Handling Difficult Toddlers

Imagine getting a phone call from your child’s teacher saying that you have to pick her up early. As you listen to the teacher explain that your child has thrown a temper tatrum so epic that they had to clear the room for safety reasons, your stomach drops. You begin to cry tears of frustration and embarrassment. When you arrive, you see trash everywhere, chairs flipped over, papers ripped, and your child is sitting on the floor with her teacher, who still trying to calm her down. What is your reaction? I’ll tell you what my reaction was. I was mortified and confused! My angel, my sweet Cakey baby, what is going on in her little mind that is causing such behavior? Was it my fault and what did I do wrong? These are some of the questions a mother asks herself when her child’s behavior doesn’t line up with the values we teach them. So where do you go from here?

Recognizing The Difference

All children are different, not just in looks but in development. With my older kids, I had tactics that had been tested and approved. None of those worked on my youngest daughter. I remember the first day she threw a fit at the doctor’s office and she was not responding to any of my discipline methods. Her defiance level was through the roof and I was completely lost. I remember leaving there, silently apologizing to every mom that I judged for letting their kids “act out” in public. That day, I became “that mom”. I knew then that it was time to draw up a new play book because I clearly was outmatched by this toddler.

Behavioral Health Matters

The hardest part of this journey has been owning the fact that I did not understand my child’s behavior. To be even more transparent, I didn’t understand how to correct her behavior. Her teacher suggested that we team up with the special school district to develop an IEP (individualized education plan) action plan for her behavioral development. I was immediately on board. My husband was not. The idea that she could be “labeled” with a behavior problem was not something he was open to at first. It took several meetings, lots of prayer, and tons of research to finally bring us to a place of agreement on the next course of action.  Upon evaluation, the child specialist found that she simply has a developmental delay in the area of social and emotional behavior. Nothing super scary. Our daughter just lacked in this small area and needed a stronger plan to point her in the right direction.

Understanding Cakey

During this process, we learned so much about our daughter that seemed trivial to us but were huge in our breakthrough with her behavior. One thing was the importance of consistent patterns. Any disruption to her every day pattern was a problem for her. For example, if she arrived to school late, it would frustrate her. If she missed her free play time and had to go straight into circle time, that would throw her off of her schedule and cause her to act out. Another thing we learned was how much our responses affect her reactions. When she is throwing a fit, if we approach her with demands and yelling, it does not help. If we respond to her tantrums with a soft but firm voice and talk her through whatever she is feeling, it de-escalates the situation almost immediately.

Small Steps, Big Changes

A month after we transferred our daughter from a regular classroom to an early childhood special education class with less children and more teachers, the tables started turning. The following list are a few of the methods we implemented to help her in her behavior:

  1. Choices- In giving a toddler a choice, it puts them in the power position. Choices can be as simple as “would you like to go to bed in 2 minutes or 5 minutes?” When she makes her choice, we set a timer and let her carry on until her time is up. At the sound of the buzzer, she knows what it means and heads to bed with no fuss. We both win because she got an extra few minutes of play and I got her to go to bed with ease.
  2. Think About It- Another way to put her in control of her behavior is to make her THINK about her actions. Asking questions like “was that a good choice?, what should you do about it?” makes her consider what she has done and what’s a better choice to make the next time. Talking about toddler behavior
  3. Child Play Therapy- For 12 weeks, my daughter was able to see a child therapist once a week. This was definitely out of our comfort zone but it opened our eyes to the way she thinks a kid. The therapist used different activities to play out scenarios to help her with problem solving. It opened up her little mind to think about her actions from a different angle.
  4. Safe Spot- This is time out to a new level. A safe spot is a designated place where she can go to gather herself in times when she’s having a meltdown. Sometimes she’ll go here willfully and other times I escort her there. There is no time limit to her being in the safe spot, which is why we don’t call it time out. When she calms herself, we have a conversation and move on with the rest of our day.

Where’s The Discipline?

I know that’s what you’re thinking! Trust me, I get it. I come from the “butt whoopin’ first, questions later or never” era of discipline. Let’s be clear,  my husband and I do believe in a good ole spanking when it’s necessary. However, going through this process with our daughter has helped us to add the old school discipline methods with the new school talking methods in order to better help her work through her unpleasant behavior. It’s all about balance and flexibility. At the end of the day, every parent has to not only do what’s best for them as the adult, but what’s best for the child. If your child needs a little extra help in whatever area, you have to be willing to put aside what you know, what you feel, and go beyond the scope of what you think as a parent.

You Are Not Alone

If you don’t take anything else away from this, know that if you are struggling with your toddler, you are not alone. It can be embarrassing, tiresome, and extremely stressful but when you finally find what works, life gets sweeter. By the end of the school year, our little girl received the last “student of the month” award for her class because of all of her behavior improvements. Talk about PROUD PARENTS!


There is never any shame in doing what is best for your child. If that means seeking professional help, go for it! These kids don’t come with individual manuals and can be quite tricky to figure out. I don’t know where we would be without the support of “Team Cakey”. Hopefully the few tips shared above will give you some ideas the next time your toddler goes haywire!

How do you deal with your “threenager” when they are having a tantrum? Comment Below!


*Cyber Snaps*

Reese J.

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  • Alisha Johnson

    I wish you had this blog around when Zoe was in the tantrum stage. I have found that a lot of the “old or seasoned” ways of parenting just don’t work on these new kids. Sometimes an old fashioned spanking works, but it rarely yields the results I was hoping for. She responds more when I am disappointed, or when you take privileges away from her. I am so glad u stayed the course and found what works for Cakey!

  • Mimi

    We often think of accomplishing milestones in our lives “by any means necessary”. This is that!!! I also believe in adult timeout! Being open to the fact that YOU may need this week allow you time to simmer down and reevaluate the situation and approach it again from a better place. Kudos for less reacting and more acting!!!

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