Common Toddler Challenges and How to Solve Them

Common Toddler Challenges:

“Into Everything”:


  • Child-proof, child-proof
  • Model how to explore fragile things with your help and put away
  • Keep less things out, access to art supplies, toys, etc should truly be limited

Your Ideas:

Picky Eating:


  • Rule out a physical cause; check food allergies and sensitivities
  • Limit high-fat and high-sugar choices, have many healthy choices
  • Look at your child’s food intake over a week, not just one day
  • Have a schedule/rhythm for mealtime and snack time  and sit down with your child to eat in an unhurried manner
  • Serve smaller portions – your child’s stomach is the size of their fist
  • Serve your child’s favorite foods as a side dish to a main meal
  • Do not feel ambivalent about your child’s ability to eat what you serve
  • Allow an option to have toast or cereal for one night a week
  • Try frozen vegetables, such as peas and corn right from the bag or raw veggies with dip if your child is old enough and this is not a choking hazzard
  • Let the kids have a vegetable garden – children often will eat what they have grown
  • Start calling green veggies “brain food”
  • Sneak veggies and fruits into smoothies, or finely grate or chop and mix into foods the child likes
  • Fill a muffin tray or ice cube tray with different healthy kinds of snackable foods that the child can pick from
  • Model good eating yourself – eat a wide variety of foods!

Your Own Ideas:

Poor Sleeper:

  • Rule out physical problems  – many children had reflux when they were younger and are off of medications by the time they are a year or so, do make sure reflux has not reared its head again.  Check for more details regarding gastro-esophageal disease.
  • Educate yourself regarding normal sleep behavior – segmented sleep throughout the night was the norm until the Industrial Revolution
  • Expect disruptions in sleep around change, stresses, developmental milestones
  • Try a more consistent routine during the day calming and soothing techniques for naptime and bedtime
  • Try lots of daytime sunlight and dim the lights after sundown; put your house to sleep after dinner
  • Limit afternoon over-stimulation, be home and have a consistent routine where things are structured around getting ready toward sleep
  • Look at the foods your child eats
  • Hug, sleep, hold your child – parent them to sleep
  • Co-sleep
  • Remember that many toddlers and preschoolers are poised for an early nap and an early (6:30 to 7:30 PM) bedtime – sometimes we just miss the window!
  • Watch out for TV and other media exposure
  • Many normal, health co-sleeping children do not sleep a 7 to 9 hour stretch until they are 3 or 4 years old.

Nurses all the time:


  • Review normal nursing developmental milestones – 1 and 2 year olds do nurse frequently!
  • Check to see if there are stressors, changes, developmental milestones coming into play
  • Evaluate at what other times your child gets your complete attention
  • Perhaps your child is ready for a more consistent routine, more and varied things to do, more physical activity outside
  • Keep a consistent rhythm to the day and night but varied playthings available
  • Limit your own phone and computer time as this is when many children want to nurse!  LOL!

Your Own Ideas:

Refuses bath:


  • Use bubble bath, toys
  • If she fears soap in her eyes, use swimming goggles or sun visor
  • Try bath in the morning instead of at night
  • Try a shower
  • Get in tub with child
  • If child fearful of drain, can drain tub after child out of tub or after child  leaves room

Bites adult:


  • Do not take it personally, do not over-react
  • Most common between 18 months and 2 and a half years
  • Re-direct behavior
  • It is not okay for your child to hurt you!
  • Do not bite for biting!

Your Own Ideas:

Bites other child:


  • Watch child closely during playtime but realize children of this age do not need many playdates if any at all – limit the exposure and situations you are putting your child in!
  • Give attention to the victim
  • Usually biting stops by age 4

Your Own Ideas:

Slaps faces:


  • Re-direct behavior
  • Do not hit for hitting
  • Model non-aggression

Your Own Ideas:

Demanding, exacting, easily frustrated


  • Review normal developmental milestones and behavior
  • Check how many choices you are giving and how many words you are using and use LESS
  • Try to get in a lot of outside time
  • Go back to the basics of rhythm, sleep, warm foods, nourishing simple stories and singing

Your Own Ideas:

Will not get dressed or put on shoes:


  • Plan ahead and use easy to put on clothing, check for tags, seams
  • Sing a song, look for body parts, dress by a window
  • Dress together
  • Put clothes on when you arrive at destination

Your Own Ideas:

Running Away in Public Places :


  • Limit the number of public places you take child
  • Bring along a second adult to help if possible

Your Own Ideas:

Temper Tantrums:

