How to Handle a Difficult Toddler With Ease

13 Sneaky Ideas for How to Handle A Difficult Toddler for Pure Bliss12 min read

If You Know How to Handle a Difficult Toddler You Can Conquor Just About Any Challenge Life Throws Your Way

When you’re trying to get things done around the house, sometimes your toddler gets in your way. This was especially true during the pandemic when everyone was trying to work from home with their ankle biter at their side 24/7. When you’re working as a side-hustle dad, knowing how to handle a difficult toddler before everything blows up in your face is essential.

I have a really difficult toddler to handle, so We’ve come up with 13 ways to handle a difficult toddler to give you some ideas.

Learning to Handle Strong Feelings

Toddlers aren’t the only one’s with strong feelings, but they are apt to show them to you often. There are a ton of resources for handling strong feelings online… everything is online, which will help you learn to master these little balls of terror.

How to handle a difficult toddler before life gets out of hand.

Did you know MIT has a Free Intro to Psychology Class Online?

Yep, they sure do. It’s taught by Professor John Gabriel and is a full undergraduate level introduction to psychology? Will it teach you everything you need to know? Of course not. But it will touch on a number of key concepts that will help you deal with the strong feelings your little one doesn’t understand yet. That should help you at least stay a little bit out in front.

Full List of Free Online Psychology Courses

If you want to keep diving into learning how to deal with strong feelings and learning how to handle a difficult toddler (spouse, sibling, political rival…) the good people at Psychology.org have put together a tremendous list of free online psychology resources that are top-notch. They cover a range of toddler – friendly topics like Schizophrenia, Understanding Human Needs, and Developmental Psychology.

There are several excellent ideas that you can draw out to keep your little one in check. And if learning about the issue academically doesn’t get the job done, you may need to do a little work on yourself while you learn how to handle a difficult toddler.

Practicing Self-Control And Staying Calm is Key in How to Handle a Difficult Toddler

Don’t you just want to scream when your 2-year old won’t listen and throws a temper tantrum at the playground? What do I do? Right?

When you’re out and about (remember that?) and your toddler decides to have a meltdown, you have to stay calm. If you buy into their story and let this wild child frame the situation, it can turn a 3 Mile Island level event into a full on Fukishima. But how do you stay calm? How do you practice self-control when you’re faced with public embarrassment of your kid leveling half a store?

Practice basically. As they say, you’ve got to put your mask on before you can help anyone else, and that applies here as well. You have to take a bit of the “me” time after they go to sleep, maybe even part of your side-hustle time, to work on practicing self-control. There are several ways to do it, and yeah, it does take some investment of your precious (oh so precious) “me” time, but it pays dividends.

  • Take a course… maybe a psychology course?
  • Yoga has shown several health benefits, both physical and mental.
  • Tai-Chi is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and just about gave up, but stick with it. Your capacity for self-control will grow by leaps and bounds.
  • Simple deep breathing exercises and basic meditations, mantras, and repetitions will help here as well.

Anything you can do that feels dumb, repetitive, and frustrating. Do it. Take some time and really drive yourself nuts. You’re working out that capacity to stay calm when you’re being screamed at on the playground. You’re practicing self-control.

Acknowledge your toddler’s feelings

Because they’re real. Very real. And they’re right there. And they don’t have the benefit of that Psychology course… seriously, just take it. You know how you are here reading about how to handle a difficult child? Well, you have the benefit of being able to use the internet and take free courses online.

Your toddler is there trying to figure out how to handle a difficult parent, figure out their own emotions, and all without the benefit of broadband access. That sounds pretty rough to me.

But seriously, it’s easy for us as busy parents, trying to work, run a house, run a side-hustle, and have some semblance of life outside the house to dismiss our little one’s feelings as inconsequential. They aren’t. They are far more sophisticated than we give them credit for when we’re stressed out.

Try And Not Get Physical When Learning How to Handle a Difficult Toddler

When they’re angry, and we’re angry, there’s this impetus to nip the situation in the bud by handling it physically. After all, they’re getting physical, and you’re a lot bigger. You could probably take them if it came down to it, but you’re remembering to stay calm and practice self-control. That begs the question, how do you discipline a toddler? I mean… this kids’ a terror. What’s the best way to discipline my child?

Not Physically.

Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) is the clinical term for severe physical and mental trauma that kids experience. Long story short, it doesn’t take many to create real, lasting impact. You’ll end up scarring your child emotionally and mentally.

Incidents of anxiety and depression later in adulthood skyrocket when a child has been physically disciplined. You know how they’re always walking around parroting what we say?

We have to remember in the heat of the moment to stay calm. Because they remember this stuff. Instead, talk to them. When they’re about to explode, how do you talk to them?

Be Clear and Consistent

The be all end all book on how to speak to a difficult child is “how to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen.” It’s an easy read with tip after tip on how to come at communicating with different styles of toddlers. While every toddler is going to throw tantrums and blow up, the strategy for talking to your’s may be entirely different than speaking to mine. i.e. your toddler daughter is giving off a whole different vibe than my toddler son.

Except they’re both mad.

But bless them, because it’s been the most effective book on the subject I could possibly find or recommend. I really wish I could get it signed.

Bribe Them… Seriously… Offer Rewards for Helpful Behavior

Want to really know how to handle a difficult toddler? Bribe them. Seriously. They may be little balls of rage, but they’re still human beings, and they can still be bought. Everyone has a price. You just need to find theirs. But you know, do it responsibly. Rewards boost self-esteem and improve the overall relationship with your child, according to the CDC.

