toddler lifting a block above his head

Why Do Toddlers Misbehave?

Why are toddlers stinkers sometimes?  

Toddlers Are People Too

In my observations, toddlers “misbehave” at times because they are developmentally in a place where they are beginning to form opinions and they are learning how to express these opinions. These opinions may be different than ours, or expressed at inconvenient times for the parent, so we label it as misbehaving. A toddler also gets easily frustrated because they are still learning how to communicate.

Take, for example, the toddler that throws a piece of food on the ground or refuses to eat some food offered to them. They are exercising their willpower. This is developmentally understandable. And yet, parents, myself included, think that I know best and are tempted to force THEIR opinion (or the food) on the child. There are many strategies to expose new foods to your child or make sure your child is getting the right amount of nutrition. Aside from that, I think it is important to listen to your toddler. 

Support their right to choose at appropriate times so that when you need to have them obey, or follow your advice (bedtime, for instance) they are more satisfied that you understand them and listen.

Let Your Child Make Choices Appropriate to Her Age

Zero to Three agrees, “Some examples include: what to wear (perhaps offer 2 choices) and what to eat (within reason), what to play, who to play with. This gives her a feeling of control and supports her growing confidence and sense of competency (the belief that “I can do it”).

“Offering choices also helps head off the ‘Not That One’ game where you keep offering your child different things and he keeps saying ‘Not that one, the other one!’ Instead, try giving your child 3 choices and let him pick: You can have an apple, a string cheese, or a bagel for snack. What sounds good to you?

Ideas for Teaching Self-Control

Take advantage of daily moments to teach your child this skill. Here are some ideas:

  • Play games that require turn-taking. These are great for practicing how to wait and share.
  • Roll a ball back and forth to teach patience and control. Their natural impulse is to grab the ball. If your child is old enough, you can take turns hitting a soft foam ball off a tee.
  • Put together an age appropriate puzzle together.
  • Try acting out a story. “The Little Red Hen” and “The Three Little Pigs” are fun. Click HERE for a book with simple scripts in it.
  • Play “sharing” music. Music is a wonderful way to teach toddlers many lessons. Click HERE for a free mini course on how to teach lessons to your child through music.


Being allowed to form opinions and being heard will build confidence and contentedness in your toddler. There are many fun ways to help your toddler practice self-control. Remember, your toddler is a smart sophisticated spirit stuck in a developing body. We can learn a lot about what they need and want by watching them, listening to them and getting to know the person they are. You are privileged to be their guide through each developmental stage.

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