  • It is OK to feel angry or frustrated; accept the feeling
  • Look for the triggers – hungry, tired, thirsty, hot/cold, over-stimulated
  • Try to avoid situations that set your child up to fail
  • Give YOURSELF a moment to get centered and calm
  • Remove yourself and child from scene if possible (if a public place)
  • Can get down with child and rub back or head if child will allow,  can just be there
  • Once child has calmed down, can nurse, give him a hug, get a snack or drink
  • If child is mainly upset and gets wants you near but you cannot touch child, consider doing something with your hands to keep that peaceful, centered energy in the room!  Hold the space for your child!
  • Do NOT talk – for most children this just escalates things!
  • If child is okay with being picked up, can go outside for a distraction

Your Own Ideas:

Refuses Car Seat


  • Let child have a bag of “car toys” that can be played with as soon as seat belt is buckled
  • Have a contest who can get in the fastest
  • Be a policman, fireman, truck driver

Your Own Ideas:

Roughness with Pets:

  • Model gentle behavior for child with pet
  • Child can help do things for pet (but remember, a child younger than 12 does not have the physical and mental capabilities to fully take care of an animal!)
  • Separate pet and child

Your Own Ideas:

Aggressive Behavior:

  • Try to understand need or trigger beneath the behavior
  • Have a rule such as we hit, we sit – Child must sit by you
  • Help the children involved get  their needs met  by structuring turns, etc.
  • If fighting happens with one friend, you may have to have them stop playing
  • together for a time.
  • If the hitting involves a new baby or young sibling, your first goal is to protect the baby
  • Have a “calm chair” or “calm place” with books, drawing materials where everyone can go together until they are calmed down.
  • Your child may need way less playdates, time outside of the home than you think – be very careful and clear that the places you are bringing your child are truly for them and not for you!  If you need times with other mothers, focus on getting bedtime down so you may be able to go out after your child is asleep and have some adult time!

Your Own Ideas:

Separation Anxiety:

  • Do not force your child to jump into situations he is nervous about – allow him to watch from the sidelines for awhile, and respect his choices.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to take small steps toward independence
  • Do not overprotect your child – do not be the hovercraft
  • Acknowledge and respect your child’s feelings
  • Give your child permission to stay with you – “You can stay here as long as you want to, or you can play and come back for a big hug.”
  • Allow the clingyness to run its course – it may be developmentally normal, or it may come out in a time of stress or change
  • Give your child something of yours to hold on to and keep close
  • Reassure your child by being confident you can walk 10 feet from her and it really is OK – If you say, “Don’t worry, I will be right here if you need me” implies there is something to worry about! Try positive, quiet phrases.
  • Again, I truly feel children in the toddler years are NOT meant to be away from their families and that we as a society really push the classes, lessons, independence of this age – Please do be careful the things you are doing are really for your child and not for you and not because “other people are doing it”!

Your Own Ideas:

Tooth Brushing:


  • Start early
  • Model good dental habits yourself
  • Make it fun – try electric toothbrushes, an egg timer, different kinds of toothpaste
  • Use the dentist as the authority on how many times a day to brush the teeth
  • Talk to the dentist regarding frequency of cleaning, putting sealants on the teeth
  • “Look” for sugar bugs or parts of food from dinner in a playful way, count teeth while brushing

Your Own Ideas:


  • Ames, Louise Bates. Your One-Year-Old.
  • Ames. Louise Bates. Your Two-Year-Old.
  • Budd, Linda. Living With the Active Alert Child.
  • Bumgarner, Norma Jane. Mothering Your Nursing Toddler.
  • Cohen, Lawrence. Playful Parenting.
  • Coloroso, Barbara. Kids are Worth It!
  • Dettwyler, Katherine. “Sleeping Through the Night.”
  • Flower, Hilary. Adventures in Gentle Discipline.
  • Kohn, Alfie. Unconditional Parenting.

As always, take what works for you and your family. Thanks for reading,


24 thoughts on “Common Toddler Challenges and How to Solve Them

  1. Thanks Lauri,
    I was surprised this post didn’t get a bit more traffic, but hopefully more people who need it and are frustrated will find it! 🙂

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  4. thank you, i just read your post and it described my day with my four year old son. today was our first day of a month long holiday, i planned to get things done, some research on the computer, to go outside to garden with him. i am a single full time working mom, so my son is usually at daycare so i thought that a month without having to go to daycare would be great for my son. time for us to spend together, camping and the like. today, he plugged the sink, slapped me in the face while in the corner store because i told him not to touch the chocolates right in front of him. he layed on the floor and smiled at me and i tried to keep calm as i bought the draino. then tonight i tried to call other moms to get support but could not get intouch with anyone. so i went downstairs and cradled my son and cried over him and held him for a while. thanks for giving me some more wholesome, real advice on how to parent in a gentle way. my son has open ended toys, book, puzzles, building blocks, marble run blocks; is it too much for me to expect that he cant seem to get involved in a toy on his own? what can i do to facilitate that for my son?

