Toddler behaviour: 5 tips and tricks to avoid tantrums

As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, screaming “Just do it NOW!” at a stubborn toddler is, well, ineffective. You would think, given that you are the one responsible for their existence, well-being, food, entertainment – everything really – that they would be more willing to toe the line. But despite their (almost?) powerless position, sometimes they do like to dig their heels in. Deeply.

Defiant toddlers might feel like they have a bit of a raw deal. But let’s try to understand toddler behaviour from their perspective. They are told what to do, and what not to do, morning ‘til night with commands that must seem endless. It doesn’t take much for them to use a request as an excuse to exert – or inflict – their will. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a public place or social situation. The more public, the more power…or so it may seem.

The key to avoiding an outright toddler tantrum is trickery. And by trickery we don’t mean evil voodoo, but simply ‘creative negotiation’ that works in your favour! Here are five great tips on how to handle toddler tantrums:

Game Time!

Tiny tots love games – they’re considered a fun activity and not a chore. The key is to find the fun element in a task and turn it into a game. Getting dressed can turn into a race, picking up toys off the floor can be incorporated into a story about the big wind that opens the doors and blows all the toys away, using mouse-like voices can be used to prevent waking the teddy bear from his much needed afternoon nap because he was “so tired and grumpy”. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan. Just create a game or story and add an element of fun!

Pretty things up

If your toddler won’t eat, why not dress things up a bit by serving on more elaborate, party-like dishes or adding some novelty accessories to the meal, such as cocktail umbrellas or fruit cut into shapes. You could also theme the meal and dress up for the occasion in fun costumes. For example, if you are having an ocean-themed lunch, boring lettuce and cucumber in a sandwich could become part of an exotic ‘mermaid’s sandwich’, filled with seaweed. Tell a toddler that all real mermaids love this seaweed and watch her tuck in with glee!

Get trendy

While we don’t want our kids to do things just ‘because everybody else does’, a little bit of persuasion – such as copying popular characters can’t go astray. For example, if a child needs to put on blue overalls but insists she wants to don a summer party dress, think of a storybook or movie character that she loves and tell her, for example, that “Fifi” always wears blue overalls to go outside.

Reverse psychology

Reverse psychology for toddlers - Sage Institute of Child CareA favourite among many parents, practising reverse psychology can be extremely effective. Rather than pushing or nagging a child into a task, give him the power to control his actions. If you want your child to eat his chicken, but he doesn’t want to, don’t push him. Tell him that it’s fine not to eat it because you are hungry and you will eat it for him. It’s amazing how that chicken now looks extremely desirable…and is gone before you can claim it for yourself.

Then there’s the classic reverse psychology example: brushing of teeth. We’ve all had the little one who hates brushing their teeth at night, but no amount of fancy toothbrushes, flavoured toothpaste or threats of cavities inspires them to polish those pearly whites. When they refuse though, try not arguing but responding with “Okay, you can skip brushing. Let’s go straight to bed instead”. You will never see a toothbrush fly into a mouth so quickly!

Let them choose

Offering a choice is a good way of inciting action, particularly when there is a stalemate. It gives the child the power to decide, giving them a sense of control. As psychologists say, autonomy is a powerful motivator…If the child needs to change out of his bathers, you could ask him if he would like to change before lunch or after lunch. If he has left dropped crumbs all over the floor, would he like to clean it up with a cloth or a broom? It could even work with the dreaded vegetables: give him a choice between peas OR carrots – at least he’ll pick one!

Making the decision themselves enables the little one to own the task, and gets it done, which is the objective really, isn’t it?

You don’t have to be a child psychologist to deal with a defiant toddler or stubborn toddler behaviour, rather it’s just a matter of learning how to talk to toddlers in their own little language and making it fun for them. Do this and you’ll keep tantrums  to a minimum – theirs and yours!

For more great and fun advice on toddlers and beyond, see our blog, Surviving the Threenager year: 3 year old behaviour tips.

Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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