Watching your toddler learn and explore the world is such a wonderful time in your life. It can also be one of the most challenging.
As toddlers begin to mature, they’ll experience a whole range of emotions that may be difficult to manage. Relationship building is essential to recognising tantrum triggers, allowing you to step in before they occur. Your role as a parent is to support your child through all their new feelings.As your toddler continues to grow, they’ll learn how to manage new situations, problem solve, regulate their emotions, and interact with others – all by watching you. As your child’s greatest role model, your responses and reactions should be consistent, reinforcing positive pathways in their brain.
At Karitane, we respect every family’s individual culture and parenting practices. Our handy guide to understanding your toddler is an evidence-based resource you may find useful when parenting. As you help your child navigate their way through preschool, primary school and high school, it’s helpful to keep in mind that though your child is trying to gain independence, they’ll always need you for support, encouragement, boundaries and love.
Things to know about toddlers:
- They’re still finding out how exciting the world is and how everything works
- They’re inquisitive and curious
- They can’t see the effects of their actions yet
- They’re learning to regulate their emotions
- They’re striving for independence
- They want to try and test everything
- They have rapid mood swings
- They have short attention spans
- They’ll test their limits and capabilities
A common response you may hear from your toddler is ‘no’. Though this gives the impression they won’t cooperate, it’s actually a very normal part of life. (Think negotiation, discipline, safety and rules.)
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does my toddler have tantrums?
As your toddler develops, they’ll become more mobile and capable of doing things on their own. As their parent, you may develop higher expectations of them and their emotional behaviour. Remember this is a very difficult time for your toddler as they are learning new things all the time. You’re the best person to help them learn to get their emotions under control in the early years of development.
Challenging behaviours are a toddler’s way of expressing and coping with feelings they can’t control or understand. Sometimes they occur because of:
- Family conflict
- Trouble with expression
- Medical conditions
- Developmental delays
Karitane Tip: You are a role model for your child. They are always watching your reactions. If you yell and scream when you’re angry, you’re telling them it’s OK to yell and scream when they’re angry. Though being a parent is frustrating at times, doing your best to manage emotions well is a good goal to set. Remember, sadness, joy, anger, frustration, jealousy and curiosity are all OK – as long as we manage them appropriately.
Tips for managing your own emotions:
Be aware that your toddler’s emotions can trigger a strong reaction from you. If your toddler is angry for example, it might also anger you. Helping your toddler learn to regulate their own emotions requires calm support from you in difficult times.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by emotion, it is OK to separate yourself from your toddler (provided they’re in a safe space) to give yourself time out to relax, regroup and go help your child. This is also a great way to role model managing emotions.
There are many great benefits that arise from building up social connections. Joining playgroups can help build both your confidence and your toddler’s. These groups can also introduce alternative ways to manage emotions, which you may find valuable
How can I reduce my toddlers tantrums?
To a certain extent, tantrums are a normal part of childhood. Even some adults still struggle with tantrums! If your child is having trouble regulating their emotions, try these simple tips to help make their outbursts less intense and frequent.
- Be a positive role model
- Celebrate success and achievements
- Get down to their level
- Pick your battles
- Divert and distract from potential harm or bad behaviour
- Give clear, simple instructions
- Allow for a sense of independence by offering limited choices
- Allow opportunities to problem solve
- Engage with your toddler
- Be consistent and predictable
Develop routines led by steady behaviour. Our suggestions include:
Establish a good bedtime routine
Bath time, brush teeth, quiet time, story time, then bed.
Establish good safety rules
Hold hands in car parks and wear a seat belt in the car and pram.
Help them transition
Let your child know when an activity is about to change. “10 more minutes, then it’s time for your bath. “5 minutes until your bath." “2 minutes." “OK, it’s bath time now!"
Offer labelled praise regularly
Describe exactly what your child has done well. “Good girl Bella, you picked up your toys when I asked." For every one time we hear what we’ve done wrong, we need to hear five things we’ve done well.
Don’t ask questions if you don’t want to hear ‘no’
Instead of “Do you want to have a bath?" say, “It’s time to have your bath." Remember to transition your toddler in the activity lead up.
Anticipate safety before agreeing to something
Before allowing your toddler to play in a certain area or with a new toy, assess the risk and/or harm the situation may present.
View things from your toddler’s perspective
What’s fun for you isn’t necessarily fun for them. Consider their height, and imagine what they’re seeing and smelling from that level. For example, going for coffee and shopping isn’t always as fun for them as it may be for you!
Play and have fun
Doing this shows your toddler you enjoy being around them and what they’re doing is valuable. This helps build confidence and self esteem.
Pick up on their cues
Think about what your toddler needs from you. If you’ve checked all practical things are taken care of, they may want an emotional connection. Spend some time to cuddle, hold, sit and talk with them.
Encourage your toddler to speak
Help their language development by asking them to say words. This is the prime time for learning language, so talking and repeating words will help build their vocabulary.
Karitane Tip: Toddlers need love, safety, security, to be heard, and to have boundaries.
Tips for heading off a tantrum:
Help in difficult scenarios
If you notice your toddler becoming upset or frustrated, offer assistance.
Be available to prevent difficult situations
Look for cues that something might be wrong. You may spot your toddler envying another child’s toy. Before they snatch it, distract them with something else to prevent aggression or a tantrum.
