Toddler Behavior – How to Deal

toddler behavior

Toddler behavior can drive parents insane at times. Sometimes they are complete angels, and others? Well, let’s just say I don’t judge any parent who has given their toddler the middle finger behind his or her back on occasion. They can completely turn on a dime sometimes, and it can give us parents whiplash. Here are 5 common behaviors, and some suggestions for how to handle them.

Toddler Behavior: Picky Eating Habits

toddlers picky eating
Toddlers can be notoriously picky eaters

Give Your Child Options

One way to handle this toddler behavior is to know what they like, and to give them options. For example, if your child likes PB&J, hot dogs, and pizza, and won’t touch anything else, give them a choice. Allow them to choose from one of their approved foods at meal times. This cuts down on meal time fighting.

Cut Out Snacks

If your child only wants to eat “junk” food, it can be helpful to cut down on snacks. A child will not typically starve themselves. They will eat when they are hungry. If you find your child only wants to eat snack-type food, offer them a meal instead. Even if it isn’t a typical meal time.

“No, Thank You” Bites

Another mother once told me about something she does called “No, Thank You” bites. This means your child must take a least a bite of a new food before deciding they don’t like it. It could be one bite, or several, but this method requires that the child at least try new foods.

Flat Out Lie

This one sounds terrible, right? I know. However, when you are in the trenches of parenting, sometimes you must do whatever it takes. If your child only eats chicken nuggets, offer them other meats and tell them it’s a special chicken nugget. It sounds crazy, but I swear it works. My son thinks everything is a hot dog. If I offer him “steak” he will not touch it. If I tell him the steak is a “hot dog,” he eats every last bite.

What Works Best?

It will completely depend on your child. Every kid is different. For us, we have done a combination of all of these methods from time to time. I’m not above the “hot dog” lie, and the “No, thank you” bites have actually helped a lot with expanding what my son is willing to eat. I still limit snacks on occasion, and offer things I know he likes when I’m desperate for him to eat.

Toddler Behavior: Tantrums

toddler tantrums
Toddler tantrums are no fun!

Understand the “Why”

Many times, toddler tantrums can stem from something that is solvable or avoidable. For example, over-tiredness, or hunger can make for a crabby tot. Over-stimulation can also cause child meltdowns. Prevention is a huge part dealing with tantrums, in my experience. For example, we don’t go out too close to nap time. I make sure my son is always fed before leaving the house. Meeting the child’s needs will go a long way in their emotional stability. Sometimes, the tantrums may have no preventable trigger, and that’s normal. It just helps to do whatever you can as a parent to prevent the freak outs before they happen.

Ignore the Behavior

Sometimes, just ignoring the tantrum can be the best method. Children will quickly realize that they are expending a lot of energy with no positive outcome, and the behavior will stop. They will find other ways to get your attention or to get what they want. It doesn’t always work though.


Time out for tantrums can be a life saver in some cases. A time out is a type of punishment where the child must sit or stand somewhere away from their toys or screens or siblings or whatever, and think about what they have done wrong. It gives the child a chance to calm down their emotions. The downside is that one time out typically isn’t going to be a magical solution to the tantrum problem. Its going to take time and work.

Remove Them from the Situation

Like time outs, this method removes the child from the situation. With overstimulation tantrums, this can be especially effective. Sometimes children can become overwhelmed, and they don’t know what to do with that feeling. The expression comes out in the form of a tantrum, because they can always communicate perfectly at their age. Taking your child outside of a restaurant or store, for example, will remove all the extra stimuli and allow them to calm quicker.

Talk When Calm

Another thing that may help this toddler behavior is talking it out. The key here is to wait until the child has calmed down, and you have calmed down. Tantrums are stressful on parents and children and emotions run high. Once the storm has passed, talk calmly with your child about why they were upset, and how to deal with it more productively in the future. Having an understanding of the things that may upset them can help you prevent this behavior in the future. It also gives you an opportunity to teach the child that crying, screaming, or throwing a fit doesn’t help as much as simply asking for something or using words.

What Works Best?

Again, it will depend on the child. As with most things in parenting, it is a trial-and-error process. I use a combination of all the above. I try to be consistent with how I respond. For me, ignoring the behavior didn’t really work. We do time out and removal, and we will talk it through afterward. That has been most successful for my child. Just remember, even the best children are going to meltdown occasionally. There is no way to 100% prevent tantrums that I have found.

Toddler Behavior: Wild Behavior

Wild behavior
Having a wild child can be fun…sometimes!

Give an Outlet

Some kids are just high energy from conception. I should’ve known I was in trouble with my son. I felt him kick and flip and bounce from about 13 weeks into my pregnancy all the way through delivery. He just has an excess of energy. I have found that in order to avoid him continuously bouncing off the walls, climbing the furniture, and jumping off of things, it is important that he has a way to burn off that energy. I wrote an entire post about wearing out high energy children. You can check it out HERE.

