Understanding your toddler
Supporting your toddler
Try to think ahead and do things to smooth the way for your toddler.
This can avoid frustration and battles and help them to cope with their strong feelings.
The following ideas can help.
Praise and encourage them
Your toddler wants to please you and needs your help to learn.
Don’t punish them or force them to ‘behave’ or ‘be good’
This doesn't help them to learn and to practice the behaviours you want.
Punishment doesn’t work and your toddler is too young to understand what they did wrong - it can teach them to be scared of you rather than to do what you expect.
Help them find ways to manage their frustration as they learn new things
Don’t get into battles over things that take time and lots of practice to learn.
Be patient and support your toddler when they are learning skills such as toilet training, eating and developing good sleep habits - they are tricky to learn.
Make allowances for them if they are stressed by changes such as moving house, a new baby or starting child care.
If your toddler shows signs of being stressed by change you might need to spend more time with them and let them be more of a baby for a while.
Difficult behaviours will go as they become more used to the change.
Ignore things that don’t matter too much, but insist on important things
For example, it’s important to insist your toddler wears a seatbelt, but you might be able to ignore a bit of mess.
Don’t give a choice if there isn’t one
If you have to pick up an older child from school don’t ask your toddler if they want to come. Say: ‘We’re going to school in the car now’.
If there is something they don’t want to do, try to make a game of it.
You could say, ‘See if you can hop like a kangaroo to the bath’, or make having a bath more attractive - try bubbles, toys or a few drops of food colouring in the water.
Make up fun games where they can practice saying ‘no’.
For example, ‘Does daddy sleep in the bath?’ or ‘Does the cat say moo?’
Distract them instead of giving orders
Toddlers respond well to distraction, such as: ‘Let’s get out the building blocks’ rather than ‘Stop doing that’. Model what you want them to do.
Give simple choices
This helps your toddler to feel they have some control - eg: ‘Do you want to wear your blue shirt or red shirt today?’
Help your toddler to learn things in small, simple steps and let them have lots of practice.
However, don’t expect them to remember every time.
Be positive and offer alternatives rather than saying ‘don’t’ all the time.
Instead of ‘Don’t slam the door’ you could say ‘I know you can shut the door quietly, let’s see you do it’. Then give praise for using a new skill.
Tell them what you want in simple words
Instead of saying ‘I'm not going to listen if you whine - it’s very annoying’ you could say ‘Please tell me what you want without whining’, or ‘Please tell me what you want in a normal voice’.
Don’t ask your toddler why they did something - they don't yet understand reasons.
Use ‘time in’ to manage behaviour
Take your toddler away from the trouble and stay with them for a while. They need your help to calm down.
Once they’re calm you can help them understand what is expected.
Read more about time in: guiding your child's behaviour.
Don’t use ‘time out’
Toddlers are too young to reflect on their own behaviour or to work things out for themselves.
If you remove your toddler from a situation and leave them on their own, it probably won’t achieve what you want.
It can also add to your toddler’s fear of separation.
Don’t threaten to leave young children alone
This can be very frightening for them. If you are out shopping and your child gets upset and refuses to come with you, pick them up and carry them.
Be firm but kind as you let your child know you’re in charge.
Last updated: 11 March 2016
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