Tips for coping with defiant toddler behaviour

Although defiant toddler behaviour is totally normal, coping with it can feel extremely stressful!

If your toddler is refusing to listen to a word you say, deliberately not doing as they are told, throwing huge tantrums in public or not staying in bed at night, chances are you’re tearing your hair out. 

In this article we are going to explore practical tips for helping you and your toddler cope with difficult or challenging behaviour. 

First of all, let’s talk about parenting techniques, because this is one of those areas where we’re told about a “right” way and a “wrong” way to do things. 

The thing about toddler behaviour is it makes us question whether we are the ones who are getting it all wrong. 

We wonder if there is a parenting technique we should be adopting to improve how we handle situations. Should we be “gentle” parents, or should we be following a guide book on tough love for toddlers?

But, when it comes to parenting toddlers, and in fact a child of any age, you can’t get much better than the following parenting technique: 

Common sense. 

Yep, that’s it. You don’t need books to tell you to do this, or say it that way or never ever do this otherwise your child will be ruined for life. 

Of course there are several absolute no-nos when it comes to handling defiant toddler behaviour. These are: 

  • Insulting your child. 
  • Hitting your child. 
  • Telling your child you do not love them. 

Now, this is where we go back to common sense. Because if you are using your common sense, then you will already know not to be doing these things!

Common sense parenting is about more than just using your brain. It’s about pairing your common sense and intelligence with love. 

Do everything with love, and a bit of common sense, and you won’t go far wrong. 

Having said that, even if you are already using your common sense, you may sometimes feel like you are hitting a brick wall when it comes to improving your toddler’s behaviour. 

For that reason it’s important to remember that sometimes, parenting is just hard!

One of the biggest favours you can do to help yourself out is to just accept that fact and try not to get quite so stressed out when everything feels difficult. 

It’s tough, but once you calm yourself down, you’ll be in a much better position to handle what life, and the kids, throw at you. 

So, how can you handle a defiant toddler? What should you do when your toddler is refusing to do as they are told, or throwing a major tantrum in public? These tips will (hopefully) give you some ideas. 

The one thing I do to get my toddler to do as she is told

There’s one thing I do that gets my kids to listen every single time. It works on my two-year-old and four-year-old when they won’t do as they are told or are ignoring my calls to get them out the door. 

It works for me, so it’s definitely worth a try!

First of all make it clear what you want your toddler to do. Give them instructions that they can follow easily, whether that be “come and sit down for dinner” or “put your shoes on”. 

If your toddler ignores you, then repeat the instruction two more times. 

Once you have asked your toddler three times, then you use the trick!

Simply repeat the instruction, saying: “I’m going to count to three and I want you to….(insert instruction here).”

Then you count down slowly. For my kids, it works 99 per cent of the time. 

If they do not do as they are told after the counting, I will fetch them and use the tips which I’ll be explaining next in this article. 

It’s honestly helped so much. It seems that kids just respond to the clock! I don’t say what will happen if they do not do as they are told, but apparently the worry about what it could be is enough to get them to fall in line. 

Tips for getting your toddler to listen

Getting your toddler to listen to you might feel impossible. They’re always running around, playing and have a million things they would rather do than boring stuff like brushing their teeth. 

However there are effective ways to communicate with your toddler that will increase your chances of getting them to actually listen to you. 

Will this always make them do as they are told? Nope! But it will set a good foundation for your expectations of them, and make your toddler feel more empowered to obey. 

Approaching discipline and parenting with love is always going to have a better outcome all-round, so try doing the following in order to get your toddler to listen: 

Get down to their level 

Crouch down so that you are at your toddler’s level. This enables you to speak more directly to them and means you are actively listening to them. 

This shows your toddler more respect and an openness to communicating with them in a two-way manner. They will respond so much better when you try to connect with them in this way.

Remain calm

Keep your cool and deliver what you have to say in a calm voice. If you are telling your toddler something they should not be doing, use a gentle but firm tone. 

If you are asking them to do something, keep your voice positive any upbeat. Make things sound fun, because if you are excited about getting out the door then your toddler will be. 

Make eye contact 

Along the same vein as getting down to their level, this will help your child to focus on your conversation. It’s also a key part of active listening, where you show your toddler that you are fully engaged in what they have to say to you. This will encourage them to do the same. 

Make it fun

When speaking to your toddler about a chore, bedtime or having dinner, make it sound fun. 

Turn it into a game or a challenge. You could try setting your watch and challenge your toddler to be quicker at getting his or her shoes on compared to last time. 

Make what you are asking them seem exciting, and you will engage them in what you need them to do much easier. 


Be very clear with what you are asking your child to do. Speaking in a clear and simple sentence will leave no room for confusion. 

You don’t have to dumb down your language, as it’s great for your toddler to be exposed to lots of words. Try to explain what you need your toddler to do in a way they will understand. 