Finding ways to help your child release that pent up energy will help curb that wild behavior. Sports are great. Playgrounds, both indoor and outdoor, are another great resource.

Have a Calm Down Routine

If your child starts getting wound up and wild, it is helpful to have a calm down routine. This may look different for every child. My child loves to read books. I have found that sitting with him and reading to him gives him something to focus on. We use this a lot before bed time. Screen time is another resource I use on occasion. If I give him his tablet, he will sit still and play a game. He is focused on that and it keeps him still and helps him unwind.

What Works Best?

Honestly, for us, its good old fashioned physical activity. I try to get him out and about during the day. In the warmer months we get outside and run around. We have also enrolled him in ice skating classes and eventually he wants to play hockey.

Toddler Behavior: Not Listening

toddler not listening
Listening is a skill children must learn.

Communication & Consistency

This one seems obvious. We spend our entire day telling our children what to do or what not to do. If that’s true for you, then keep it up. The more we talk to our children, the better. Consistency is also key. If they can get away with something with dad, but mom wont let it fly, that will cause an issue.

Set Clear Expectations

This is one I am still learning. The more specific I am with my toddler, the better. If I tell him to bring me his shoes, he may graduate college before he actually brings them to me. I have to be very clear and specific. “Bring me your shoes NOW because we need to leave.” Or instead of saying “I want everything gone off your plate,” at meal times I have to say “I want you to EAT everything on your plate.” The former ends up in food being dumped off the plate. Toddlers are apparently EXTREMELY literal.

Give Motivation

This is something I have been trying lately. My son wants a pricey toy from the store. He’s been all but begging for it for weeks. I use that to my advantage. He must EARN that toy. He has clear objectives, and listening to me, and my husband, and his teachers is all part of it. He’s only 3, but he has really responded to this technique. You can read more about teaching children to work for what they want HERE.

Recognize that Listening is Work

This one has been important for us. I recognize that it is hard for him to remember to stop and listen. I recognize that its hard to stop playing and do what you’re told. Toddlers are impulsive. Its their nature. As adults, we are too. However, usually by adulthood, we are more disciplined. We know that as much as we want to play hooky from work and go shop or to the ball game, we need to show up and do what our bosses ask. Toddlers are still learning this discipline. Recognizing that they are working hard at it gives them confidence to keep trying

Praise their Success

Some parents feel that listening is just a part of life. Something everyone does and their kid should just do it automatically. For those parents, maybe that works. For us, part of recognizing that your child is working hard to learn this skill is praising their work. When my son does a good job listening to his teachers we make a point to tell him we are proud of his hard work. Sometimes, we might reward him with a special treat or activity. We try to positively enforce that good behavior when we can. Compare it to your life. Are you more likely to show up to a job that recognizes your hard work, or a job where they only always point out your flaws.

What Works Best?

I believe a combination of these techniques will work best for helping your toddler improve their listening skills. Find what works best for you and your family.

Toddler Behavior
Toddler Behavior – How to Deal

Final Tips

Toddlers can be maddening at times. As a parent, its important to keep your cool. However, don’t feel bad if you lose your mind on occasion. It happens to all of us. Dealing with toddlers has taught me a lot about myself. Specifically, it has taught me that I have more patience and understanding than I ever knew, but that I still need to work on those things. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a time out as a parent. And whatever you do, or whatever you’re dealing with, remember that this too shall pass.

What works best for you? Or what toddler behavior makes you crazy? Leave them 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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12 Comments on “Toddler Behavior – How to Deal”

  1. Haha. We lie about food too. Everything is now chicken. However, I have to disagree with the “your child will eat when he is hungry.” I thought that too and cut back on offering snacks. But, he started having more meltdowns. Epic, hours long meltdowns. Most of them were because he was hungry but didn’t want to stop playing to eat. Once we started giving him regular snacks again, his behavior has improved. Just shows that all kids are different.

  2. Thank you so much for posting! I can totally relate. Indeed raising a toddler needs a lot of patience. Especially when they’re so active. Sometimes, I wonder where do they even get the enegy. And I also don’t force my daughter if she don’t want to eat. But I always prepare a snack for her that she can easily grab when she got hungry while playing.

  3. Awesome tips!! We do some of the things that you’ve mentioned, and I’ve saved this list for more ideas on how to deal. We are right in the middle of the threes right now. And as fun as the threes can be, the threes come with some INTENSE mood swings.

    1. Haha! Absolutely. The key is to find what works for your child and to not beat yourself up on the bad days. I have a “spirited” child and he tends to be strong willed. I’m sure this behavior isn’t completely going away anytime soon!

  4. Great post with so many options on how to respond to our children best. The toddler years are no joke, kindness & consistency is key, but oh so hard sometimes. Thanks for the encouragement!

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