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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

4 Toddler Behavior Management Tips from a Behavior Analyst for Moms

toddler photo

Parenting a toddler is fun. Toddlers can provide so much joy and light to our day. They laugh, smile, cuddle, and do lots of cute things. They also are beginning to practice their independence and are beginning to separate themselves physically and emotionally from their parents. This experience of development increases their challenging behaviors at times. You might see this result in a temper tantrum, simply refusing to follow directions, crying, whining for your attention, and in other ways, as well.

Here are a few ways to address those behaviors (coming from a mom of three kids, one currently a toddler, who also happens to be a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and social worker).

4 Toddler Behavior Management Tips

Pairing yourself with reinforcement

Pairing yourself with reinforcement…Let’s break that apart. Basically, pairing pretty much just means putting two things together like a “pair.” Reinforcement means increasing the likelihood that the behavior that you want will happen again in the future. So, giving your child M&M’s for going potty, giving her attention and cuddles when she is being sweet, and singing songs and playing with toys with your child are all examples of pairing yourself with reinforcement, especially when these things follow positive behaviors that you want to see more of.

This strategy basically helps to make you appear to be a “good guy.” Think about it this way…You tend to like people who are nicer, who give you positive attention, and who participate in activities that you enjoy, right? Well, that’s pretty much the same thing 🙂

Follow through with demands

This is super important. We all have moments where we just don’t have the energy to follow through with something we said, but it is important to start early with this strategy. Try only saying things you mean and mean what you say. Kids need to know that you really mean what you say or else they will get “intermittent reinforcement” for not following directions. This means that if they can occassionally get away with not listening, they will try not to listen more often. On the other hand, if you pretty much always say what you mean (and you say things that are reasonable and within the child’s ability level), your child is much more likely to behave well.

Consider ratio strain

Basically, we all do things and hope to have positive experiences as a result of what we do. For example, you wouldn’t go to work for 40 hours a week for 4 weeks to just earn a dollar, would you? This is too much work for too little reward.

This applies to toddlers in the same way. Reinforcement doesn’t necessarily have to be candy or toys. It can be (and often is) attention, praise, kind words, cuddles, and simply interacting in a positive manner with your toddler. With toddlers, avoid asking them to do too much and not providing that reinforcement frequently.

Positive reinforcement

Positive in positive reinforcement means to add something. Reinforcement, as I mentioned, means to increase the frequency of the behavior in the future. So, even if you don’t necessarily see a sudden change, positive reinforcement should be creating a positive outcome in the long-term.

As mentioned in the ratio strain section, be sure to give your toddler lots of positive reinforcement for things you want to see more of like following directions, picking up a toy, helping you clean up, and for speaking nicely. Most of the time toddlers just want your attention and your interaction, so often times these are the best things to provide in response of the behavior or action you want them to do (within like a few seconds if possible).

You can also use toys and other items for reinforcement, as well. For example, if you want your toddler to pick up a book she just dropped on the floor, you can stop her from grabbing her doll that she wants to play with (by taking the doll) until she picks up the book (after you gave her a specific direction to do so).


I hope these strategies help you as you watch and help your toddler to grow and develop. Toddlers are so precious and they are learning so much at this stage 🙂
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4 Toddler Behavior Management Tips from a Behavior Analyst for Moms

Heather Gilmore

My name is Heather Gilmore. I am so happy to be able to have a space to share helpful insights and resources to other moms out there. Being a parent is hard work and I hope to be able to give you tips and strategies to make it at least a little bit easier and more enjoyable. We love our kids but any mom knows that they can also be exhausting and overwhelming at times, as well. I have a master's degree in social work. I work as a children's therapist. I am also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and work with children with autism spectrum disorder. Additionally, I am a freelance writer specializing in topics related to children and families. I have my own company called Hope Family Resources which provides resources in person and online to help families find greater hope, health, and happiness. See my site and learn more about me at: or email me at [email protected] I have also published books on Amazon. Search for "Discpline and Parenting Strategies for Kids with ADHD," "Have Peace: How to Have Peace in Your Busy, Chaotic Life," and "Sibling Rivalry: How to Deal with Sibling Rivalry so You Won't Have to Anymore,"

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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2017). 4 Toddler Behavior Management Tips from a Behavior Analyst for Moms. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Feb 2017
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.