Encouraging Desirable Behavior In toddlers and Young Children

Many of us probably have seen toddlers and young children running up and down the aisle in a supermarket or a child screaming and kicking on the shopping mall floor. One may also have seen a child pushing another child off the queue or snatching while in the playground. Many a times, the parents are appears to be oblivious (much to the distress of onlookers) or are helpless as to how to manage the situation. 

While parents may debate on how and what are misbehaviors, it is generally agreed that compliance and non-aggressive behaviors are desired.

Toddlers and young children are not intentionally manipulative or naughty. They misbehave for many reasons and these include

  • Seeking attention 
  • Boredom
  • Receiving the inappropriate reaction to their behavior 
  • Not knowing what is expected from them
  • Constantly being told that they are ‘naughty’ 
  • Being constantly told ‘no’ and ‘cannot’
  • Pushing their boundaries
  • Mimicking other children


Toddlers and young children are known to misbehave when they are tired, hungry and bored. Recognizing the trigger factors will assist in eliminating many undesirable behaviors thus avoiding the need to manage them.

To effectively encourage and guide the young child to have desirable behaviors, parents need to 

  • Be healthy physically, mentally and emotionally
  • Be united in their approach 
  • Have time together away from their children
  • Have the support  of the spouse, extended family or other care providers
  • Have fun and engaging activities with the children

They also need to

  • Have age appropriate language that the child can understand
  • Have clear set of house rules for the child
  • Be consistent in the implementation of the rules
  • Have  logical consequences for  failure to comply with the rules
  • Have age appropriate consequences
  • Be aware and acknowledge  the good / desirable behavior quickly
  • Be ready to praise the good/desirable behavior
  • Praise should be behavior centered
  • Establish a routine
  • Have some uninterrupted time daily on a one-to-one basis

It is a fact that no matter how “good” a child is, there will be occasion that he /she will misbehave. To manage the situation effectively, it is necessary to 

  • Deal with the misbehavior as soon as it happens
  • Be calm when dealing with the incident or situation
  • Be consistent in implementing the consequences.

Children will be children and what is fun to them may not be so fun to adults and may even be dangerous to both themselves and the people around them. While definition of acceptable/desirable behavior may vary between parents and society, it is necessary to ponder for a moment what kind of adults we would like our children to be. Our guidance, motivation, encouragement and management of their behavior are to assist them to be more positive, confident, considerate individuals who have ownership and responsibility of their actions.

Jennifer Hor Oct 2014

  • This article was published in the November Issue of Bonda magazine