- Toddlers (children aged 1 to 3) can be delightful and affectionate, yet also challenging and confusing.
- Temper tantrums, fussy eating and biting are common in the toddler years.
- These are normal behaviours for your child’s age, but there are many positive parenting tools you can use to help you manage challenging behaviours.
- You can encourage good behaviour by paying attention to behaviour you want to see more of, withdrawing attention from unwanted behaviour and applying other strategies, with lots of love.
- Remember that you are your child’s most important role model for how to behave.
Living with a toddler
Toddlers (children aged 1 to 3) can be delightful and affectionate, yet also challenging and confusing. They’re experiencing many powerful emotions, learning right from wrong, and realising that they can’t have everything their own way. Temper tantrums, fussy eating and biting are common.
Your child isn’t 'bad' for behaving like this – it is quite normal for their age. There are many positive parenting approaches you can use to help shape your toddler’s behaviour while building a good relationship.
How will your family approach discipline?
You’ll see more success if you and your partner both use the same approach to discipline, so you need to decide which parenting style suits your family. You may choose to attend a parenting course — ask your family health nurse or doctor for details about courses that might suit.
Aim to build a strong relationship with your child by using a warm loving tone, and healthy boundaries to help them learn self-discipline and consideration for others.
Every parent finds toddler behaviour difficult to handle at times. Plan ahead and find ways to calm yourself if, or when, you become angry with your toddler.
What kind of behaviour should I expect from my toddler?
The type of behaviour you can expect from your toddler varies with age and your cultural background, but may include learning how to:
- manage negative emotions such as anger, sadness and frustration
- say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when appropriate
- take turns
- follow simple instructions
You can help your child learn to behave well by making sure that your toddler:
- gets enough sleep
- eats healthily
- lives in a safe and interesting environment
- gets enough daily physical activity to burn off excess energy
- has a predictable routine they can rely on
Positive parenting tips
It’s important to look after yourself, so that you have the energy and patience to manage your child’s behaviour. Remember that you are your child’s most important role model for how to behave.
When parenting a toddler, try to focus on your child’s positive behaviours and ignore negative ones as much as possible:
- Deliberately notice good behaviour whenever you see it. There’s usually lots of it, and once you start looking for it you are more likely to notice it.
- Be specific in your praise: ‘Well done for putting your toys back in the right box’ gives your toddler more information about how to please you than general praise for ‘tidying up’ or ‘being good’. This is referred to as ‘descriptive praise’.
- Rephrase your words to focus on the positive: ‘Once you’ve put your shoes on, we’ll go to the park’ feels quite different to ‘We’re not going anywhere until you put your shoes on!’
Maintain a predictable routine for your toddler:
- Use routines to help them know what to expect next.
- Prepare your toddler for upcoming changes: ‘We need to go home soon. You can have 2 more turns on the slide first.’
- Show that actions have natural consequences: ‘Because you spent such a long time putting your shoes on, there’s less time for us to spend at the park.’
- Be especially patient with a toddler’s difficult behaviour if they’re adjusting to a big change like a new baby in the family.
Communicate simply and clearly:
- Have realistic expectations of your toddler. Their annoying behaviour may be quite normal for their age.
- Be aware of your tone. Using a harsh tone can frighten your toddler.
- Use clear requests or instructions.
- Give your child equally acceptable choices: ‘Would you like to wear your green jumper or your red one?’
Managing your toddler’s behaviour is challenging. It takes time and consistency for toddlers to learn how to behave well, but you will gradually find the best way to encourage good behaviour. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to build a warm, loving and cooperative relationship is by enjoying your toddler’s company.
Video provided by Raising Children Network.
When should I seek help and support?
Challenging behaviours are normal in toddlers, to some extent. However, sometimes, severe or persistent behaviours can be a sign of a developmental condition or mental health issue.
You should seek help from your child health nurse or GP if your child’s behaviours:
- are severe (compared to children in their peer group)
- don’t seem to respond to your attempts at discipline
- have a significant, negative impact on your family life
To find your nearest medical service, paediatrician or psychologist, use the healthdirect Service Finder tool.
Resources and support
- Follow your child’s development — 1 to 2 years and 2 to 3 years with Startingblocks, and get tips on how to encourage learning.
- You can download a living with toddlers guide from Parenting SA, which has tips about communication, tantrums, fears, toilet training and age-appropriate skills.
- Pregnancy, Birth and Baby offers lots of other useful behaviour advice which is toddler specific, such as why toddlers pester, how to respond to temper tantrums or why toddlers may tell lies.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: June 2022