The key here, as above, is consistency.

Rewarding a child through a consistent program sets them up for behavioral success. This teaches them how to handle problems in life. Both early in life and later.

How do I set up a reward program for my toddler?

Basically? You make it a game. The gamification of behavior. The CDC lays out these guidelines and bullet points, but you get the drift.

  • Identify the behavior you want to reward. Perhaps it’s holding hands when walking, or crossing the street. Not running off, or potty training. Whatever behavior you are looking to reward needs to be communicated consistently.
  • Decide on the reward. Is it going to be material like a toy, or stickers?
  • Create a chart. Kids love to see a visual representation of their progress.
  • Explain the Reward Program. They need to know the rules of the road and how to win the game.
  • Use the Reward Program. Since you went to all the trouble to set it up and got your toddler interested, be consistent and actually use it. (Looking in the mirror.)
  • Slowly change the behavior, or phase out the program all together. Once they get the hang of what they’re supposed to do…. they’ve won the game.

Really, if you want to know how to handle problems in life, you can almost always boil it down to making a game of it. No need to overcomplicate it.

Lots of cuddles and close contact

This one isn’t shocking. If you’re going through a difficult time, what’s better than a hug?

It seems intuitive, but the science is there too. Duke University found that children that had parents who gave them a great deal of affection grew up to be well-adjusted adolescents and adults. In hugging and embracing our kids when they’re upset, we’re rewiring their brains.

We’re literally teaching them how to handle expectations. To know that we’ll be there if they take a risk, and we help them lower the emotional temperature.

Ask yourself… What would a Judo master do in this situation?

The judo master would make a sweeping kick to the opponent’s leg, causing them to fall and roll onto their back in order to regain control of the situation. But we’re not getting physical in our discipline, so we can’t do that. We can use our toddler’s physical energy and redirect it into something else. Usually it’s quite a bit of energy, but if you can pull this off, it’s going to be an excellent nap time.

Practice the Art of Distraction

Magicians are experts at sleight of hand and mental misdirection, right? They must be natural experts at how to deal with a difficult toddler then. They certainly know how to deal with a difficult person, show after show, night after night. Let us then, take a page from the magician’s playbook.

And there’s no way our 2-year-olds are smarter than a Spice Girl right?

Try not to overreact

When you’re learning how to handle challenging behaviors, it’s vital that you know when to let things go. Most problems we experience aren’t nearly as bad as we think they are. A public meltdown can seem like the end of the world. One of the more difficult problems that any toddler parent can run into. We peer around the playground looking at the other parents, thinking they’re judging us.

They aren’t.

We’re falling victim to a cognitive distortion known as “mind reading.” Where we think we can peer into the minds of the other parents on the pitch, and we begin to feel their eye lasers start to pierce or confidence. But if we slow down and remember that we can’t read anyone’s mind, and that we wouldn’t judge the other parents experiencing a tantrum of their own, we learn how to be happy in difficult times.

Learn to Choose your Battles, or You’ll Never Learn How to Handle a Difficult Toddler

Knowing when to take a deep breath and walk away is often as important as feeling as you “solved” an explosive meltdown. Walking away and giving in might feel like failure, but when you’re dealing with an angry child with a difficult personality, sometimes the best thing you can do is call it a day. Sometimes that just is how you handle a strong-willed child. As long as you’re winning the war, you don’t have to win every battle. You just have to keep showing up as a parent.

Give in, cool off, and live to fight another day. Remember, their emotions are real, and they don’t understand them. They’re going through a difficult time even though it may seem tiny to us as parents. What may seem small and inconsequential to the parent means we should let it go. Take a step back, give some big hugs and assure them that nobody is upset.

Do what feels right

While you may feel like firing up the Google machine to solve this one is the last hope, deep down, you’re likely looking for more reassurance than new information. These are difficult problems, and you need to know how to communicate effectively. You can learn that, but a parent’s intuition isn’t to be snarked at.

It’s hard to know how to handle a difficult toddler. They try our patience at every turn.

Do not give up learning how to handle a stubborn child

Stubborn children are pretty common. I was a difficult child, and now I’m a difficult husband. I’m still learning, and so are the researchers. Nobody is an expert. Even the experts aren’t experts. We’re all just trying our best to figure out how to handle life problems. The key is that you keep coming back and trying again.

If you’re feeling down, or at your wits end, just know that the mere fact you’re trying to figure out how to handle a difficult toddler puts you head and shoulders above many parenting peers.

Whoever designed these little people didn’t make them difficult to love. It’s evolution. We get knocked down, and we get back up. You want your little one to know that you’re not going anywhere. And you want to express that consistently and often.

Ask For Outside Help in Learning How to Handle a Difficult Toddler

This isn’t humanity’s first rodeo, and you aren’t the first one trying to get something accomplished while trying to learn how to handle a difficult toddler. That second one is a big job, which means this is when they’re always talking about “it takes a village.” Well… it does. If you’re trying everything and everyone in the house is still banging their head against the wall, it’s time to call in outside help. There are plenty of resources beyond these ideas that can be called upon when needed.

Don’t go it alone forever. Life’s short. Enjoy that…

Smartest Dad is made up of a group of dedicated dads trying to be their absolute best. And, on rare ocassion, succeeding. Interested in writing for Smartest Dad? Find out more here.

Young father with a toddler boy cooking.

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