When we wake up in the morning, we aren’t thinking, “Hey, I’d love to pay the bills today!”  Same thing with toddlers.  They aren’t consciously thinking, “Hey, I’m gonna scream for 20 minutes today to get my way!”

But just like paying the bills is our job, throwing a tantrum is a toddler’s job.  They have to do it.  So we can wake up hoping that maybe today, they won’t tantrum, but that would be like waking up and hoping that maybe we won’t have to pay the bills.

Don’t dread the tantrums, and don’t get angry either.  I would love to see someone getting angry at the bank because we have to pay our mortgage (people do, by the way).  But it doesn’t make sense.

We want to get so angry when they start to tantrum.  We want to yell and scream back and we want to tell them to stop.  But it is their job to do tantrum, so let them do it and just be there for them when they are done.

So WHY do toddlers tantrum.  Why is this something that every child does?  When kids are born, they aren’t given instructions for what is allowed and how things work.  So they are constantly trying to find out that information.  They want to know if it is OK to stay up and not go to sleep.  They trying to figure out, “Am I allowed to pull the cat’s hair?”  and “Should I throw this bowl across the room?”  The answer may sometimes be yes, but more often than not, the answer is no.  So then they tantrum and cry and that is ok!

I was watching a family in the library last weekend and they had a toddler and the mom kept saying that it was time to go.  Every single time that she tried to get him away from the trains, the smallest whine and the first little twinklings of a tantrum would appear.  The mom would immediately back off and let him play more.  She forgot that the kid’s job is to tantrum. She was trying to avoid him doing his job and therefore, he was learning that all he has to do is tantrum a little bit more and he’ll get to stay even longer next time.  Let them tantrum!  It’s OK!

When parents are picking their battles, the annoying but not actually bad behavior is one that usually gets ignored.  And if you have bigger fish to fry, then that is a good idea.  If, however, you have gotten a lot of the bigger stuff under control, you are seeing better behavior in your kids and now they are just being really annoying here are some ideas.

What are some annoying behaviors?  Well, it really depends on what specifically annoys you, but things like copying, weird noises or weird voices, exceptionally loud voices, poking, etc.

There are basically two camps on annoying behavior: the kid is exploring this behavior and learning something from it.  Or the kid is intentionally being annoying to try to get attention.

Let’s look at the first idea:  The kiddo is exploring this behavior and wants to know what is allowed and what isn’t allowed.  They are looking to you to guide them.

They may have seen the behavior from someone else and they are curious about it.

There are three things you can do when your child is trying out a new annoying behavior:

  1. Ignore it
  2. Tell them that this behavior isn’t allowed in our family
  3. Set a consequence.

Ignore it

We’ve heard it before a million times from our own parents about ignoring annoying behavior.  Try it first.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  If you have more than one child and the other children just can’t ignore it then have ignoring practice and roll play being annoying. (Try it!  It’s fun!) Have one child act out some annoying behavior.  Or you can act annoying too.  And have the other children sit and look the other way.  It almost always ends up in laughter but if they can do it for a minute or two- throw in some high fives!

Tell them this behavior isn’t part of our family

I love this one for many reasons.   First of all, it sets up the idea of family values but it also paints the picture of we are a clan, we take care of each other, we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  It also means that maybe there are different rules in different places.  It also means that it is OK that your friend is allowed to do it and you aren’t.  The opposite can be true too; you might be able to do things that your friends can’t do and we can respect that too.

If you child learns an annoying voice or copying from a friend and brings it home, you can say, “we don’t do that in our family”.  And it is totally OK to say it to the friend when they are in your house.  I overheard my eight year old say to someone the other day, “we only use potty talk in the bathroom in our house” and it made me smile.

Set a consequence

You usually don’t need to get to this point with annoying behavior but if you are at your wit’s end, then go ahead and set a consequence and don’t feel bad about it.  A good example of this would be if your child is whining.  You could start by saying that you don’t understand what they are saying in that voice.  But if the whining continues, it could be a sign of tiredness and that leaving an activity or instituting an earlier bedtime might be necessary.

Or if playing with certain friends creates certain annoying behaviors, talk about taking space from that friend for a couple of days.

But what if your child is intentionally trying to annoy you?

They aren’t curious- they have a goal: annoy their family.

Then you need to look at what attention they are getting.  Often they are not getting enough positive attention and they know that they will get something by annoying you.

First, institute the 3 positives to 1 negative rule:

For every negative thing said, say three positive things

Then, find 5 minutes of one-on-one time every day.

Do this for one week and see if some of the annoying behavior disappears.  If it doesn’t go away, then work with the three ways of getting rid of annoying behavior that I outlined above:

  1. Ignore it
  2. Tell them that this behavior isn’t allowed in our family
  3. Set a consequence.