There are lots of possible reasons for difficult behaviour in toddlers and young children. Often it’s just because they’re tired, hungry, over-excited, frustrated or bored.
If problem behaviour is causing you or your child distress, or upsetting the rest of the family, it’s important to deal with it.
Most young children occasionally bite, hit or push another child. Toddlers are curious and may not understand that biting or pulling hair hurts.
This doesn’t mean your child will grow up to be aggressive. Here are ways to teach your child that this behaviour is unacceptable:
Don’t hit bite or kick back
This could make your child think it’s acceptable to do this. Instead, make it clear that what they’re doing hurts and you won’t allow it.
Put your child in another room
If you’re at home, try this for a short period. Check they’re safe before you leave them.
Talk to them
Children often go through phases of being upset or insecure and express their feelings by being aggressive. Finding out what’s worrying them is the first step to being able to help.
Show them you love them, but not their behaviour
Children may be behaving badly because they need more attention. Show them you love them by praising good behaviour and giving them plenty of cuddles when they’re not behaving badly.
Help them let their feelings out in another way
Find a big space, such as a park, and encourage your child to run and shout. Letting your child know that you recognise their feelings will make it easier for them to express themselves without hurting anyone else.
You could try saying things like: “I know you’re feeling angry about … “. As well as showing you recognise their frustration, it will help them be able to name their own feelings and think about them.
Temper tantrums usually start at around 18 months and are very common in toddlers as well as hitting and biting.
One reason for this is toddlers want to express themselves, but 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.
The tips below may help you cope with tantrums when they happen.
Find out why the tantrum is happening
Your child may be tired or hungry, in which case the solution is simple. They could be feeling frustrated or jealous, maybe of another child. They may need time, attention and love, even though they’re not being very loveable.
Understand and accept your child’s anger
You probably feel the same way yourself at times, but you can express it in other ways
Find a distraction
If you think your child is starting a tantrum, find something to distract them with straight away. This could be something you can see out of the window. For example, you could say, “Look! A cat”. Make yourself sound as surprised and interested as you can.
Wait for it to stop
Losing your temper or shouting back won’t end the tantrum. Ignore the looks you get from people around you and concentrate on staying calm.
Don’t change your mind
Giving in won’t help in the long term. If you’ve said no, don’t change your mind and say yes just to end the tantrum. Otherwise, your child will start to think tantrums can get them what they want. For the same reason, it doesn’t help to bribe them with sweets or treats.
If you’re at home, try going into another room for a while. Make sure your child can’t hurt themselves first.
Be prepared when you’re out shopping
Tantrums often happen in shops. This can be embarrassing, and embarrassment makes it harder to stay calm. Keep shopping trips as short as possible. Involve your child in the shopping by talking about what you need and letting them help you.
Try holding your child firmly until the tantrum passes
Some parents find this helpful, but it can be hard to hold a struggling child. It usually works when your child is more upset than angry, and when you’re feeling calm enough to talk to them gently and reassure them.