  5. Hi Carrie!
    I’ve been thinking a lot about something and I thought that may be you could help.
    I have a two year old boy and a 6 months baby.
    Sometimes the two year old will take the toys from the baby and throw it way. Most of the times when the two year old takes the baby toys away I have to ask him a lot of times to give it back to her. He says no but I keep saying to give it back please and most of the times I will say: I’m waiting for you to give the toy back ( to make clear what I expect him to do) and most of the times he does, eventually, and I say thank you for giving the toy back. When he doesn’t pick it up him self I will and give to the baby saying that he shouldn’t have done that.
    I do not say give it back or this or that happens because I would like him to do the right thing because is the right thing to do and don’t want him to do something just because he is afraid of the consequences, but lately I’ve been thinking if doing this way I’m teaching him that misbehave has no consequences which obvious it does, or is he too young for me to be worrying about that?

    Thank you very much in advance

    • Gosh, Susana, I might need to meditate on it a bit more, but do you want to hear my gut reaction? This is kind of stream of consciousness, so please forgive me for a rather unpolished answer……. Two is rather a baby, and I think this actually is something that is very challenging you are asking for a two-year-old. It doesn’t mean we don’t ask it of them, but there may be several things to consider. Things I would think about would be – can you structure the environment more so he is busy helping you whilst the baby plays and less likely to get into the baby’s toys? Can you be more present to supervise when they are playing together? Can you get the toy with your two year old at least some of the time and make it more of a game (let’s hop like a bunny to get that toy and bring it back to bunny land or whatever?) and connect with him? Can you say, “You really want to play with the baby! Let me help you play together” and show him. Can you have toys out for him so they can play near each other but more parallel play? Those are just some ideas off the top of my head, maybe you can pick what resonates with you or think of your own ideas?

      I don’t think you are teaching him that his behavior has no consequences at all as you are showing him what you do want. I think we just need to be careful to remember that he is a very little guy and has a need to connect to you and to the baby as well, so to help him with that in a loving and playful way..

      Hope that helps a bit, please do take what resonates with you and leave behind whatever does not!
      Blessings, and thank you for reading!

    • Aspen,
      Did you find the back post about language? The main thing for a small one is to ignore, and to occupy the hands.
      Two and a half is a height of imitative language development, so it should dissipate..
      Many blessings,

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  7. Hi Carrie,
    I’ve returned to this post many times but it seems in the new organization of the site, the headings for the “challenge” has disappeared (I see Options and Your Ideas headings but not the challenge). This time I came for help on hitting, which my 3.5 year old boy has recently started doing. In this case, I’m speaking of him hitting me (or his Dad) when I am holding him or he’ll run to hit me, most often during times of frustration such as ending if I have to end an activity or set a boundary. I am committed to responding gently and with love but don’t know what my physical response should be…should I put him down, should I hold him, including his arms tight, should take his hands and ‘talk to them’? Should I carry him to a ‘we hit, we sit’ spot? Should I be conveying “i know you are frustrated but you can’t act on it” sentiment- or is that too complex a concept?
    Thank you for any guidance.
    PS I took the Waldorf Connection course and we also corresponded in that context.

    • Hi Karen! Thank you so much; I hopefully fixed this post and you can read it all now. At any rate, at 3, I think the main thing is two fold – to go back to the basics of rhythm, rest, food and make sure those basic needs are being met, and then the second part is being the authority. If it is in transition points, you can try giving a warning for the transition, you can try singing a verse for specific transitions, if you are at home you can just say, “Oh my, those hands forgot what they are doing! We need to peel potatoes and get ready for dinner” and take him by the hand and lead him into the kitchen and get those hands into something helpful. If you are holding him and he hits you may need to put him down, but then you need to know what you are doing after that – are you going to work or what is the form going to be after you put him down? Sometime we do need the you hit, you come by me kind of thing and being held tightly, but that really is up to the parent in the situation and you often have to experiment with that one particular child.

      I hope that helps a bit, I know there is also a back post on boys under the age of 7 and hitting if that one would be helpful to you..
      Many blessings,
      Carrie 🙂
      So glad you are here and still reading!

