But I only liked peaches yesterday, not today!

How to Deal With a Toddler That Is Acting out

by Jennifer Zimmerman

Some days it feels like all your toddler does is act out. One moment the two of you are enjoying a walk, the next moment she's having a screaming fit because you only had dry cereal for snack, not cheesy crackers. If your little one was an easygoing infant, this can be particularly daunting. Even though you know that acting out is perfectly normal toddler behavior, it can still be hard to deal with a child who seems to have constant temper tantrums. But you can, especially if you keep in mind that the toddler years are blessedly short.

Prevention: The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

Accentuate the positive. Catch your toddler being good as much as possible so she doesn't need to throw a fit to get your attention.

Know your child's limits. Don't try to take a tired toddler out to lunch or expect him to easily adapt to changes in his routine.

Give her control. Not all of the control, of course, and certainly not when she's been screaming for it. Letting her pick whether she wants to wear the purple shirt or the green shirt gives her autonomy in an appropriate way.

Distract him. If he's heading for his brother's block creation, distract him by offering him another exciting toy that is more age appropriate. If he's heading toward the parking lot near the playground, whisk him off to the slide.

Dealing: Even the Best Offense Has To Get Off the Field Sometimes

Remain calm. Getting frazzled will just make things worse.

Restate the problem. Toddlers get especially upset when they don't think you understand them, so make it clear that you know what your little one wants by saying something like, "Logan wants the blocks."

Give a short explanation only. You can't talk a toddler out of her tantrum. Just say, "You are too little for these blocks," and then move on.

Ignore it if you can. If your toddler is on the playroom floor or strapped into his car seat, try ignoring him until he calms down. You don't want him to associate acting out with getting his way.

Go to a safe, quiet place. You can't ignore a tantrum in the middle of a restaurant, but you can take your toddler out to the car to have his meltdown.

Use time out. For behaviors you can't ignore like hitting and biting, take your child to a small stool for time out. Set the kitchen timer for one minute per year of age. Your young toddler may not be ready to stay there on her own, but you can quietly stay with her until his minute is up.

Items you will need

  • Kitchen timer
  • Small stool


  • Keep the rooms where your toddler spends most of his days toddler-friendly. Toddlers are dying to explore the world around them, often with their mouths, so be sure to keep small toys, jewelry and other choking hazards put away. Move entertainment equipment out of reach or into a locked cabinet. Put cleaning supplies and medicines into cabinets with toddler locks as well. That way you won't have to spend the entire day saying, "No!"


  • Don't resort to physical consequences like spanking. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against it, and toddlers are too young to make the connection between the spanking and their own behavior. Besides, there's a good chance that you'll both wind up crying then.

About the Author

Jennifer Zimmerman is a former preschool and elementary teacher who has been writing professionally since 2007. She has written numerous articles for The Bump, Band Back Together, Prefab and other websites, and has edited scripts and reports for DWJ Television and Inversion Productions. She is a graduate of Boston University and Lewis and Clark College.

Photo Credits

  • Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images