Behavior Intervention for Misbehavior in Toddlers

By Stacey Chaloux
Tantrums usually occur as a result of frustration in toddlers.
Tantrums usually occur as a result of frustration in toddlers.

Parents of toddlers are familiar with the sometimes frustrating behaviors of their little ones. But your toddler really isn't trying to make your life harder. Most of his misbehavior stems from his need to test his boundaries, his desire for independence and his still-developing communication skills. You can help your toddler learn acceptable behaviors and head off tantrums before they begin.

Positive Attention

Your toddler can be demanding of your attention, whether it is positive or negative. Give your little one lots of praise and attention and ensure that this positive attention outnumbers any consequences or punishments. When your toddler is rewarded with positive attention for good behaviors, he will be motivated to continue following the rules, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your little one feels he is not getting your attention, he might try using a tantrum to do so. When you offer him hugs, kisses and time together, his need for attention will be met and you can reinforce acceptable behaviors before the misbehavior begins.

Consistent Limits

All children need limits, and the younger the child, the more defined the limits should be, according to the Ask Dr. Sears website. For your little one, this often means having rules that are for his safety. Toddlers can be overwhelmed with too many rules, but it is important to have a few rules that aren't negotiable. For instance, he will always hold your hand while crossing a street or he will never be allowed to touch the stove. Those rules help keep him safe and it is important that you enforce them consistently with age-appropriate consequences, such as a short time-out. Only give warnings that you can follow-through with so that your toddler learns that you mean what you say. Toddlers want to know their limits, because it helps them feel secure and know what to expect.

Offer Choices

Toddlers will seek autonomy whenever they can, so offer your little one choices whenever possible. Letting him have control over little things can help him feel independent and help avoid a tantrum, according to KidsHealth. For example, let him choose his plate at dinner or pick out a pair of pajamas at bedtime. These are decisions you can live with no matter what he chooses, but you are helping him meet his desire to make his own decisions. Too many options can be difficult for your little one, however. Try offering just two choices to pick from such as "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the green shirt today?"

Model Appropriate Behaviors

Instead of always telling your toddler "no," try showing him a better way to behave. If he is tugging on the dog's fur, tell him to pet the dog gently and guide his hand to show him how. Sometimes you just need to find a more acceptable way for him to continue doing what he wants to do. When he is throwing a ball in the living room, take him outside and tell him that throwing is for outside only. Many times, your toddler is misbehaving because he doesn't understand what you want him to do or because he just wants to explore. Be there to guide and teach him the appropriate behaviors instead of just punishing him for misbehavior.

About the Author

Stacey Chaloux is an educator who has taught in both regular and special education early childhood classrooms, as well as served as a parent educator, teaching parents how to be their child's best first teacher. She has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Missouri and a Master of Education from Graceland University.