Dealing with a Head Strong Toddler

Oh man… My toddler is one head strong little girl. Tell me I am not alone? One of our BIGGEST issues right now is over clothing… CLOTHING! And not just any clothing. She has to wear the twirliest of dresses. Actually, to be quite clear; the twirlier the ELSA dress, the better! And to think, I thought Quinn was going to be my tom boy…

The other morning, my toddler really wanted to wear a specific dress that was just not an option. Cue an outrageous tantrum. I mean, I cannot let her wear a dress that is covered in mac-n-cheese from the day before, right? I know my laundry standards are low but c’mon. In this situation, I was dealing with a MAJOR denied access behavior. She wanted a dress that she could not have.

How do you handle this?

In this situation, I did not want the crying and tantrum behavior to “win”. I knew that this ‘cray’ behavior was all because she was not getting her way. So, how did I defuse this ticking bomb?

Implemented waiting

I initially started off by asking her to wait. I calmly asked my toddler to, “Show me waiting!” I then slowly counted to five. This allows her a moment to catch her breath, calm down, and process what is going on. Below is how you can teach your little one how to start waiting!

For training purposes, let’s assume a child is eating a cracker.

  • Find an activity that can be easily stopped (show on an iPad, small snack, etc).

When you are first starting, make it a cracker that is NOT their all time favorite but one that they still like. The reason- you will be delaying access to the cracker when teaching your child what “waiting” means so you do not want the cracker to be SUPER reinforcing.

Parent should be in control of starting and stopping the activity (i.e. holding the cracker)

  • After a child eats a SMALL bite of the cracker, it is assumed that she will want more. Before going in for the second bite, state, “Wait” and wait for 1 second. If your child waits successfully for 1 second, provide them the cracker and pair it with verbal praise.

  • After several attempts of waiting successfully for 1 second, move on to waiting for 5 seconds while doing the same thing as stated above.

  • After several successful attempts at a 5 second wait time, move on to 10 seconds and then 20 seconds and so on.

  • You will eventually work your way up to waiting for longer periods of time. You will also work towards having your child wait for items that are more reinforcing. 

Once your child understands the concept of waiting, they will understand that even if they have to “give something up”, they know they will eventually get it back so it typically does not result in a major meltdown… It is a WONDERFUL tool to put in your BeeHaven Tribe Tool Belt. 💪

Deep Breaths

After Quinn slowed down, I asked her to take a deep breath. In our house, we use the language, “Show me calm!”. She then does a volcano breath. This is a way to help her take a deep breath and calm her body after being so upset.

After my toddler has calmed down, I then prompt her to say an “I want…” statement. I want her to understand that instead of crying, I would rather she use functional language. She then clearly says, “I want Elsa!”….

NOPE, sorry Chica… Not a choice. However, I validate her choice but explain that her Elsa dress is dirty and not a choice.

Speaking of choices…


Providing a choice is a great strategy to present to a little one when denied access is at play. If the preferred choice is no longer an option, give your little once choices that ARE available to them.

In this situation, I gave Quinn two options on dresses that were available to her. In this situation, I presented two other twirly dresses. After she realized the mac-n-cheese filled Elsa dress was NOT an option, she settled for the second, less desirable choice. Not her absolute favorite but still a good option :).


Another great strategy that can be used if denied access is happening is redirection. Basically, if your little one is engaging in challenging because they want to gain access to a tangible item that is not available, redirect their attention to another activity! Snack time anyone? You want to play with this toy over here? Redirection can be a very effective tool when implemented correctly :).



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