Use distraction to redirect attention
Remain calm in challenging situations
This teaches your child how to manage their emotions. Your toddler won’t be able to settle if you can’t.
Talk about your feelings
Encourage your toddler to talk about their emotions and name them. For example: “You’re feeling frustrated, because your puzzle won’t fit together." “It seems like you’re angry because you can’t play outside. Sometimes I get angry too."
Reinforce desired behaviour
“I’m glad you tried something new to eat." Even if your child spat it out, you’re praising the positive and minimising the negative.
Have a ‘no hurting’ rule
State this explicitly when aggressive situations arise. If necessary, remove your toddler from the scenario. Always be consistent with this rule.
Avoid saying ‘no’ too often
Alternative suggestions include “not now", “maybe later" and “I’ll think about it". You can also link the necessary with something to look forward to. “It’s bath time now, and then we get to read stories!"
Karitane Tip: How you respond to your toddler influences their progression through life. Consistent warmth, safety, nurturing and affection are evidenced to improve your child’s confidence and self esteem.
How do I deal with tantrums?
Uh oh. You’re in the middle of a toddler tantrum and asking yourself ‘what do I do now?’
Don’t panic. The following tips will help you ride out the tantrum with your toddler:
Ensure your toddler is safe
This also means the people around you are not in harms way. If necessary, move your child to a safe place. If you need to carry them, it’s generally safer to hold their back to your front, so they’re less likely to scratch, bite or hit you in the face.
Though this can be difficult, it’s essential to wait and watch for cues of their needs. Their needs could change every few minutes during a tantrum.
Don’t allow violence
If they attempt to hurt you, hold their hands and say, “It is never OK to hurt someone. I can see you’re angry and I am here for you."
Offer hugs and console
As your child begins to settle, consider offering labelled praise. “I appreciate that you’re calming yourself down. Well done."
Take a moment to acknowledge your toddler’s feelings
Once calm, you can begin to analyse the cause of the tantrum. “I know you like to play – so I can understand how frustrating that must have been for you." Actively respond to your toddler’s cues. They may nod in agreement, or negotiate for more play time.
Tantrums and discipline can be frightening for toddlers, so you need to remind them it’s OK. Cuddle them for comfort.
Your decisions impact your child’s behaviour. If you’ve said one thing, stick to it.
Avoid further explanations
Speak to your toddler at eye level
Help your child ‘let go’ of the experience
Karitane Tip: No parent gets it 100% right all of the time. Aiming to be good enough is good enough.
Seeking help with persisting tantrums:
Toddlers may throw frequent tantrums for many reasons. If you’re concerned about your toddler’s behaviour contact your GP, child and family health nurse, or community centre to speak to someone who specialises in toddler behaviour.
Alternatively, reach out to the Karitane Careline for advice and guidance: 1300 227 464.
How should I handle biting?
Biting is a common developmental behaviour. Toddlers may bite as a reaction to stress, helplessness, frustration, tiredness, hunger, or lack of attention.
If managed appropriately, it is usually a short-term behaviour.
- Supervise your toddler at all times
- Read your toddler’s cues
- Warn others your toddler sometimes bites
- Do not bite your toddler back
- Remain calm
- Keep them separated from the situation for a few moments
- Remind them that although their feelings are real, biting is unacceptable
- Give extra attention to the bitten child
- If your toddler bites again, remove them from the situation for a longer period of time
- Consider reasons for the behaviour and plan how to reduce the risk
How should I take my toddler on outings?
If you’re going out with your toddler – to the shops or movies for example – plan ahead. To ensure the outing is as fun and productive as possible, the following suggestions may help:
- Ensure your toddler is awake
- Make sure your toddler’s been fed
- Take healthy snacks with you
- Bring activities for your toddler
- Let you toddler help where possible
- Establish a reward for good behaviour
If a tantrum occurs while you’re out, take your toddler somewhere quiet to calm down and manage the tantrum.
How do I manage sibling rivalry?
The addition of a new family member is a big change for everybody – including your toddler. Your toddler must learn to adjust from having you available whenever they need, to sharing you with another, more demanding person.
Before their new sibling arrives, your toddler may perceive changes in your behaviour – and misbehave more to get your attention. During the end stages of pregnancy, start talking to your toddler about the new baby and their special role as the older sibling.
When you bring your new baby home, your toddler may begin to adopt challenging or baby-like behaviours. It’s important you acknowledge you understand your toddler’s feelings.
To minimise and manage sibling rivalry start by involving your toddler with the new baby. They might like to help with tasks like getting a nappy, or doing things together like reading books, telling stories, and singing songs. Remember to make one-on-one time for your toddler every day, to remind them of their importance to you.
Conflict between your toddler and an older sibling can also be difficult. Children like to feel that mum and dad treat all their children equally – and as such, rules must be fair and consistent. Even if the ‘no hurting’ rule applies to one specific child, it’s important to remind all your children of the rules.
Try to spend quality time with each child as often as possible. The activities you choose may be quite varied depending on their age.
When stepping in to manage conflict, attempt to remain calm and refrain from labelling blame. As a parent, it’s your role to notice what’s happening between siblings, and try to understand the cause. Observe their way of working things out before stepping in yourself.
Above all, children should know their home is a safe place for everyone.