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5 common toddler behaviour issues and how to address them

Improving toddler behaviourWe’ve all been there: whether it’s biting their friend at playgroup, picking their nose at the park or throwing a humdinger of a tantrum at the shops, there are times when you want to disown your toddler.

Before you take that rather drastic step, here’s some advice as to what to do in 5 common situations to help you erase that bad behaviour – all without losing your temper, or your child.

5 common toddler issues and how to address them

Biting other children

“My two-year-old bites other kids at her playgroup, usually because she wants a toy they’ve got. I tell her off but it doesn’t stop her. Help!”

All kids experience extreme emotions and can become aggressive – it’s an in-built survival mechanism – but don’t always have the maturity to deal with it. On occasion, your toddler will find a situation too overwhelming to handle – hence the indent she’s just left on Johnny’s arm.

Although it’s tempting to pretend it’s not happening, parenting educator Lois Haultain says that’s not enough. “You have to intervene because it’s a harmful, painful behaviour. You need to be very clear as you say, ‘No! Biting hurts, we don’t bite people, we’re gentle,’ then remove her from play,” Lois says.

It may be the last thing you feel like doing but a reassuring cuddle, rather than an ear-bashing, will help, too. “Remain loving towards your biting child but be firm as you shadow them, intervening before they bite – and certainly after they bite. Keep your message consistent and clear, and your response swift and calm, and she’ll eventually learn it’s just not acceptable,” says Lois.

Nose picking

“If I had a dollar for every time I saw my two-year-old with her finger up her nose or eating what she finds there, I’d be a millionaire. I tell her Mummy doesn’t do it, so neither should she, but nothing stops her. Should I be concerned?”

This is a phase all children go through. “Your toddler begins this kind of activity out of a healthy need to explore,” says Lois.

“Stay relaxed as you talk about hygiene, and make it fun and empowering for your child to use a tissue and be responsible for throwing it in the bin,” Lois continues. “Avoid making the issue one where your child feels empowered by pushing your buttons. It may cause you embarrassment in public places but try to detach from other people’s reactions, and calmly pass your toddler a tissue or wipe. Otherwise it could become a secret weapon for your toddler to resort to when bored or wanting your attention at the most inappropriate times!”

FORUM: Chat about and share your crazy toddler moments with other parents on our forum.

The public tantrum

“My son, who’s two and a half, has tantrums at the supermarket. He hurls himself on the floor, screaming. How can I control him?”

The public tantrum is every parent’s nightmare, as it’s so hard to manage.

“Let go of the idea you have to control your child and think about how you can help him learn to control himself,” says Lois. “A toddler having a full-blown tantrum is experiencing the fight-or-flight response, where the body courses with adrenaline. He can’t ‘calm down’ or ‘snap out of it’, and he can’t be reasoned with. He may, however, be soothed by being held and encouraged to take deep, slow breaths, which allows physiological changes needed to get him back to normal.

“Then work out what caused the tantrum and see how you could avoid having it happen again,” says Lois. The usual suspects are frustration at being strapped in a trolley, being tired, hungry, or bored, or wanting something he can’t have. Talk about these before you go and offer a reward if you get through the shop hassle-free. Also get him involved in the shopping to distract him – for example, ask him to point out all the green things.”

Playing with their privates

“My son has started playing with himself all the time. When I ask him to stop, he doesn’t. He even does it when we’re out. What can I do?”

All toddlers will discover their private parts and get pleasure from touching them at some stage, so your son’s behaviour isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

“Again, toddlers have a healthy curiosity and a need to explore. Playing with his private parts is just an expression of this, and he’ll generally move through this phase quite naturally,” says Lois.

How you deal with it depends on your feelings as a parent – some mums have no problem with their kids doing it but others can find it embarrassing. “An older toddler can be taught about what’s OK to do at home and what’s not OK to do in public. Come from the perspective of keeping them safe and not from moral judgments,” says Lois.


“My toddler’s a whinger. Whenever I ask her to do something she lets out a whine that goes on and on! I find it infuriating. Help!”

“Think about why they’re whining,” suggests Lois. “There may be an underlying cause, like illness or teething pain, that you need to attend to. Toddlers can also whine when they feel they’re not getting the closeness they deserve.”

Pre-empt her need to whine for attention by making sure you’re giving your toddler lots of cuddles, positive attention, and your time. Lois says even crouching down and interacting with your toddler for a minute as soon as she comes up to you may be enough to keep her happy.

“As your toddler develops language you can ask her to, ‘Speak in a normal voice’ or ‘Ask me clearly what you want’, withholding your attention until she does so. You can even smile and say something like, ‘I can’t hear you until you remember your normal voice.'”

– this article was kindly supplied by Mother & Baby magazine

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5 Comments so far -
  • klm276 says:

    My stepson is still having tantrums at the age of 8. A few years ago his parents went through a divorce and his behaviour has gone downhill since then. I don’t know what to do with him, the kicking, screaming, shouting, wailing is getting worse and I trying to calm him down or reason with him in this state is pointless. Please, any advice would be great.

  • DJ says:

    Distracting helps the most- Let’s go look out the window for a bird, or look I see a__,can you find it? Also humor. Do the fingers walking up the arm and tickle. Ignore the tantrums, if you are in a place, you may have to walk out and that can make you mad but believe me, do that once or twice and the kid will stop whining there (like at grocery) the key is be consistent. Say the rule and why it is a rule and NEVER give in. These little ones need trained to understand, they are little, they do not come to us knowing how to do things.

    • Thanks for your comment DJ. You’re spot on. 🙂

      • Blossom says:

        At childcare centres toddlers are taught and told to use their words. A friend of mine took the time to find out what phrases they use for different situations. She uses the same ones so there is continutiy and no confusion for the child. I have heard many parents use that phrase, including whose child has never been to childcare.

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