their own.
  • Children need to explore within a safe environment. Parents need to view the environment and make changes to ensure it is safe for example locking cupboards that store poisonous liquids. The parent can be more relaxed when their child has a safe area to explore.
  • Change your child’s world rather than trying to change the child. To help your child feel special and loved, show them affection and tell them often. This will help your child develop a healthy self-esteem and the confidence to explore and attempt new skills.  

Challenging Moments 

What to do about Biting

Biting is a common developmental behaviour. Toddlers may bite as a reaction to feeling stressed,  helpless, frustrated or wanting attention. It is usually a short term behaviour if managed appropriately.

  • Supervise your toddler at all times, especially if you know that she is going through a stressful time.
  • Read your toddler’s cues and distract them before they bite.
  • Warn other parents that your toddler sometimes bites.
  • Do not bite your toddler back – this teaches that biting is acceptable.
  • Remain calm and remove them from the situation.
  • For a few moments keep them separated from the situation.
  • Let her know that her feelings are real but that biting is not acceptable.
  • Give extra attention to the child who has been bitten.
  • If your toddler bites again, remove her from the situation for a longer period of  time;  e.g. 5 minutes and occupy her with something else.

It may take several episodes of biting, but your patience and persistence will be rewarded!

Outings with Toddlers

If you are going out with your toddler, for example shopping, plan ahead. To help make your outing as fun and productive as possible, here are some suggestions that may help:

• Ensure your toddler is not tired and it’s not time for a sleep

• Ensure your toddler is not hungry and it’s not time for a meal

• Give your toddler a healthy meal or snack before you go out

• Make some healthy snacks and a drink to take with you

• Take some activities along for your toddler

• Where possible let your toddler help with the tasks of your outing, for example by getting items from the shopping list from the shelf

• Try to have a routine where you finish with a small healthy treat or fun activity when they behave well. This gives them something to look forward to and rewards behaviours to be encouraged

If tantrums increase while you are out, take your toddler somewhere quiet until have calmed down.

Sibling Rivalry

The addition of another family member is a big change for everybody, including your toddler. Your toddler is adjusting from having you available whenever they need, to sharing you with another, perhaps more demanding person! Toddlers may notice changes before the new baby arrives and you find that he or she is misbehaving more to get your attention. In the end stages of your pregnancy, start talking to your toddler about the new baby and their role as the big sibling. When you bring the new baby home, your toddler may begin to have baby-like or challenging behaviours. It is important to acknowledge to the toddler that you understand their feelings.

Get your toddler involved with the new baby, by helping with tasks (such as getting a nappy), and doing things together, like reading books, telling stories and singing songs. Have some one-on-one time with your toddler each day to make them feel special.

Conflict between a toddler and their older siblings can be difficult. Children like to feel that mum and dad are treating all their children equally and the rules are fair and consistent. You might need to remind children frequently of the rules, eg. “no hurting", even if the rule only applies to one child. Try and spend quality time with each child, these activities may be quite different for each child depending on their age and gender. When stepping in to manage conflict, try and remain calm and avoid blaming a particular child.

What About Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in Australia. In 2007-08, one-quarter of all Australian children, or around 600,000 children aged 5-17, were overweight or obese, up four percentage points from 1995 (Australian Bureau of Statistics Year Book Australia, 2009–10).

Key tips to prevent childhood obesity

  • Breastfeeding is protective against Childhood Obesity.
  • Most babies regulate their breastmilk intake so they are less likely to overfeed.
  • With bottle fed babies, don’t feel that the baby needs to finish every bottle. Throw away unused formula after baby has finished feeding.
  • Juice is one of the main causes of childhood obesity. It gives lots of sugar with none of the fibre of fruit.
  • It’s normally not recommended to give low fat milk to babies under 2 years of age. However, if your baby is overweight before 2 years, your doctor may recommend using low fat milk.
  • Don’t give junk food or fried foods as part of your child’s normal diet. French fries (chips) should not be considered a vegetable!

How do I introduce healthy eating habits?  

  • Offer water and pasteurised full-cream milk in a cup rather than a feeding bottle.
  • Water is the best thirst quencher for your toddler, and clean and safe tap water is best, especially if it contains fluoride.
  • Milk is no longer a main source of nutrition and  your toddler requires  a nutritious and varied diet of small, frequent meals a day. Offer your toddler  three healthy meals and two healthy snacks a day.
  • Full cream dairy products are recommended until toddlers are 2 years old. After 2 years, low fat milk can be offered, and skim milk after 5 years. If milk alternatives used, make sure it is a calcium-enriched variety. Toddler milks are not required for healthy children
  •  Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juice and  encourage your toddler to eat whole fruits instead.
  •  Avoid tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks as they are unsuitable.
  •  Make biscuits, cakes, chocolate and other sweets a ‘sometimes’ food. Replace them with snacks such as frozen fruit, bread with a spread (perhaps cut into interesting shapes), raisin toast, celery sticks, cheese sticks, frozen yogurts or crackers, and crisp bread spread with a soft cheese.
  • Avoid using sweets and chocolate as rewards.
  • Avoid take away or pre-packaged food that contain high levels of salt and fat.
  • Avoid adding salt to home prepared foods. This helps prevent toddlers becoming accustomed to a salty taste. High salt intake can eventually lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Slow down, relax and enjoy family meal times together.


If food choices are restricted for special diets and medical reasons like allergies, the advice of a dietitian or appropriate health professional might be necessary to make sure your toddler is getting the right nutrients.