Activity: Identify Strategies to Prevent and Decrease Challenging Behavior in Toddlers

Activity: Identify Strategies to Prevent and Decrease Challenging Behavior in Toddlers

Twin babies

The “terrible twos” are a common concern for both families and for caregivers at daycare centers. Two-year-old children often begin to use more challenging behaviors as their wants and needs begin to exceed their language and communication skills. Children seem to frequently communicate that they are distressed. Challenging behaviors are defined as any repeated pattern of behavior that interferes with learning or engagement in pro-social interactions with peers and adults. (

Focusing on what the child is trying to communicate helps us:

  • Respond with empathy to the child’s needs
  • Be more intentional about problem solving
  • Assist in restoring the child’s sense of well being
  • Support the child in spending his emotional energy on development
  • Keep our own emotions in check

Some simple strategies to help parents and caregivers to prevent challenging behavior include;

  1. Helping toddlers to put feelings into words. With an adults help, children learn how to name their feelings and to manage their emotions, “When Sara took your bear you felt really angry.” Over time children begin to be able to do this more independently.
  2. Reading books together about feelings. Not only does this activity support one on one time to build adult-child connections, it also helps toddlers begin to match pictures with words, “I see a sad boy.” Many times local libraries have a good assortment of toddler books that talk about feelings, some suggestions are: The Feeling Book by Todd Parr, How are You Peeling by Saxton Freeman and Lots of Feelings by Shelly Rotner.
  3. Using clear limits and alternatives to challenging behavior. Sometimes it is easy to find yourself saying to toddlers, “No, don’t climb on that” or “Stop, do not touch that it is not safe.” What is helpful is pairing the limit with an alternative for example, “You may not climb on the table. It is not safe. I can help you climb up the slide outside or we can go for a walk” The more choices we give toddlers the more likely they will be able to explore and learn in safe ways.
  4. Making sure every child feels loved. The simple every day things adults do with toddlers like, calling them by name, looking into their eyes, giving hugs, laughing when they are silly, and sharing a smile all help to make a child feel special. When young children feel security and comfort they are more likely to take initiative to learn and grow.
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This product was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM082070-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.