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How to Deal with Challenging Behaviour in Your Toddler – Fussiness

Challenging behaviour in your toddler can take various forms. In this article we’ll look specifically at fussiness, what can cause it and what you can do to counter it.

What is toddler fussiness?

Different parents will have different expectations about how their child should behave, but here are some common examples of fussy behaviour:

  • Moodiness
  • Fussy eating
  • Whiny or irritable behaviour

Why do children behave in this way?

There is a range of possible causes for fussiness in toddlers.

It could be because they don’t yet have the ability to regulate their emotions nor have the communication skills to explain how they’re feeling. So ‘acting out’ is the only way to express their pent-up emotions. These emotions could include anxiety, anger or just feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Or they may be seeking attention. Alternatively, they could be tired, unwell, hungry or undernourished by a poor diet. Sometimes it’s the particular circumstance they’re in rather than one of the above root causes that is driving their difficult behaviour. Fussy eating in particular is all part of children’s development. It is how they explore and experiment food and assert their independence. Toddler appetites also change regularly depending on growth and level of activity.

What can you do to deal with fussy behaviour?

Here are a few suggestions how to deal with fussy behaviour:

  • It’s important to try and stay calm. Easier said than done in some situations, but it definitely helps.
  • Talk calmly to your child and explain the situation and why whatever they are reacting over has to happen. E.g. I understand you’re upset that you have to get out of the bath, but we have had lots of fun and can have another bath tomorrow.
  • Try showing your toddler items that they may want but can’t communicate, saying the names clearly to encourage them to tell you next time
  • Sometimes fussiness is just an overload of emotions and the distraction technique with their favourite toy, a song or a snack can work wonders.
  • For fussy eating; try to make mealtimes fun, limit distractions and don’t give up after one attempt – it can take 10 – 15 times of a toddler seeing a food on the plate for them to try it.

When to seek help

Keep in mind that it’s normal for children to have fussy periods. By following the above strategies, you may be able to reduce the frequency with which fussy behaviour happens.


However, if you’re finding that the behaviour is common and extreme, they may have a behavioural condition that a GP or paediatric specialist can help you to manage or resolve. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help when you need it. As a childcare centre we also work in close collaboration with you to ensure we reinforce what you’re doing to manage any fussy behaviour that may occur.

Further information

For any parents looking for further information on this topic, Raising Children has some great articles on this and many more topics: