Preventing Bad Behavior in Toddlers

Taking toddlers out and about can be a joy or a total nightmare. It depends on the day really. And the moon. And if their socks are too sock-like. About a million other things as well. Even the most well-behaved kids have their moments. I have been pretty luck with my son. However, I have discovered some tricks along the way. Here are some things I have found help in preventing bad behavior in toddlers

Feed Them and Have Snacks Handy

Everyone has heard the term “hangry” by now. I swear it is a real thing. For my toddler, it is not something you want to see. The Incredible Hulk has nothing on a hungry toddler. If we are venturing out of the house, I always make sure to feed my son before we leave. If we are going to be gone for an extended period of time (anything longer than 15 minutes) I make sure to have plenty of snacks on hand. This can also be a helpful distraction if they start to rage out in a particularly long grocery store line, or on a long car ride. Your toddler having a full tummy is essential in preventing bad behavior.

Respect Nap Time

One issue I see a lot of parents having is trying to get an over-tired toddler to do anything they don’t want to do. Rest is key in preventing bad behavior in toddlers. My child is 3 and still naps. If I have it my way, he will continue to nap until he leaves for college. Mostly because he is a giant butthole when he is tired. Some of you might think its “not okay” to call a toddler a butthole, but you’ve obviously never met mine when he’s missed his nap.

I always try to arrange my schedule around nap time. We do things before, or we do things after. When it is unavoidable, and we must be gone during his normal rest period, I try and get him to take an earlier nap. In the worst case, we shoot for a slightly late nap. On the days where we miss his nap, I can usually be found chugging wine in a bubble bath and cursing the world right after bed time rolls around. Seriously, it’s not pretty.


Bring Toys Everywhere

In order to be effective in preventing bad behavior in toddlers, you need to understand why your child acts out when they do. Often, it is boredom. We don’t go to restaurants frequently, but when we do, I always have something with me to entertain my child. The 3 broken crayons and paper placemat only hold his attention for so long.

He doesn’t want to act like a total jerk, but he is high energy and can’t sit quietly and still for extended periods. I get it, kid. I always have a couple toys in my arsenal to keep him amused until the food comes. Small cars or dolls or action figures work great. You can bet money that at any given time, I have at least one fire truck in my purse. You know, for emergency purposes.

Have a Plan

Face it, if you think your kid will never ever misbehave, you are lying to yourself. They all do it. At least on occasion. Part of preventing bad behavior in toddlers is having a plan for when all else fails. Having a plan in place for dealing with the behavior will help you be consistent with your response, and in turn help them learn more quickly what is acceptable and what isn’t.

For example, my husband and I decided while I was pregnant that our child would never scream in a restaurant. Now, we aren’t delusional. Of course he will, and he has. However, our plan was to deal with it by immediately removing him from the situation. He learned fast that screaming in a restaurant meant he had to leave and he changed his behavior really quickly. A family member used the same tactic with her child, but her husband wasn’t on board with the plan. The lack of consistency made it a lot harder for the child to understand what was okay and what wouldn’t fly. Consistency and planning are so important.

Praise Good Behavior

I am not the time of mom to only say positive things to my child and ignore the negative. If he does something wrong, he is going to hear about it. What I have learned is that positive reinforcement also helps him learn more quickly than just focusing on the negative all the time. When I notice him being well-behaved, I make a point to tell him. I make a big deal out of it.

If he listens really well to me, I tell him how great of a job he did. I acknowledge how hard he worked. I may offer a special treat on occasion for exceptional behaviors. Positive reinforcement can make your child feel good about themselves and work harder to receive that praise in the future.


Follow Through

Do not be the parent that makes empty threats. Follow through on whatever consequences you set for your child. Preventing bad behavior requires that you be willing to dole out a punishment of some sort. Whether its loss of screen time, no dessert, time outs, or whatever works in your family, always enforce it. Again, this is the consistency necessary for the child to learn.

Sometimes, the mom guilt can hit hard, but stay strong. Your child may hate you for a moment, but it won’t last. It never does. Your child will be better for it in the long run. And if you stick to it, you will find yourself having to use those punishments less and less.


