Tips for Handling Toddlers

Tips for Handling Toddlers’ Behaviours  – When they are acting out of frustration

Dear Readers,

Continuing with April’s theme of “Siblings“, we are pleased to rerun a contribution from Jeanne Darling.

This piece provides suggestions to help handle toddlers’ behaviours and different parenting styles. The key takeaways are also relevant when dealing with conflicts between siblings or close friends who may be like brothers or sisters.


Tips for Handling Toddlers

Tips for Handling Toddlers’ Behaviours  – When they are acting out of frustration. Text by Jeanne Darling

A tricky situation

One night, my daughter called because she felt frustrated and unsure how to react to accusations from friends that she was mishandling her toddler’s behaviour. Specifically, my grandson was not playing well with another child. Things tended to be worse late afternoons when the other boy was prone to taunt or reject. Unfortunately, the frustrated response was a firm shove.

I was a distant third party, and my first reaction was to reassure my daughter that both boys’ conduct was typical. More so after a prolonged period of togetherness. But it seems that was not the main issue. While my daughter believed that a child might need a short time-out or a diversion, the other felt that parents need to punish a child for bad behaviour.

Both sets of parents have known each other for many years. They share similar values and views about the world. Indeed, they enjoy each other’s company and spend a fair amount of time together. But when it comes to raising their youngsters, they hold different views on how to treat “bad” behaviours.

A side note about words and labelling

There is a great divide between labelling people and behaviour.

Words like “good”, “bad”, “naughty”, and “nice” when referring to children can be problematic. Indeed, they often speak volumes about how some people view child development. It is worth remembering that a child acting up is not necessarily a “bad” child. Nor does it mean he will grow up to be “bad”.

Parents who grew up in households that did not make this distinction are more prone to carry on this labelling when they have children. Childrearing attitudes are often deeply embedded in all of us long before we have children. Unfortunately, however, this practice not only demeans a child and does little to offer suggestions for how to deal with the behaviour.

Back to my foursome of parents and their discussions:

One couple insisted that the only way to stop undesirable actions – like biting – was to yell and resolutely yank their child away from a situation. Conversely, the other side was adamant that it was inappropriate to raise their voices or pull their child even if he was shoving another.

When it comes to biting vs pushing, both practices in toddlers are impulsive ways to release frustration and express strong emotions. Biting is not necessarily worse than pushing, even if society, in general, is more repulsed by the former than by the latter.

Nevertheless, such reactions when dealing with frustration are unacceptable in the long run, and the children need to find a way to control their impulses.

A few suggestions:

Parents may benefit by recognising that young children typically bite and push (amongst others). They can thus remain more composed and respond more rationally while remembering that their child is not “bad”.

The parents need to address the child’s actions.

Research has shown that yelling, pulling, or slapping does little to teach a child how to control their impulses. Indeed, these means are often expressions of an adult’s frustrations run amok and are ineffective in the long run. Punishing a child usually stops the behaviour but also leaves a child feeling more angry than enlightened—or even confused about how the penalty relates to the crime.

In contrast, a calm and consistent delivery of an underlying message and regular child removal from the situation can be more influential. Hence the next step can involve applying direct consequences to handle the behaviour.

For example, the parent can say, “you cannot hit someone when angry”. Or, when removing a child, say: “I can’t let you play with him if you are hitting; you need to quieten down first”. Repeating these actions eventually teaches a child that his behaviour is unacceptable and has repercussions.

 The key here is to be consistent.

And to maintain composure – at times a Herculean feat. It takes a lot of work and investment of time. But it usually pays off sooner than expected. Suppose the kids have learned to control their impulses and know which manner is acceptable in different situations when they go to school. In that case, they will usually slide right into the external social settings.

The parent is better off labelling behaviours rather than the child. And in the world of young children, diversion and catching a child before they misbehave will go a long way to helping them develop social skills.

Tips for Handling Toddlers

What happens when parenting styles clash?

Here’s the advice I gave my daughter: You should listen, accept and respect the views of the other couple. However, you do not have to approve of their style of childrearing. Neither should you be preaching the one right way to handle things. Additionally, it is helpful to know a few basics facts about how kids grow and what behaviours to expect at various stages in their development. It will help parents not judge their children but focus on giving guidance towards acceptable ways.

Understanding and either consciously accepting or rejecting the embedded attitudes developed when the parents were children can also shed light on how to move forward with parenting.

In the end, though, every person is only responsible for their children.

Also, there is no such thing as the perfect parent or the ideal parenting style. As parents, we all make mistakes and taking the pressure off ourselves to be perfect can help us stay calmer. When dealing with children and when confronted with other adults who may disagree with how we deal with our children.

As I have told my children many times – while I know that I was not the best mother, I always did my best.

We cannot ask more of young parents than that.

Tips for Handling Toddlers


The BCT Blog is incredibly grateful to Jeanne for her generosity and ongoing support of the BCT

Jeanne Darling is a retired educator, having taught children for over twenty-five years in Basel. She continues working with children, offering “Story Times” and workshops at several schools and libraries. She also wrote the children’s illustrated book “Basel’s Hidden Stories”.