Your baby is now a delightful and sometimes defiant toddler. You can encourage good behaviour by paying attention to wanted behaviour, withdrawing attention from unwanted behaviour, using descriptive praise and appropriate consequences mixed with lots of love.
Living with a toddler
Toddlers (children aged 1 to 3) are 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 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 even choose to attend a parenting course, such as the Triple P Positive Parenting Program.
Aim to build a strong relationship with your child by using a warm loving tone, and also includes healthy boundaries to help them learn self-discipline and consideration. This combination is sometimes called authoritative parenting.
Every parent finds toddler behaviour difficult to handle at times so plan ways to calm yourself if or when you become angry with your toddler.
What is 'good' behaviour in toddlers?
Good behaviour in toddlers varies with age, but includes things like learning how to control negative emotions like anger, sadness and frustration. It can also mean saying ‘please’ or ‘thank you’, sharing a toy, taking turns, or following simple instructions.
You can set the scene for good behaviour by making sure that your toddler is:
- getting enough sleep
- eating healthily
- living in a safe and interesting environment
- getting enough daily physical activity to burn off excess energy
You also need to look after yourself so that you have the energy and patience to manage your child.
Positive parenting tips
- Have realistic expectations of your toddler. Their annoying behaviour may be quite normal for their age.
- Use routines to help them know what to expect next.
- Deliberately notice good behaviour whenever you see it. There’s usually more of this than you realise.
- 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. This is referred to as ‘descriptive praise’.
- Use clear requests or instructions.
- Give your child equally acceptable choices: ‘Would you like to wear your green jumper or your red one?’
- 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!’
- 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.’
- Prepare your toddler for upcoming changes: ‘We need to go home soon. You can have two more turns on the slide first.’
- Build a warm and loving relationship by enjoying your toddler’s company.
- Be especially patient with a toddler’s difficult behaviour if they’re adjusting to a big change like a new baby in the family.
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 them and mold their behaviour.
Tips to encourage good behaviour - video
Video provided by Raising Children Network.
When to seek help and support
If you’re struggling to handle your toddler’s behaviour or if nothing seems to work, talk to your doctor or child health nurse. They should be able to help you work out what to try next.
You can call the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline on 1800 882 436 for advice on managing your child’s behaviour.
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Last reviewed: July 2021