  8. I love this post, Carrie! I keep coming back to it for each new challenge! But here’s one I haven’t seen yet: screaming for fun. My son thinks it’s fun, and if we try to cover his mouth to protect ears (his, ours, passersby), he thinks it’s a game. Apparently it’s genetic, my husband was a grocery store screamer. It was cute at first, but now it’s painful. Especially when he decided to do it during a 2.5 hour trip to or from visiting my family (luckily he doesn’t scream the entire time, but long enough). Any thoughts, m’dear? 🙂

  9. Carrie,
    I really enjoyed your post and you have alot of very useful tools to use in all different types of situations. Im really have trouble right now with my almost 3 yr old and was wondering if i could get your advice. Ok so ftom the beginning i was very lucky to have my child taken care by my aunt and my mother in all. My daughter just worships my aunt. Shes the kind of aunt to be lucky to have. Well for almost 2 yrs my daughter was the only child being cared for by her until my cousin recently had a baby of his own. Well now my cousins daughter is now a little over one. The way my daughter is acting anymorw is just so unlike her. I know shes feeling different emotions about dealing with these changes. Because everything was good at first until the little girl started to walk and play and hit. Well now it just seems to be a constant war between the two of them all the time. I dont like the way that ive seen my daughter change. Im so upset that yesterday i sat in tears because im just so confused. Yesterday was one of those days where my daughter was fine then the other little girl woke up and my daughter just changed in a blink
    of an eye. I was still there it happened before i went to work. So i took her in the other room away from everyone to talk to her and tell her she cant push and yell that therez are consequences to actions. While the other mother was putting her two cents in while i was trying to deal with it myself. Well this continued on with her while i walked out the door to go to work and up until i came to pick her up. Then it
    was like things got really bad she hadnt napped and very rarely does she ever get
    obe there and she still needs one. Well of course another fight broke out because they were both tired and the other mother preceeded to grab my daughter by the arm and was telling her not to do that. Should i have not been the obe to handle my daughter? Which when she did that i told het ill handle it. So i set my daughter down in the timeout spot well my daufhter just erupted from there and everybody jyst stood there and stared at her which im sure embarassed her. So once again i took her into another room since they wouldnt give us the space and i just broke down in tears because this is my family and i was just so upset how my daughter acted how my family acted. My little girl is just not the same when she goes there and i just dont know what to do. Should i remove her out of the situation? Im scared that these things are messing with her emotionally and im also scared about how is this affecting her long term. Im sorry this post is so long im just unsure of what to do anymore. And my child always seems to get the worst of the situation. Thank you and i would greatly appreciate some advice.

    • Nicki,
      This sounds like you are dealing with several things – a child who is close to three is moving into an age of needing “More”: more boundaries, more structure and rhythm, more outside time, more ability to help with things; dealing with a newly mobile little person which is very much akin to having a sibling suddenly start walking and now is getting into all of the older sibling’s things; and a difficulty family situation.

      If your aunt/mother/cousin is not on board with providing more structure and rhythm for your almost three year old, along with a consensus by all of you how things are to be handled gently and with love, then I think a different child care situation might be better. In some ways it is harded to have a day care with only a few children if you are not adept at handling different ages or there are no older children to also set the tone. In some ways, if you are only used to babies and early toddlers, the changes that come at three and four seem a big shock. I really urge you to go to the development tab and read the posts under the three year old age. They start here: The posts regarding Siblings under the Family tab may also be helpful. I was thinking of this one specifically:

      If you have a Lifeways provider in your area, I would encourage you to look there as a source of inspiration or alternative:
      There are also many childcares providing a forest kind of childcare where much of the childcare is outside; here is an example of one such program: You can see Rebecca’s blog Bending Birches as to how she handles things in her day care:

      I think instead of using time outs and looking at your daughter harshly, her caregivers should be looking at her with love and with boundaries. No, we cannot hit, we cannot yell. We must use inside voices. Please come here with your strong hands and help me prepare the bread for today, we will take turns kneading. We will go for a walk and you can get your energy out. The baby can be in a sling for a while so you can play without being interrupted and then we will play with baby. You are the baby’s big protector and helper. You can help me during the baby’s diaper change.

      This is an opportunity for your little one to learn how to take care of things smaller than her, but it takes practice and gentleness and love. As you all meet her with that, she will respond. Small children are impulsive and immature, always learning and always in need of connection and love. There is nothing wrong with your daughter, she is moving into the preschool years and showing the large difference in development that occurs at this age as compared to a one year old.

      Much love,

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