No kid is perfect. They come into this world as blank slates and have to learn everything from how to sleep, eat, walk, talk, and most importantly how to behave. Try and be patient. It can be so frustrating. Especially when your child is screaming bloody murder because their sippy cup is the wrong color. Always keep in mind that you are teaching them and implement these tricks, and remember this too shall pass.

What worked for you for preventing bad behavior with your toddler? Leave your tricks in the comments below!

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About Lisa Wingerter

I'm a 32 year old, married, stay-at-home-mom from the Metro Detroit area

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19 Comments on “Preventing Bad Behavior in Toddlers”

  1. I love this hahha Hangry such a true term especially in kids. I have goldfish, muffins, juice anything I can pack no matter where I go lol! Toys omg I have a million in my purse glad I do because when their mad or crying I can just pull one out! Great post love it

  2. Very nice article. My children are all grown but someday I will need these tips and tricks to use on my grandbabies. Keep the articles coming I just subscribed!!! Happy Friday the 13th!

  3. Hahahah hangry… the struggle is real! I have secret stashes of snacks everywhere not just for the kiddos but for me as well! Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Great tips! I had an experience with my toddler in public on Tuesday…screaming, throwing things…it was wonderful. Snacks and toys were the things she was throwing. In that moment, I knew she was acting up because I hadn’t been playing with her enough that day, so I couldn’t really be too upset with her. She just wanted some attention.

  5. Love these tips!! My son is 3 so we’re right in the middle of the threenager phenomenon. And you’re so right about “hungry” being real. My toddler and I both get hangry if we don’t snack regularly! lol

  6. Such great tips! Rest is so important, not just for toddlers but all kids. If they aren’t rested the whole day will just be a mess. And then even if you had a plan, that plan won’t work anymore.

  7. My kid is a butthole sometimes, too. =) Great post. I think it’s REALLY easy to be a perfect parent when you don’t have kids. And even once you forget what it’s like to be in the midst of toddlerhood. Also, as you mentioned, kids are all different. My 9 year old was impeccably behaved when she was a baby and toddler. She gave me such a false sense of security in my parenting and in toddlerhood. Having a 14 month old who has no desire to adhere to my requests and demands has been eye opening. I couldn’t agree more: food, toys, praise, and consistency!

  8. This is great! A lot of these are rules we already live by because without them, my daughter would be an animal. Nap time is a must!!! Thanks for the great tips!

  9. This is great! I have a very challenging 5 year old who is as sweet as can be but is the king of boredom and hangry! Thanks for some new ideas!

  10. I loved this! I have a motto that goes “Naps before all else.” I’ve gotten plenty of eye rolls from friends and family about my strict nap schedule, but I have happy, well-rested kiddos…. so…. ????

  11. This is great! I know my son gets really cranky when he’s hungry, and he definitely needs his nap (which isn’t always at the same time). We have the habit of keeping little cars and toys in our diaper bag so we always have something with us, especially when we go out to eat. These tricks don’t ALWAYS work, but it definitely helps.

  12. I’m absolutely with you about respecting nap time. I’ve found that the most unlikable children are the ones who are exhausted. Such a great and informative post. Thanks!

  13. Well what can I do if I’m trying to be consistent and what not but I don’t have support of my husband? And it seems like my kids don’t take me seriously or my punishments! I have four kids ages 8,6,2 and six months! Two older ones are girls and two younger ones are boys. My oldest daughter gives me such a hard time and got such a mouth on her. Then the others follow suit and omg my two year old is such a handful…. Tells me no, swats back at me, screams, throw himself down, cries… I’m so ready to run away alot of times! Can you help?

    1. My goodness you have your hands full! Every kid is so different. That makes it hard. My husband and I had custody of our nephew for a while and he had a lot of behavior issues. The trick seemed to be finding the right punishment. For example, taking away tv or toys didn’t work. He simply didn’t care about those things. However, he really like being outside and spending time with friends. Taking those privileges away were more effective for us. As for the two year old, it’s just a really hard age. Keep trying different things. Keep being consistent and following through. Not much you can do if your husband isn’t on board. Try and get him on the same page. But no matter what, make sure they know that Momma isn’t playing any games! Good luck! Hugs!

    2. Also, I have felt like running away many many times. Feel free to send me a message if you ever need to vent or talk. It helps a lot sometimes ? I’m on all the social media sites

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