understanding your toddler's behaviour

Up to the age of one, your baby's behaviour made perfect sense. When your child wanted something they cried, and when they were feeling content they smiled or slept. You watched for signs of unhappiness and put things right by, say, changing the wet nappy.

Around the time of the first birthday, when your child officially becomes a toddler, the behaviour-change can seem baffling. One minute there is laughter, the next there is screaming with your child on the floor having a temper tantrum. Your toddler isn't being naughty, nor are they disturbed. They are simply coming to terms with the fact that they are individuals. The realisation that they have the capacity to act for themselves can be both exciting and scary at the same time. Once you understand your toddler's behaviour, you can start to find ways of dealing with those aspects which you find most disruptive.


To toddlers, attention equals love. By insisting on showing you the toy you've seen a hundred times before, your toddler just wants to know you still love them. Giving your child praise or involving yourself in their play will give reassurance. You can never give your toddler too much attention. If your child feels really loved at this early stage in their development, they are likely to grow up to be independent, confident adults.

If a toddler can't get your attention by doing something good, they'll try to get it by annoying you. If your toddler thinks that you've been on the phone for too long, in order to get your attention, they may spill their drink or empty the wastepaper basket. If you get angry and cut short your phone call, then your toddler will think that being disruptive gives them what they want. Try to wind up your phone call calmly, and clear up the mess with as little fuss as possible.


Between their first and second birthdays, your toddler's world is exploding. Now movement all round their immediate environment is possible; they can reach shelves, pick up objects and open and shut doors. Sometimes, though frustration may prevail if reaching a shelf is not possible or if they drop something. Because your child doesn't have the words to explain how they feel, they are likely to respond with a temper tantrum.

not understanding

Your toddler has no sense of the past or future, now is important. So if you say 'I'll get you a drink in 10 minutes', it really won't mean very much. All your toddler knows is that a drink is required, it is required now and you will be pestered by your toddler until you give them a drink.

In the same way, if you leave your toddler for a morning with your own parents, often they won't understand that you will be coming back. As far as your toddler is concerned you are gone forever. One of the best ways to deal with this 'separation anxiety' is to say goodbye to your toddler in a calm and cheerful manner. If you begin to get upset, your toddler will only assume that you also believe that this is good-bye forever, but if you are calm, they will, hopefully, be calm as well.

Nor does your toddler understand the difference between work and play. If, perhaps, a pile of clothes which you've just folded is on the table, your toddler may think it would be funny if they threw them all over the floor. During mealtimes, too, it might make sense to see what patterns can be made by smearing food all over the high chair. After all, you've encouraged experimentation with paints, why is this any different?

A good way to deal with this is to try imposing limits without making your toddler feel hemmed in. To distract from the piles of grown-up laundry, you could suggest that they fold up their doll's clothes instead. At mealtimes, you could draw a circle on the table of the high chair and say that the idea of the game is to keep all the food within the line.


Toddlers spend a lot of time testing out their power, especially in relation to you. That's why they might try to get you to read them another bedtime story, or refuse to wear the red jumper you've put out for them. But toddlers also need to believe that you are in charge as it makes them feel safe. Routines and rituals are important to young children.

This, of course, doesn't mean that you should insist on your toddler doing everything you say. For instance, when dressing, give your child the choice to wear either the green or the red jumper. Don't give your child the choice of anything in the wardrobe - dressing will be dragged out for hours.

During the toddler years, try to remember to show them your love and not to lose your patience with them. They will grow out of this behaviour and, as they grow older, they will learn how to communicate in a more reasonable manner.

Recognising a tantrum trigger is often the key to dealing with it. There can be a number of reasons for a toddler tantrum and equally a number of ways to deal with them.