How to Respond to Difficult Behavior in Toddlers

Tantrums, throwing, biting and hitting are common problems associated with toddlers 4. Most children between the ages of 1 and 3 will try out one or more of these difficult behaviors at some point and parents often worry about the best way to respond. Your toddler is still trying to work out right from wrong at this age and will learn from you, so the main thing is to make him aware when his behavior is unacceptable.

Give your toddler time-outs to calm down from violent or aggressive behavior. This can be appropriate if he has been throwing food or toys, or hitting or biting. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that this technique works from the age of 1 and should be roughly one minute long for each year of age. Let him cool down, explain what he did wrong and then move on.

Let tantrums run their course. Dr Sears says trying to cuddle children during a tantrum can sometimes make them more angry and you just need to wait until it is over. In a public place, you can calmly pick him up and remove him from the situation. He may stop quickly if he is not getting a reaction from you or he may just need to release his emotion and need a cuddle afterward.

Use age-appropriate explanations to help your toddler understand why his behavior is wrong. For a 1-year-old you could say: "cars are not for throwing, it's not nice" and for a 3-year-old you could say, "we don't throw cars because they could break something or hurt somebody."

Distract your toddler from the situation. If your 1-year-old has just learned to throw, it may be difficult to explain why he is not allowed to throw his peas across the room. Tell him a firm "no" and then take the bowl of peas away for a while to try again later. If your 2-year-old is fighting with another child over a toy, find another toy to distract him with.

Correct your toddler's behavior by showing him the right way to behave. If he keeps trying to hit the dog, demonstrate, "we stroke the dog nice and gently, he likes that." If he keeps snatching toys from other children, show him how they can play cars, build a tower or pass toys to each other "nicely."

Give lots of praise for good behavior. If you make a point of noticing when your toddler plays or behaves nicely, he will hopefully soon learn that this gets more attention than his difficult behavior.

Be consistent. Make sure you and other care givers always deal with your toddler's difficult behavior in the same way. If you give him time-out every time he tries to bite you or another child, make sure Daddy and Grandma do the same.