How to Cope With An Irrational Toddler

If you're struggling to make sense of irrational toddler behaviour, read on to learn some coping mechanisms to make the days more enjoyable by Laura Gatsos Young
Me and Jack

“Mom, I want noodles. Noodles with parmesan. NOW!”, an irrational toddler yelled from the living room, over the Paw Patrol theme song.

“OK!” I yelled back wearily from the kitchen, as I clutched my fifth coffee of the day. I felt no more awake than I did at 5 a.m. when I was startled awake to the same “MOM.”

After I prepared the noodles (rigatoni, ONLY) and served them to my prince, I was met with wails as to why I dared add parmesan cheese. “I’m never eva’ gon’ add my own parmesan. Neva eva”, followed by a refusal to eat at all.

This is a small snapshot of my day, which holds true for every day since my son turned three. Conveniently, another worldwide event happened around his birthday that rendered us housebound … 

Anyway, the threes have proven to be far more “terrible” than the notorious twos, so I decided to dig into how to cope with this seemingly endless “phase.”

If you’re struggling to make sense of your irrational toddler’s behaviour, read on to learn some coping mechanisms to make the days more enjoyable, or at least survivable.

*I say irrational in the most loving way possible.


Of course, all children are unique, but a few universal truths apply to the seemingly irrational toddler years.

  • Most toddlers test boundaries as they begin to understand they are separate from you. It’s natural for them to seek out more independence and control over their little world. 
  • While eager to be their own person, toddlers have not yet mastered self-control or come to understand the clear and present dangers around them.
  • They are driven by their needs, wants and impulses, however illogical they may be. 

Some toddlers are, by nature, more defiant than others. Toddler’s emotions also range from big and intense, to cautious and fearful. Personalities dictate whether they are hard-to-get-along-with or easy-going and flexible. 

As parents and caregivers, we observe the behaviours, but we don’t always understand where they are coming from or pause to think about it. Who can blame us – many of us have been on the job(s) without a break since March.

I adopted the below strategies to influence my son’s behaviour while keeping these universal toddler truths in mind.


Like everything else in our children’s early lives, it is up to us to teach and guide them through life’s challenges, including those trying emotional and behavioural times.

Here are some ways:

Validate their feelings

I don’t know about you but the last thing I want to hear when arguing with someone is “relax.” This makes me angrier because it downplays my genuine feelings. Why would it be any different for a child? 

I try to validate my son’s feelings by saying, “I know you want to watch TV. It’s hard to stop watching a show you like, but it’s time to have dinner.” It validates his feelings while restating the rule.


Even when my child is wailing, I try to allow him to understand where the rule or the direction is coming from. If I want him to eat dinner, I explain why eating is essential to nourish his body.

It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does, and it astounds me. True, toddlers are emotional basket cases, but they are also curious sponges eager to learn.

Set limits

As much as I can, I try to set limits. For example, I say, “OK, 10 minutes more of playtime before we eat lunch” or “one more show before we go up to the bath.” I establish expectations and allow him to process what will happen in the near future, so I’m not just marching up to him issuing commands.

Empower them

Bedtime was an absolute nightmare in the first months after my son turned three. Every single night was a challenge, so I started empowering him to make some decisions, and it’s helped. I offer him the option to bath or shower, choose his PJs, books, stuffies for bed, etc. It acts as both a distraction to resisting and a way to let him make some decisions.

Allow them in

Out of sheer annoyance, I’ve subconsciously been muttering my frustrations. “I’m just trying to make you guys safe,” I mumbled when I was fighting to strap one of them in the car seat. My son looked at me and said, “I know, mommy. I’m sorry.” Their emotional IQ is higher than we expect it to be, as is their ability to empathize. 

Since that moment, I’ve been letting them in on my role as a mom more often. “You can’t cross the street by yourself because there are many cars, and it’s my job to make sure you safely reach the park.” “Mommy can’t allow you to hit your sister because it’s my job to make sure everyone is safe and happy.” Is it exhausting? YES! Is it helping? Also, yes.

Remain calm

Remaining calm is a challenge for me because everything feels chaotic, but I try to persevere. If none of the above strategies work, I aim to calmly enforce the limit by saying something like, “You have a choice: you can get in the car seat, or I will put you in.” Then I proceed to do it.

Ignore some* bad behaviour

One afternoon my son threw a fit on the living room floor for ten minutes. Yelling, flailing, crying – you get the picture. I was nearby and could see him, but I left him. I let him be “in his feelings.” I also ignore behaviours like whining and throwing toys as long as he doesn’t hurt himself or his sister.

Deflect and distract

I use the deflect and distract tactic a lot, too. This comes in handy when the kids are fighting over a toy or demanding the third popsicle of the day. “How about you play with this one instead?” Fifty percent success rate on this one.

Help your child recover

I took my son to his first playdate, and he didn’t enjoy it, to put it nicely. He seemed eager to go but when we arrived, and throughout the visit, he was uncooperative and disinterested. Upon leaving, he began wailing that he never ever wanted to leave their house.

Needless to say, I was confused. On the drive home, I asked him what was bothering him. I tried to prompt some open-ended answers while reassuring him that his feelings are natural.

Be affectionate

Sometimes I simply take my son in my arms, give him a hug and tell him I love him. Or I ask his sister to give him some love. Regardless of whether it affects his mood, I know that he knows he’s loved.


The newborn and toddler years have been heavy. It seems that you get past one thing only to be hit in the face with another challenging period. 

I shared the coping mechanisms above because they helped me – I hope they can help you, too.

If you have a tip or some feedback to share on how to deal with an irrational toddler, comment below. I would LOVE to learn from you.

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