Challenging Early Childhood Behavior

Peek in on a conversation between parents about their kids' challenging behaviors, and you'll likely hear a varied list of complaints. "He bites when he has to share! She won't go on the potty unless I'm there! He refuses to put his winter coat on without a tantrum!" All kids go through different ages and stages, coping with life's curve balls in various ways. Challenging early childhood behaviors can cause parents to puzzle over the most effective ways to handle it. Take heart in knowing that it's not just your child, and with love, patience and consistency, this, too, shall pass.

Why They Do It

Around 2 years old, many children begin to form a sense of independence from their parents. Toddlers and preschoolers feel a strong urge to explore the world and make their own choices 1. The problem lies in the fact that kids' emotional coping skills, patience and logic skills are still developing well into elementary school. So when life doesn't go according to a young child's precise plan, things can go a little haywire. Parents can teach young children to cope with the frustrations of life with consistency and love.

Label Emotions

Help your child cope with strong emotions by teaching him that his feelings are okay, but his actions are not. Labeling emotions teaches your child that the emotion is separate from the act. If he starts screaming and kicking because someone took a toy from him, say, "I know you feel frustrated and angry because you were playing with the toy, but it's not okay to kick and scream." Give ideas on more appropriate ways to cope, such as leaving the room, playing with another toy or using words to express anger.


Validate your child's many emotions by showing empathy. When she has a meltdown because her pink tights are in the wash, say, "I know how you feel, honey. It's disappointing when you can't wear what you want to, but that's how it goes sometimes." Reinforce to her that she can feel disappointed about the tights, but she still has to get dressed and carry on. Give her something to look forward to by asking her if she'd like to wear the tights the next day.

Give Choices

When you find yourself engaging in daily power struggles with your child, causing more tantrums and challenging behavior, give him some control of the situation by offering choices. Age-appropriate choices nurture a child's growing senses of independence and confidence. Keep options limited to one or two choices, as too many choices can be overwhelming to a young child. Instead of saying, "What do you want for breakfast?" ask, "Would you like toast or oatmeal for breakfast?"