Set clear boundaries 

Be clear on what your toddler can and cannot do. If you don’t want your child to climb on furniture then be sure to communicate that to them every time they try to do it. 

Explain why you want them to follow a particular path. With young kids it can be easy just to say “because I said so” but actually kids understand so much more than they let on. Tell them why you do or don’t want them to do something. 

Handling a defiant toddler at bedtime 

Bedtime can be one of the main times of day when you will butt heads with your child. 

Even though your toddler is tired, they just don’t want to miss out on a thing!

It becomes much harder once you remove the bars from your child’s cot, or move them to a toddler bed. 

At this point they can get out of their own bed, and they will be up and down the stairs like a yo-yo!

Follow these tips for keeping your defiant toddler in bed: 

Stick to a bedtime routine

Don’t allow your toddler’s behaviour to make your deviate from your usual bedtime routine. 

If your child is throwing a tantrum, cuddle and calm them before continuing with the usual routine. 

Remain firm

If your child is in and out of bed, asking for more stories, refusing to go to sleep and generally just being a little pickle, stay firm. 

Your child may try to bargain, asking to stay downstairs for “just one minute”. If you regularly give in to this, your child will expect it. Of course, if you are happy for your child to come downstairs a few times before they finally settle, then don’t worry. You don’t have to be totally strict. 

But if you want your child in bed by a certain time, you need to be consistent with the message about staying in their bedroom. 

Recognise delaying tactics

Some kids will go through the same routine every single night in a bid to put off the moment when you shut the door and they have to go to sleep. 

This could include: Complicated questions (why is the sky blue?), statements such as “I don’t like the dark”, requests to use the toilet, asking for one more story, and complaining they hate their pyjamas. 

This is all totally normal and just something you need to deflect and stay calm through. Remain firm and remind your child it’s bedtime. 

Stay one step ahead

In order to get your child to bed with fewer excuses to stay up, try to think of every little reason they can have to stay up longer. 

Make sure they have a drink of water by their bedside, get them on the toilet right before bedtime, give them some books to look at before they go to sleep, and find their favourite toy.

Create a happy bedroom environment

If your child gets scared about the dark, make sure they have a night light. 

Give them soft toys they love to cuddle in bed, and offer books for them to look at before they nod off. 

How to cope with your toddler’s behaviour 

Dealing with challenging behaviour is very stressful. You may find yourself biting your tongue and lot and feeling like you’re on the verge of losing your patience. 

Try these tips to help yourself keep your cool: 

Coping with toddler tantrums Coping with toddler tantrums

Stay calm

It’s annoying and it can be upsetting. But staying calm will not only mean you won’t feel guilty about losing it later, but it will also help to ultimately diffuse the situation quicker. 

Count to 10

If you are struggling, take a deep breath and count to 10. Try to think of something else (even when there’s loud screaming going on) and rebalance yourself before tackling the situation. 

Leave the room for five minutes 

Lock yourself in the bathroom and hide out until you have calmed down a bit. This can work wonders. 

Get a break

If you can, get someone to sit with your child for a while so you can go for a walk or go to the supermarket. 

Even a simple trip out can reset you mentally and help you remain calm the next time your toddler behaves in a challenging way. 

Coping with toddler tantrums 

Tantrums are the worst of the worst when it comes to challenging toddler behaviour. 

It’s particularly bad when you are out in public. When a toddler has gone into full on tantrum mode, it can be impossible to snap them out of it. 

Many tantrums involve physical outbursts, as well as a lot of tears. To cope with this, try these tips: 

Avoid having a strong reaction

Keep you reaction totally neutral. Do not raise your voice. Sometimes kids see a strong reaction as a reward, because they have your attention. 

Ask your child what the matter is and try to engage them. Sometimes you will be able to pull them out of the tantrum by talking through how they are feeling. 

Try distraction 

At the very start of a tantrum, you can often diffuse it by taking their mind away to something else. 

Point out something interesting or start a spontaneous game of hide-and-seek with them. If you’re really desperate, try food. That’s a winner every single time. 

Remove your child from the situation 

If you are at the supermarket, try to leave as quickly as possible (of course this might be easier said than done if you’re right at the start of your shopping). 

Where your child is playing with others and has started to throw a tantrum, remove them from the area where the kids are playing and take them somewhere quiet they can calm down. 

Cuddle your child 

Give your child lots of love and cuddle them. Having a tantrum can be quite frightening for your toddler, as they have lost control of their emotions. 

Give positive attention 

When your child does something good, give them loads of positive attention. The reason for tantrums is often to get your attention or boredom.

What if I shout at my toddler

We all lose our patience at some point. It’s inevitable in this busy, crazy life!

If you lose your cool and shout at your toddler, remember that we have all done it. I certainly have raised my voice when my toddler has been repeatedly crying, complaining or throwing tantrums. 

Be kind to yourself and remember that you are only human. Take a deep breath and regroup, then try to carry on as best you can. Tomorrow is another day!

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